Does your company have a best practices document addressing the communications that go out to clients? Many do, but they’re often so complicated or hard to access that they’re rendered practically useless. Without the taming influence of a set of standards, the different iterations of one company’s logos, letterheads and email signatures—especially when left up to the creative liberty of everyone on staff—can stretch into infinity. Read on for the low-down on crafting a functional reference tool for consistent event branding.
1. See what sticks. At Matchstic, a branding agency in Atlanta, co-founder Craig Johnson helps clients define the heart and essence of their brand as the first step in building a style guide. He suggests printing all branded materials (letterheads, website pages, etc.) and pinning them up on one wall. “You may discover that there are six different logos being used,” says Johnson. “If you’re using 50 different colors and you have to define one primary color and four secondary colors, there’s a process of choosing.” Put everything up on the walls, and see what’s working. Define why it works and apply that to the other pieces.
2. Define your brand’s core. “Identify your objectives, figure out your voice and style, then delineate the aspects you want to standardize,” says Kevin Cain, director of content strategy for OpenView Labs, a Boston-based venture capital firm that invests in expansion-stage technology companies. Cain writes about content marketing and style guides on blog.openviewpartners.com. Have a framework in mind, he says. Will you cover editorial standards, major branding issues or how you do events or public relations?
A good style guide touches on verbal, written and visual communication—logo, typography, color palette, certain graphic and editorial rules—but leaves the minutiae to reference materials like the Associated Press Style Guide or Chicago Manual of Style. Its main goal is to equip team members with the tools and language they need to present a unified front during client-facing interactions. “A comma can change the meaning of a sentence,” says Cain. “But overall, having that consistency creates a sense of ‘they’re paying attention to details and therefore I can trust them to handle the bigger stuff, too.’”
3. Draw inspiration from others. Many companies and organizations, including Delta Airlines, Cargill and Vanderbilt University, make their guides and graphic standards available online. Browse dozens of branding and identity manuals at logoorange.com/branding-corporate-identity.php to learn from others’ experiences and examples.
4. Add some pizazz. Wherever possible, insert personality. “Talking about style guides is not a sexy topic,” says Cain. “If you can give humorous examples or, as I did once, incorporate quotes from famous authors about writing and the challenges of writing, you’ll make it more interesting.” Don’t skimp on the table of contents and make sure well-delineated sections offer easy-to-find information. “If you have one of those behemoth documents and it’s boring...and you don’t know how to find anything in it, it’s never going to be used,” says Cain.
5. Get the word out. Once you’ve created the new guide, 20 percent of the work is complete, according to Johnson. “It’s the enforcing and policing of the style guide that’s most important. Without that, having one doesn’t really matter.”
For smaller organizations, hosting a lunch-and-learn is an effective way to introduce it to the team. “We’re all sending out emails throughout the course of the day and there’s no way for anyone to regulate that kind of personal communication,” says Cain. “For bigger stuff it’s all going to come through your marketing team...they’re the policemen.”
6. Periodically revisit and revise. As your company grows, re-evaluate the style guide every six to 12 months. Consider producing multiple versions. “If you hand a 100-page guide to an executive assistant who is putting together a PowerPoint presentation, the chance of that actually being read is not very likely,” says Johnson. “Have the one-page version for 80 percent of the company, the 10-page version for 10 percent and the full version for the other 10 percent that will actually dig into it.”“Online is the most user-friendly, and if you’re going to go to the trouble of making one, it’s nice not to just have a Word document,” says Cain. “When I worked at a bigger company, we also had it printed so that it looked like a real book, which gave it more authority than a pamphlet.” Johnson adds, “You won’t have to resend the Web version to people when it gets changed. They log on and the changes have been made.”