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How to Create a Simple Style Guide (and Stick to It)

The world is a chaotic place, which is why (most) humans crave stability and resist change.

The world is a chaotic place, which is why (most) humans crave stability and resist change.

It didn’t take businesses long to understand people’s need for permanence meant they would choose organizations that were consistent in the quality of their product or service.

In the information Age consistency has extended to the aesthetics of the business. In order for people to trust you — or even recognize you — you need a cohesive design aesthetic that remains relatively unaltered across your products and marketing campaigns.

Coca-Cola reportedly sells 1.8 billion beverages in 200 countries each day. One study claimed it was the 3rd most valuable brand in the world behind Google and Apple. Coca-Cola’s logo has remained largely unchanged since 1891.

Screenshot 2019-04-18 at 2.48.59 PMImage source

So consistency is important. How do you make sure your brand stays cohesive? You need a style guide.

Style guides help brands establish a specific voice with their audiences. A style guide is a master document that provides a reference point for brand standards. This makes it easier to ensure various marketing campaigns all adhere to the established aesthetics of your brand.

Around 66 percent of businesses spend marketing dollars on online advertising. However, you can throw a lot of money at advertising without seeing any results if you don't move forward with a plan and create a consistent brand image.

Here are some important elements your style guide should have and some tips for sticking to your standards once you define them.

1. Write an Introduction

A style guide should begin with an introduction that explains who you are as a brand and your mission. What are you passionate about? What problem does your business solve for consumers? An introduction sets the tone for your style guide and explains why you made the style selections you included in the manual.

2. Keep a Consistent Tone

A style guide is more than merely sharing the logo and font you'll use in marketing. What is the tone of your brand, and does it match your target audience?

Use part of your style guide to define the voice of your business. Users should instantly recognize your voice no matter where they interact with you. However, be cautious with humor as it is subjective and often taken incorrectly.

boloco (1)

Boloco is a burrito restaurant out of Boston with highly consistent marketing, which makes it clear they have a reliable style guide.

They have a signature font, which they use on social media, their website, and even their mobile app. They also highlight Boston landmarks in their marketing materials, including gift cards. The tone is lighthearted and fun; this shines through in all their marketing.

3. Specific Logo Usage

How will your logo be used? Are there any specifications designers need to keep in mind? For example, what resolution and file format should be used if the logo is on a billboard? Is the logo always placed in the upper right, or is there flexibility with logo placement?

Remember what sizes work best in different marketing materials and set some guidelines for best-use practices.

4. Choose a Color Palette

Your brand's color palette should reflect your brand's personality. Bright colors show energy and youthfulness, while dark colors like navy blue indicate steadfastness. Define how different colors in the palette are used in your logo, in print material, on your website, and on social media.

Your style guide should clearly define the color by name and hex code and include a sample swatch of the color. Specifying color codes ensures no matter who does design work for your company, the colors remain the same.

hard chrome specialists (1)

Hard Chrome Specialists stick to a precise color palette of two colors. Using a limited number of colors creates a striking contrast and draws attention to highlighted points. Note how the call to action (CTA) buttons are gold, contrasting with the dark background.

5. Define Your Story

Clearly define what elements of your company's inner story get shared and which don't.

Although you might want writers to articulate how you overcame a challenge and rose above, spotlighting current struggles you've not yet mastered may not be in your best interests.

Transparency is essential, but it's also okay to highlight the positives of your brand. Apologize for mistakes and move on from them. There's no need to bring them back up and remind people of your errors.

6. Define Writing Styles

Choose a base writing style and stick with it across all platforms. For example, you might decide on an AP style for your written content. So ever after, anyone who writes copy for you should adhere to AP guidelines.

If you deviate from AP with any words or punctuation, make sure to note that in your style guide. Around 45 percent of a brand image comes from the writing style and what is actually said.

If you aren't sure which base writing style works best, study what your competitors use. It's best to stick with the expected when it comes to style and grammatical issues with the written word.

mailchimp (1)

Mailchimp offers an in-depth style guide for anyone writing content for them. In addition to essential writing tips about grammar and mechanics, they also break down style by type of content, such as blog posts.

7. Outline a Photography Style

Images are one area where it's easy to have a lot of variation. Define your image usage policies clearly, including how much of the frame is taken up with the object.

Define the format of images and the size of images for different mediums — Facebook, for example, might need a smaller width image than Twitter. You can even define if people are in your photos or if they are only of the product. Think about what your image style says about your brand and stick with a specific format.

gymit (1)

Gymit uses images showing people working out in their gyms. The images all have a similar tone to the intensity of the workout shown in the image. Their website and social media both show the same types of images of people in the middle of lifting weights, pulling up on bars, or various equipment.

8. Stick to Your Style

Insist anyone who works on any marketing campaign or asset for your company to stick to your style guidelines. Put one person in charge of ensuring everything remains consistent. As you create different materials, questions about specific style elements will arise. Make a note of decisions and expand your style guide so your branding remains the same over time.

Know Who You Are

The key to a reliable style and branding is knowing who you are and how you want customers to see you. Writing out the mechanics of style becomes easier when you understand the appearance you're striving for. A style guide is a living, breathing document that changes as your business grows but retains your company's underlying tone and personality.