Content marketing can be a delicate balance. You’re pulled in many directions, often taking orders from many masters, so it’s easy to fall into the trap of “checklist” content marketing.
Are we producing content? Check.
Is it loosely related to our brand? Check.
Do we publish it regularly? Check.
And on it goes. A lot of people think that creating content is “doing” content marketing well. But great content isn’t about being a slave to your editorial calendar; it’s about telling engaging stories that introduce your brand to people.
But the way you tell those stories has a huge effect on how they’re perceived. The medium, the message, the colors—all of these elements influence the experience. And when you’re trying to build a consistent presence, ensuring they accurately reflect your brand story is priority. That’s why your brand style guide is the key to better creative content marketing.
How Creative Content Benefits from a Brand Style Guide
Every time you communicate with someone, you’re showing them who you are. Whether it’s the customer service pop-up on your site or an e-book download, every interaction creates a mosaic that shapes your brand.
When it comes to creative content marketing, this is especially true. For many people, it’s the first time they encounter you—and often they don’t initially assume that they’re even engaging with a brand (especially when it’s editorial content).
Usually, when they are seeking content, they are seeking something specific: the answer to a question, the solution to a problem, a bit of entertainment or distraction. They aren’t looking for a brand; they are looking for a reliable source. Your job is to prove that you are that source, to craft high-quality content that cultivates trust and, eventually, a relationship.
A brand style guide is essential to create that type of high-caliber content; it gives you the tools to effectively communicate your brand story visually and verbally. When you do this consistently, you improve your content experience in ways that are beneficial to your viewer and your brand.
Consistency: Quality control is a big issue when making creative content. Not everyone has an Art Director available to look over every project, and oftentimes you’re up against deadline. These, and many other variables, can result in content that is disjointed and inconsistent. Your reputation depends on the quality of your creative content, so having a well-documented style guide that everyone can reference helps preserve your brand.
Comprehension: Clear communication and good design make life easier for your reader or viewer. As previously mentioned, they are looking for a content experience that delivers what they want quickly and efficiently. Guidelines for things like data visualization, color use, or typography help create design that is more effective, bringing clarity and better comprehension. This simple act is a tremendous service to others. It proves that you value their time and are invested in helping them get the info they need and want.
Trust: When you provide consistent, high-quality content, people come to rely on you and—even better—seek out your content. They trust you will deliver what they want every time. That trust is the basis of every strong relationship; it’s also delicate and precious. Delivering an enjoyable content experience will help you cultivate it in spades.
Brand recognition: Obviously, this is the content marketing holy grail. A brand style guide, naturally, delivers a cohesive brand experience, one so strong it is recognizable in an instant. But the only way to do this is to build and, most importantly, apply brand guidelines accurately.
Example: Whether an e-book or infographic, LinkedIn adheres to a strict visual language, including consistent use of their signature blue color, data visualization style, and other details. As a brand determined to help people find the right career, presenting their creative content with a cohesive style helps readers trust their guidance.
Side note: If you think good design isn’t that important, the Design Management Institute and Motiv conducted a study that found that design-driven companies over the last 10 years have outperformed the S&P 500 by 228%.
What should a brand style guide include?
Its core purpose is to be the “brand bible” for you or anyone to reference, whether it’s an in-house copywriter or a freelance video team. As such, it should include everything related to your brand, both in terms of your verbal and visual identity.
Voice and tone
Fonts and typography
Video and motion
Example: We developed the visual style guide for The Cove, a workspace venture of UCI Applied Innovation. To capture the brand’s mission and essence (a California-based center of innovation), we developed an ocean-themed visual language, including logo, colors, font, iconography, photography, etc. to be used in all creative content.
5 Ways to Build a Brand Style Guide That Tells Your Brand Story
Brands can go to a lot of work to build a brand style, but half the time they create it and then let it collect virtual dust. If you want your brand style guide to propel you toward your content goals, here’s how to keep it working for you.
1) Make it comprehensive. While it might seem overwhelming, it should encompass every type of communication; really, there’s no such thing as too much info. Everything from your messaging hierarchy to your chart label style should be included—and easy to navigate.
2) Show examples. Since a brand style guide is all about helping you communicate more efficiently, walk your walk and clearly spell out various applications and how they should be used. Remember: This may be going to a freelancer who’s never seen your brand before; if a noob can’t interpret it, you’ll be in trouble.
3) Make sure it’s accessible. Everyone should know where it lives so that it can be used, updated, and shared.
4) Do post mortems. The stakeholders in charge of steering and shaping the brand should have regular reviews to ensure that the guidelines are being applied correctly to content. They should also consider what needs to be updated, expanded, clarified, removed, or edited.
5) Make a checklist. It’s probably not realistic for every single piece of creative content to be approved by an Art Director, but someone should be tasked with the final review so that they can give content a final edit/once-over to ensure on-brand design.
Tip: A printed checklist can help catch any of those little errors like incorrect logo placement or fonts. (We have had clients question the hex code on a shade of blue before we went live. While it may seem nit picky, that’s the level of brand investment we wish we saw more.)