In another life I worked at the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation (a non-profit). We used a Manual of Style to help each and every one of us write and speak the same way across multiple chapters.
Here I am with some friends at a Coin Party (where you bring all of your loose change to donate to the cause) back in 2007 (that’s me in the middle):
While I knew how to get my friends together for a rip, roaring good time (that benefitted CF, of course), the Manual of Style taught me how to stay on brand and consistently deliver the same messaging when writing copy or talking about the Foundation.
It’s a critical piece of internal content for any well-respected brand.
For instance the abbreviation for The Cystic Fibrosis Foundation is CFF. But cystic fibrosis — the name of the actual disease — is never capitalized on its own, and its abbreviation is CF.
When talking about the Foundation, you always capitalize the ‘F’ … confused yet?
This is why it’s important to create a Manual of Style for your own brand; to ensure that your brand’s tone and voice are clear and consistent.
What may make all the sense in the world to you may be utter nonsense to someone else.
Where To Start
At B Squared Media, we start with our client’s brand persona. This is a living, breathing document that holds all kinds of tidbits of information.
- The client’s mission in 140 characters
- Pillars for curated content
- Pillars for thought leadership
- Pillars for original, on-brand content
- Industry hashtags
- Brand/original hashtags
- Values/mission statement/messaging
- Brand goals
- Notes on brand tone and voice
- Screenshots of “best practices”
The list goes on and on, and grows as we grow with the brand; the client’s give their input and we give ours as to how they should shape and mould their online personality.
For those of you who don’t yet know what your messaging looks like, we’ve got you covered …
Have you ever come across those peeps who tell you:
“People love us because we love people!”
“We put people first.”
“We’re the BEST company in the world!”
I don’t buy any of those lines, sorry. Those things should be fundamental to ANY business out there (except for the BEST statement … just … NO).
To me, it seems like brands slinging these cheesy lines just don’t know what they’re selling or who they are.
Every company, non-profit, and brand should know what their values are. We help our newbie and startup clients figure this out with branding exercises.
While I can’t give away all of our secret sauce I can share with you an AH-MAZING book that will help you with creating your brand, brand values, and brand messaging.
Read: World Famous: How To Give Your Business A Kick-ASs Brand Identity by David Tyreman. It will be the best $15 bucks you’ve spent.
What I CAN tell you is this:
- When you know your core values, link every piece of communication back to one of them
- Find out who your audience is and tie your values back to them (how do these values benefit them?)
- Create and continuously develop a brand personality (or brand persona)
Power Tip: It amazes me how some people create these brand personas once and then call it a day. We, as people, grow and change right? So why wouldn’t your brand’s personality do the same?
Creating A Manual Of Style
I know it sounds scary to create this Manual of Style, but not if we break it down into manageable chunks:[From Google] Manual: a book of instructions, especially for operating machinery or learning a subject; a handbook. [From Google] Style: a manner of doing something; a distinctive appearance, typically determined by the principles according to which something is designed.
All it is, then, is taking your desired brand “design” and writing it down so others can follow it.
I’ll give you some examples:
- Our biggest client, a global, billion-dollar staffing firm, would not use slang. They would be very professional in their writing, but with a friendly tone. Like a co-worker who’s a go-getter but still manages to bring you homemade banana but muffins. She’s caring. She can get excited from time-to-time, but never beyond one exclamation point. She uses emoticons sparingly (almost never!). She’s extremely helpful, responsive, and you know you can count on her when you’ve got a question for a big project that’s due.
- Our newest client, a fashion startup, would use slang. They are witty and sarcastic. They use emoticons and hashtags like #ManSquee. While they’re not known for bringing you cupcakes on your birthday, they do know which celebrity just launched a fashion line, what Fall’s trending color is, and who wore it best. Imagine Rachel Zoe but less valley girl and more Jack from Will & Grace … energetic, fun, and a little judgemental.
By writing those examples down in specifics, we can help other Community Managers and Ad Specialists when they’re working for the brand.
After all, we have to become the brand when we’re representing it!
What do you think? Do you have a Manual of Style, or something similar, for your brand? How do you ensure your message stays consistent? Let’s us know in the comments section below!
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Brooke B. Sellas is the in-the-trenches Founder & CEO of @HelloBSquared, an award-winning social media, advertising, and customer care agency. She's also the Co-host of The Marketing Companion podcast with Mark Schaefer, where they discuss jaw-dropping marketing trends. Brooke's marketing mantra is “Think Conversation, Not Campaign” so be sure to give her a shout!
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