A style sheet is an essential tool in establishing brand identity and is key to the presentation of a business, in terms of language and optics. You might also see the terms style guide, brand guide, and brand book. They all mean the same.
A business stands or falls on its reputation, and its reputation is derived from its brand. Content teams are major players in the formation of a brand voice, and a great content team can build a stand-out brand, but only if there is consistency across all output from the business. And this is where a well-thought-out style sheet comes into play.
Consistency is one of the major fundamentals of building a brand. And that’s what content teams do. They build brands. Good content teams know that their content needs to stand out from the competition, and great content teams make that happen consistently by using a style sheet.
A consistent message and optics are crucial to building a successful brand with a great reputation. A style sheet is key to the creation of professional, consistent, on-message communications, both internal and external. If a business’s communications are consistent, the world is much more likely to take it seriously, and content teams are more likely to be part of a thriving organization.
A well-written style sheet is the ultimate show and tell for content teams, setting out a business’s expected standards and messaging. It also helps to keep content teams’ work goal-congruent and relevant, saving them time and minimizing rewrites.
The cohesion that a style sheet can bring is crucial for building trust in a brand and a voice that echoes the values of consumers.
It’s important to have a consistent style across all output, including the organization’s advertising, email signatures, social media feeds, letterheading, product labels, corporate reporting, and internal training materials. It’s equally important that the organization’s culture, internal communications, and approaches to work are consistent across departments. If everyone is goal-congruent, a business stands a far greater chance of success.
Basic Items to Include in a Style Sheet
Building a good style sheet is a complex undertaking, but here are some basics to get any content team started.
Examples include headings, page numbering, line spacing, fonts, and paragraph style.
Think about how to use verb tenses, first or second person, pronouns, double negatives, and the active voice.
Examples include the use of the Oxford comma, how lists should be punctuated, quotation marks, and a policy on the use of semicolons.
A style sheet gives direction on an organization’s personality and values.
Localization and dialect
The English language is spoken and written differently across the globe, so consideration is needed on which dialect will be most accessible to your audience. Each dialect encompasses its own spellings, tone, and slang words. One country’s playfulness can be another country’s insult.
Logo format and color
This is an area that large businesses will be able to cover in-house, but small businesses should consider getting professional help.
Web style elements
Web page buttons, forms, and sidebars all need consistent application.
There may be terms that a business doesn’t want used in its content. Careful thought is also needed toward industry-specific terminology and jargon.
And these are just the basics. The design and construction of a style sheet is a complex piece of work, needing considerable thought and input from various teams in a business as well as from external professionals.
A style sheet underpins quality content. Here are just a few more of the many aspects of effective content that illustrate the value of a well-written, comprehensive style sheet.
Clear and Trustworthy Content
Clarity is key to getting a message across, and content teams who always follow a style sheet produce clear, accurate content with a uniform appearance and brand voice. Anyone in an organization, not just content teams, can confidently produce clear and consistent copy by using an in-house style sheet.
Clarity and consistency are the routes to building trust with an audience, who can then confidently rely on each successive batch of content. In these days of fake news, poor social media platform controls, and unedited AI content, building trust is ever more difficult, so tools such as a style sheet become even more useful and important.
Consistency and clarity are known to increase business revenue as well as enhance brand perception, and both depend on content teams using a style sheet.
Smoother Workflow for Content Teams
Content teams are creative, so give them more time to create. A style sheet reduces time spent asking and answering queries, onboarding and training are quicker, and collaboration is much easier. The use of a style sheet can radically reduce non-creative time in content teams.
A comprehensive style sheet should cover aspects of a business beyond the basic editorial elements that we looked at earlier. In its expanded form, it becomes an identity manual, giving content teams guidance that will help build the brand voice.
Values and mission
The organization’s history, story, values, and mission statement all set the foundation for each piece of content produced. Content teams need to know and understand the business’s values and mission to put together engaging, trustworthy copy.
Does the business sound light-hearted, serious, innovative, or conversational? The choice here will depend on the business’s products or services. A law firm’s content tone is likely to differ considerably from a theater or major grocery chain.
We touched earlier on English dialects, but a style sheet that includes words and phrases that shouldn’t be used, preferred terminology, and required spellings will help ensure that written content properly reflects the business’s identity.
An important element of consistency is the use of templates for contact forms, social media posts, calls to action, and taglines, all of which go a long way to building a brand voice.
It can be difficult for any business to boost its market presence, especially if it’s small. One of the first rules of marketing is to know the business’s unique strengths and selling points. If those unique features are built into a style sheet, it becomes much easier for content teams to leverage them. Producing content that follows the style sheet closely will strengthen market presence, and that leads to competitive advantage.
Team Member Churn
Implementing and routinely using a style sheet is known to make the work of content teams easier, more engaging, and more effective, and that, in turn, reduces staff churn rates. Recruitment, onboarding, and training are all costly but can be ameliorated by great staff retention rates. Stability in content teams can lead to happier, more engaged team members, who are more likely to produce inspiring content.
Intellectual Property Protection
The inclusion in a style sheet of trademarks, company names, logos, and other protected media will help ensure that all content creators, be they full-time marketing teams or sole trader entrepreneurs, use accurate names and trademarks. IP lawsuits are expensive!
Implementing and updating a style sheet can involve high time costs, but the savings its use will generate can outweigh these costs. We know that downtime from query resolution and human resource costs associated with staff churn are significantly reduced; brand loyalty and customer engagement are increased; and competitiveness and market position are enhanced by using a style sheet.
The value of a style sheet for content teams lies in what it can give to them specifically and to a business in general. These benefits include:
- Consistent content messaging.
- Less downtime for queries.
- Fewer rewrites of content.
- Easy access to, and application of expected standards.
- Greater understanding of values and mission.
- Goal congruence.
- A greater likelihood of working within a profitable, secure, successful business.
- Smoother workflow.
- Team stability.
How Can a Content Team Get Help Producing a Style Sheet?
The benefits of using a style sheet are many, but the process of writing, implementing, and updating a style sheet can be complex, time consuming, and resource heavy. At Proofed, we have experts who can take that burden off your shoulders and build style sheets to suit any business. Schedule a call with us today to discuss your needs.