Last month, I talked about how paying attention to spelling and punctuation can do wonders for your company’s credibility (and Google rankings). Once you have all your commas in a row, it’s time to think about how you’ll develop and execute a consistent, compelling message without driving your editors to pull a Joaquin Phoenix and retire to rap music in a haze of ignominy.
Your company has multiple product lines. Multiple writers. Multiple departments. Multiple publication channels. (Perhaps not all of these, but you get my point.) You might want to add products to a product line started six years ago. You might want to bring in new writers to work on an ongoing project. And if you haven’t already, it’s time to start expanding into social media.
An effective style guide will keep everyone on track, whether you’re there to oversee the work or off gallivanting in Italy at one of Silvio Berlusconi’s bunga bunga parties (excuse me, visiting the Vatican).
Who Are You? Make Sure Consumers Know
Your company’s brand identity needs to permeate every aspect of a style guide. As Copyediting (formerly Copyeditor.com) says:
A brand might need to sound informal to strike a chord with its audience. Such text should read the way we talk–or the way we expect it to read. For example, pizza is comfort food. How Pizza Hut talks to its audience reinforces that idea.
What follows is a sentence about multi-meat mayhem that need not be repeated here. But, I will say that the gourmet, brick-oven, continental-style pizzeria down the street should use different language than Pizza Hut to describe their food.
And remember, you do not control where your content goes. Third-party sites will steal your product descriptions and anything else they deem useful for driving traffic to their own sites. If that content is formulated with clear, specific style and personality, you can simply thank all those lazy retailers for helping to promote your business.
Sowing Your Sales Seeds: Multi-Tier Publishing
Multi-channel publishing makes the need for consistency exponentially more important. Earlier this year, content26 worked with Westinghouse Lighting to develop multi-tier content for some of their product lines. A vital piece of that project was to ensure consistency of descriptions, names, measurements, and other information on all platforms, while also working within the constraints of the company’s style. Was this tactic successful? Absolutely. Read the white paper for more about that.
The way Westinghouse Lighting describes a bubble glass lantern has to be the same across channels, and the way it describes all the other lanterns and glass items it sells has to be consistent with that one bubble glass lantern.
When shopping for the bubble glass lantern, consumers rely on words and pictures. When those elements are the same on every page and every website, you have a recognizable brand. When you have a recognizable brand, you build consumer trust.
Find Your Style
Now you’re sold on the importance of style, it’s time to start putting the pieces together. Don’t panic; comprehensive style guides exist, and many industries have developed their own. Choose one of those as your go-to, and address choices specific to your company in your internal guide.
In an article about website usability, Mashable notes the importance of spacing, concise writing, and skimming-friendly layout. These claims are supported by multiple usability studies. Heed this advice when making your decisions.
Think about your voice. Are you irreverent? Serious? Traditional? Lighthearted? Chances are, you’ll want to adjust the tone for different channels, but, as the first-date cliché goes, be yourself.
What format do you want your content to take? Lots of headers, lots of bullets, no bullets, uses of colors and fonts, and so on. How do you want to handle numbers? A glance at any style guide will demonstrate the surprising complexity of numbers, so this needs consideration.
Decide what kind of spin you want to put on your products. If your newest armoire is “space saving and minimalist” in one place and “shabby chic” in another, you need to pay more attention to how you frame your wares and include that in your style guide. While you’re at it, make a list of words and phrases to avoid, and add “shabby chic” to that list.
And, I implore you, do not ever rely on, or let anyone else writing your content rely on, software or in-browser spelling and grammar checks. Here’s why.
Some reading to get you started:
- AP Stylebook is an excellent go-to for writing headers and subheaders. Good headers are invaluable. No one knows this better than the news industry.
- Chicago Manual of Style is good for grammar and recommendations about formatting and explanations of consistency and punctuation use and–let’s just say Chicago is a good tool.
- Yahoo! Style Guide addresses writing for a global audience, Internet words, and general web writing guidelines.
- Letting Go of the Words, while not a style guide, is an also excellent reference for web writers and content developers.
- Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary. Make a long-term commitment to this spelling resource. Exceptions to what Webster’s will tell you need to be in your style guide.
Be consistent. Be specific. Make your content merchandising process easier with a well-developed company style guide.