Any successful company or organization will tell you that the key to their success is their brand. They will also tell you that their brand is much more than their logo. It is anything that represents who they are as a company or organization. It is comprised of the promises they make to their customers and the experience their customers have with them. And what customers look for most is consistency.
Brand Is About Image, Including in What You Write
Every item linked to your company or organization either enhances or detracts from your brand. This includes everything from reports and newsletters to product displays and interactions with customer service. It includes not only the content of your blog posts but also the tone, formatting and layout. For example is your tone serious, casual, energetic or lighthearted? And how does that align with your corporate identity? How does it enhance your brand?
But Isn’t There a Rule Against Starting a Sentence with a Conjunction?
While it is important to know the rules, it is equally important to know what will be the result for breaking—or at least bending—them. Take for example the following high school dress code for males: collared shirt with buttons, full-length slacks, calf-length socks, loafers and a belt. That seems rather strict, doesn’t it? Then again, as someone once did when I was in school, you could go dressed as a clown, wearing a clown shirt with buttons and collar, full-length clown slack, clown socks, clown loafers and a black clown belt, and still be following the rules! The key is not necessarily to follow the rules as much as it is to know what it means not to follow them—or at least not to follow them in the way people traditionally think.
What Is a Style Guide, and Why Does It Matter to My Brand?
Simply put, a style guide is a set of customized rules for any written material. These rules can relate to any aspect of the writing, include spelling, punctuation, syntax, tone, font and layout. Their purpose as it relates to your brand is simple: to ensure that all content distributed by your company or organization is consistent with and enhances your brand.
Let us say for example that you are a nonprofit whose purpose is to educate people about their health care options. How do you write “health care”? Is it two words, one word or hyphenated? Does it depend on whether it is being used as a noun (e.g., “options for health care”) or as an adjective (e.g., “health care options”)? When you try looking it up in the Merriam-Webster Unabridged dictionary, you find there is no entry for it. What do you do? While my preference is to write it as two words both as a noun and as an adjective (taking the point of view that “health care,” though two words, represents a singular item), you may have decided that writing it as one word (“healthcare”) is better suited for your organization. It matches your organization’s identity better and therefore serves better to enhance your brand.
Every Element Counts
While the debate about how to write “health care” may not relate to your particular situation, there are others that most certainly do. For example, should phone numbers be written as (###) ###-####, ###-###-#### or ###.###.####? And what font should you use: Times New Roman, Arial or Calibri? Should you use the serial comma? Each choice will portray a different image (think about the different impressions the different phone number formats make). Each will say something different about your brand.
Develop and Distribute Your Style Guide
Your style guide is the key to ensuring brand consistency across all your content development. Anyone writing, editing or proofreading content for your company or organization should have a copy of it. If you don’t already have one, or if the one you have needs to be updated, take the time to develop and add to it the same as you would an employee handbook or other corporate policy, then make sure all those involved in content creation know your style guide and follow it.
The Advantage of Outside Professional Editing and Proofreading for Your Brand
Outside professional editors and proofreaders can give you an advantage for your brand that you cannot get from anyone in-house or from your copywriters. Everyone knows that the closer you are to the material the more difficult it is for you to edit and proofread it successfully. When it comes to your brand, which has precisely to do with how your company or organization portrays itself to the outside world, this is all the more important.
The advantage of outside professional editors and proofreaders is that they can see your content in relation to your brand in the same way your customers will but with the ability to tell you exactly where and how to improve it. The best of these editors and proofreaders will also be able to master the nuances of your style guide to ensure every element of the content they are reviewing achieves the goal you have for your brand. In addition to being able to follow more traditional style guides like Chicago and MLA, for example, the professionals we have at DLA Editors & Proofers are experts at ensuring all our clients’ documents adhere to any custom style guides. They then become an invaluable tool in establishing and promoting your brand.