First things first — what does it mean to provide guidance on brand style to copywriters? While it might be obvious that content should be designed using standardized logos, color schemes, imagery, and the like, it’s also important that copywriters use a set of messaging-specific brand standards.
The branding consistency that’s required to establish credibility, earn customers’ trust, and strengthen reputations isn’t just true for design; it’s also true for copy. When brands decline to extend style guidelines to copy, the aesthetic they’ve worked so hard to define may not have the impact they expect.
Extending guidelines to copywriters ensures written consistency across all content a brand creates. So when a customer views a search result, clicks through to visit a website, then clicks to watch a video, the meta description, page copy, and video script seamlessly represent one personality — strengthening the customer’s understanding of the brand and reinforcing credibility and trust.
Here are a few additional reasons to establish brand guidelines for your copywriters:
Guidelines Keep Multiple Writers Aligned
Providing guidelines to writers isn’t about doubting their expertise — it's about giving them the rules of the road before they speed down the interstate and get a ticket. There’s no doubt the writers within organizations are talented; in fact, it’s why they’ve been hired. But as individuals, they’ve developed their own instincts and preferences, and unless otherwise directed, they’ll likely default to their own preferences, unintentionally diluting the brand.
It's especially important to avoid giving writers too much free rein when divisions within organizations create their own content. That’s because each division is going to have its own ideas about how to talk about its respective products and services — after all, those team members know them best.
Guidelines give copywriters the ability to highlight the division’s offerings without drifting away from the personality of the brand. This can be critical for cross-selling since customers don’t care if one department is responsible for selling shoes and another for selling bags — without consistency, they’ll feel like they received a fragmented (read: unfavorable) experience.
Also important is the fact that every department within an organization today (not just marketing) is tasked with producing external-facing content. For instance, a sales team might create customer pitches or an HR team might create recruitment ads. Copywriting guidelines are needed to keep an entire organization on brand.
Even small organizations with one writer would be well-advised to document copywriting guidelines. One reason is to ensure that content production can scale easily if more writers are required as the business and content needs grow. The other is that the brand voice of the writer whose work originally defined it stays with the organization, even if that writer leaves.
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Three Essential Brand Guideline Topics
There are no fixed rules around how brand guidelines for copy are presented. Some brands include just a few pages along with design guidelines in the same document. Some organizations provide a completely separate document that covers copy guidelines in depth. Some are written in a very directional way, and some are written in accordance with the guidelines themselves — giving writers real-world illustrations for a strong head start.
What’s important is that the guidelines include the following:
The brand voice
The voice is the personality of the brand, the identity the customer relates to. Is it exciting or subdued? Rugged or prestigious? Whatever the personality, writers need to know how their copy should come across and how it should be received. The good news is that brands who have established design guidelines have already done the research they need to determine the personality — it just needs to be interpreted for copy.
This involves more than a list of traits or words; it requires enough example sentences that they can hear it themselves. Words mean different things to different people, but details will help writers zero in on the voice.
It’s also a good idea to provide examples of how copy should not sound. For example, if the brand guidelines state that the copy should sound innovative, examples could be provided of industry copy that has been identified as being overused.
Tone variations of the brand voice
Just like people’s personalities, the tone of the brand voice should change to reflect different situations. For example, instances in which copy should be written in a more logical tone than a cheerful one should be indicated in the guidelines. This can be as broad as a change in tone between emails and whitepapers, and as granular as a change between headlines, body copy, and calls to action.
Expectations for different content types
Because every type of content is created for a different purpose, writers need to know what elements stakeholders expect to see when they ask for different pieces. What length should an email subject line be? What sort of callouts are required in a whitepaper? What is the expected word count for a blog post? These are just a few questions that, when answered, can help writers complete an assignment more quickly and more confidently.
Tip: When creating brand style guidelines for copy, keep in mind that customer preferences change over time, requiring brands to do the same. The document should be re-examined as often as branding is revamped.
Creating Guidelines Is Worth the Return
Initially, drafting brand style guidelines for writers takes time and resources that could otherwise be used to create materials that deliver more easily measurable ROI. That said, equipping writers with brand standards in advance delivers cost savings that add up significantly over time.
Guidelines help organizations scale the production of content more easily, saving them the pain of having to start over with a new writer if the original one leaves. They also ensure that less time is spent writing, editing, and going through rounds of reviews.
They outline expectations that the writer can strive to meet, rather than trying to interpret the brand voice solely from existing content and hoping to get it right. Writers know what the editor will be looking for and can provide it in the first draft — and the editor will know what to look for, too. There should be less pushback on subjective style choices because standards will have already been established.
A copywriter’s work is only as good as the support they’re given to get the job done. Otherwise, even the most talented writer with the best intentions can end up pumping out great copy that targets the wrong audience or isn’t on-brand.
Ready to jumpstart your content creation efforts? Schedule a call to find out how TA Digital’s team of content strategists, copywriters, and SEO analysts can work with you to craft memorable content to attract and retain customers.
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