When you think about a brand guide or manual, you’re probably thinking of the visuals, right? The colors, the logo, the vibe. But brand voice is often overlooked, and that just sucks because your copy deserves some love too.
True, people tend to notice the visuals first — it’s what draws them in after all. But the copy? That’s what makes them stay. And whether you’re a new biz or going 10 years strong, having guidelines for your copy to live under can mean the difference between a solid, recognizable brand, and one that’s just kinda ehhh.
And those guidelines? They’re what make up your copy style guide.
Why you need a copy style guide
You don’t have to think twice about the way you talk. You’ve got special phrases you say at the end of every epic story or exclamations when you’re taken by surprise. You talk casually, formally, or a little bit of both.
So if one day you came home and started talking like a professor from Oxford rather than the ripped jeans-wearing, Trader-Joe’s shopping baddie you are, people would be confused.
Your brand is kind of the same way. When you’re trying to build a relationship with your audience and make a sale, you have to be consistent to solidify a strong bond. Otherwise, people aren’t going to know what to expect from you.
And a confused person never buys.
But it’s not the same thing as your brand manual
You know what we hate? When there’s a teeny-tiny-haphazardly-thrown-together section about copy guidelines and brand voice at the back of a brand manual.
Your copy deserves to have its own spotlight — aka its own style guide — because what you say is just as important as the way you present it.
Sure, your visuals have a vital role to play in your overall brand strategy, but that strategy has to also consider copy to create a cohesive brand environment. Everything works together to pitch your offers to the right people.
Your brand guide should include:
- Logos and markups
- Icons and illustrations, including brand patterns
- Your color palette
- Photography guidelines
- Font choices
- The typography hierarchy (aka, how headings, subheadings, and paragraphs should look)
- And guidelines for how all of these should or should not look when placed together
And your copy style guide should include:
- Your brand mission and values
- Your client persona and crucial info about your target audience
- Voice and tone rules
- Branded words and phrases
Obviously, this is a basic rundown of the two, but this just gives you a general idea of what they are and how they operate. Now let’s get to the good stuff…the essentials of any good copy style guide!
Brand mission and values
Why are you here? That’s a loaded question but it’s the single most important one to ask yourself. Everything you do in your business will stem from the answer.
This information, along with understanding what drives you to keep working at it every day (your values) guides how you build connections and how you communicate with your audience. It helps you ensure that the decisions you make, even the creative ones, consistently support that mission.
Knowing who you’re talking to is almost as important as what you’re saying. Because here’s the thing — you can’t appeal to everyone. If you’re trying to talk to everyone, you’re going to end up being too broad to make an impact or resonate with the people who are most likely to work with you.
Mapping out who you’re targeting should include things like:
- Their pain points
- The type of solutions they’re looking for (Fast? Simple? Low cost?)
- Their lifestyle and interests
- The outcomes they want for life/business/etc.
It’s so much easier to say the right thing when you’re talking to the right people.
Voice and tone rules
Are you playful? Sarcastic and witty? Educational and more formal? However you want to come across, set some rules for it to avoid switching it up too often (unless you’re cool with confusing your audience).
Different clients are looking for different things, so think about how to brand your voice by considering the feelings and experiences you want your brand to evoke when your audience interacts with it.
Branded words and phrases
See, girl boss.
JK, don’t use that. I mean, unless it’s on brand for you of course. But seriously, here are a couple of prompts to get those idea wheels spinning:
- How are you going to reference people? Dudes? Friends? Party people?
- How are you going to express excitement or disappointment?
- Are you a one ! business, or a 2-3 !!! business?
- Saying v. excited versus saying very excited
How you do this is up to you, but here at UC we’d recommend creating a list of “isms” to define what your biz will sound like.
And no, jargon doesn’t count. Please refrain! Nobody knows what you’re talking about.
BONUS: Grammar rules
Don’t play into all the BS you hear online about needing to define your writing under APA or Chicago style for grammar rules and sentence structure.
Listen, I was an English major in college and I can tell you that the only time anyone has ever cared about that was when I was in school. I have literally never paid one sliver of attention to it since then. I honestly can’t even tell you the difference between the two now because that’s how far removed writing in the real world is from these style rules.
Grammar is only important to an extent and part of the magic (and fun) of defining your voice is bending the rules.
*Just remember that you have to know the rules before you can bend them…people still need to be able to read what you write!
P.S. — If you got to the end of this post and you’re like “LOL I have no idea how to do this in my own business” ….shoot us a message and let’s talk about it!