Ask a Managing Editor: What's a Brand Guide and Why Do I Need One for My Content Marketing?

Ask a Managing Editor: What's a Brand Guide and Why Do I Need One for My Content Marketing?When you hire a writer to contribute to your blog, help you write an ebook, or craft copy for your homepage, what guidelines do you give them?

Consistent guidelines are a must for writers who work with your brand, whether they’re internal or work with an agency partner. Every marketing team should have a brand guide ready to share with anyone who’s contributing to content.

“Your B2B business brand must be recognizable outside the context of your website, product, or physical establishment,” says Actionable Marketing Guide Chief Content Officer Heidi Cohen.

We’ve seen a million approaches to B2B brand guidelines, so we asked a few fellow marketing writers for their tips. If you’re just getting started with a brand guide, or you’re looking to refresh the guidelines you’re already using, try following these steps.

First, Define Your Brand

Anne Janzer, a professional writer who has worked with more than 100 technology companies, advises her B2B clients to start with adjectives. “Pick three adjectives to identify the corporate image you’d like to portray,” she says.

Some examples she offered:

  • Friendly, responsive and expert
  • Trusted, secure and authoritative
  • Edgy, innovative and fun.

Stick to three adjectives so you aren’t tempted to be all things to all people. Those adjectives will determine voice, tone and style, resolving questions such as whether to refer to the reader as ‘you’ or when humor is appropriate,” she says.

Brand guide tip: Pick 3 adjectives to identify the corporate image you want to portray. Click To Tweet

Set the Voice and Tone

Marketing writers need information about the voice and tone before they start creating content for you. The voice is the personality that shapes the writing. Consider who the writing will be attributed to — it might be your CEO, someone in your marketing department, or an internal expert. Consider not only your brand adjectives and brand personality, but the personality (“voice”) of the person whose name is on the piece. The tone is how the content should sound to the reader.

For more on tone and voice, I like this Grammar Girl primer, written by one of the creators of the Yahoo! Style guide.

David Langton, president of Langton Cherubino Group, thinks about his audience when determining voice and tone. His company creates customer profiles and tries to assess how they’d like to be spoken to to determine the tone and voice standards for a client or product. “For a serious financial organization, it’s important to come across as the voice of reason that’s calm in a crazy marketplace,” he says. Other companies might have a more fun or friendly voice, like someone’s roommate, he suggests.

Get Specific About Word Choice

Any information you can provide about industry terms to use or avoid, words you want to associate with your brand, or insight into what your audience might be looking for from written content will all help you get what you want.

“On our style guide, we have a list of words and phrases that are permissible in written content, and those that are not. We want to be precise, transparent and open with our language, so we avoid jargon and lingo that makes us ‘sound smart,’” says Nathan Barber, marketing manager for Digital Advertising Works.

Some of the buzzwords the guidelines suggest avoiding: “buzzwords like utilize, effective, synergize, paradigm shift, integrated solutions, perfection, world-class.”

“Fill your brand guidelines with specific examples so every employee is clear about what they should do and how their work product and presentation should look. A great example is MailChimp’s Style Guide,” says Cohen.

Share, Approve — Then Revisit

It’s important to get input on your proposed guide from others in the company. Send out a draft to get feedback. “Remember, your brand is how everyone in your firm communicates and presents your business, including sales and customer service,” Cohen says. “This isn’t a make-work activity. Your guidelines should be easy-to-read and able to be put into action.”

And once it’s approved, remember that your guidelines may change as time goes on. It’s a guide, after all — not a law. “The style guidelines should not be set in stone, because the company culture and the customer cultures alike evolve,” says Janzer. “Plus, it’s hard to get it right the first time. Revisit them once a year. Even if nothing changes, you’ll benefit by discussing and recommitting to the brand tone and style regularly.”


Reputation Capital Media Services is a Baton Rouge marketing agency that helps B2B companies and their marketing agencies produce high-quality digital content, including blog posts, email newsletters, white papers and multimedia. Our editors and writers are experts in their fields, which include HR technology, employee benefits, and financial services and accounting. Contact us for a free 30-minute consultation to find out how great content can help you attract and retain your customers.