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Everything you need to include in a digital-first style guide

Style guides are essential for maintaining the look and feel of a brand across customer touchpoints. Most brands, however, still use...

Illustration by Ashger Zamana

Profile picture of Carrie Cousins

7.14.2021

4 min read

Style guides are essential for maintaining the look and feel of a brand across customer touchpoints. Most brands, however, still use lengthy style guides that are made for an era of marketing that relied primarily on printed materials.


Agencies enable this outdated approach to brand management and often give clients style guides that are 100 pages long. These guides are primarily useful for designers, and are often impractical for marketing teams frequently faced with demanding campaign deadlines. They’re also too much of a hassle to update as a brand evolves.


The modern style guide needs to help more than just design teams. To do this, agencies that create style guides for clients should limit their contents to the essential design and copy guidelines for digital channels. Doing so ensures that every member of a marketing team has the tools needed to produce on-brand content efficiently.


Here’s everything you need to include in your client’s style guide—and nothing more.


Design guidelines

Write your design guidelines for the marketing generalist, not the senior designer. Simple instructions around logos, colors, and typography will go a long way in ensuring every employee can create materials that look professional and on-brand.


Logos


Brands often have different variations of their logos for different use cases. Include directions on where each logo can be found—whether that’s on a local shared drive or somewhere on the web—and specify when to use each variation.


Let’s say a brand has two logo variations, one with an image and the company name, and another with just an image. Give directions for using each logo, and include an example. You might say something like:



Color scheme


Indicate which colors in your brand’s palette are primary and secondary, and include their corresponding HEX and RGB codes. You can also include CMYK for print materials, but it may be clearer if these are included as an aside, as most new marketing materials are digital.


You should also give some guidelines on when to use each of the colors. Here are a few examples:


Use ⌗9C9595 for backgrounds only.

Use EB0D0D sparingly as an accent.

Use ⌗10543F for all header text.

Avoid color when it’s unnecessary. Embrace the whitespace!


Finally, link to a short video or include a screenshot showing how to apply a custom color in a color wheel. As elementary as this sounds, your goal is to make your style guide completely fool-proof.



Typography


Include the name of the brand’s typeface, where to find it, and how and when to use it.


Specify the standard text size and text weight. Then indicate if it’s okay to use bold or italics, and give examples of when and when not to do so.


For example, you might give instructions like:


Bold should be used sparingly for emphasis. Do not use bold for headers.

Or:

Use italics only for grammatical purposes, such as citing a source.


If the typeface doesn’t come standard in popular programs like Adobe Creative Suite, G Suite, etc., give instructions on how to download and install it.




Imagery


Offer guidance on what makes an image on- or off-brand. Specify the mood or tone that imagery should convey, and what kinds of colors to look out for. Some examples:


Stock images should always include people, but not close-ups.


Or:

Stock images should be in muted colors, such as pastel blue, yellow, or green.


You should also specify what sizes images should for various platforms. For example, specify that all Instagram Stories should be cropped to 1080 by 1920 px.


Copy guidelines


A style guide should also help marketers replicate their brand’s voice across marketing channels.


Personality

Help future writers get the hang of the brand’s voice so that everything they write sounds like the brand. Define the attributes of the brand’s personality, and provide some examples of sentences or phrases that fit (and don’t fit) with that personality. For example, if a brand’s personality is professional and polished, offer the following examples:


Yes: Feel free to give us a call if you’d like to learn more about what we do.

No: Give us a ring—we’d love to chat.


Grammar and preferred terminology

A lot of brands will follow the AP Stylebook or Chicago Manual of Style as a general rule. Even so, they often have some grammatical preferences that fall outside of these manuals. Indicate those in your style guide to ensure consistency across future copy.


For example, specify if:

  • The brand uses “start-up,” “startup,” or “start up.”

  • Copywriters should use sentence or header case.

  • Position titles should be capitalized. E.g., Is John vice president of design, or is John Vice President of Design?

  • The brand prefers one term over another. E.g., “small business owner” over “entrepreneur” or “client” over “customer.”

  • There’s any terminology that should be avoided. E.g., Some brands avoid words like “tracking” or “targeting.”

Keep in mind that your objective isn’t to teach people grammar. It’s just to articulate brand preferences.


Reading level

Tell copywriters what school grade level your copy should be written for.


Saying things like, “Be conversational” is vague, particularly when a brand deals with complex subject matter. Instead, specify:


Reading level for all copy should be seventh grade, meaning a 13-year-old would understand the basic principles you’re trying to communicate.


You can even give ideal sentence and paragraph lengths. For example:


Sentences should always be under 20 words.

Or:

Paragraphs should always be four sentences or less.


For clients who are more technical, you may need to give additional guidelines on readability. Here’s a sample style guide from WorkOS that takes a deeper dive for engineers who may be contributing to the WorkOS blog.


Build your style guide for the modern marketer

Your objective in creating a style guide as an agency is to make it easy for your client to represent their brand consistently across marketing channels. To do that well, you need to give the client a style guide that is easy to update and share.


Consider using a cloud-based platform like Frontify. Web-based platforms are easy to access, update, and share with outside vendors. They’re user-friendly, so employees can use a menu to quickly find the information they need. And, they make it easy to download imagery and typefaces, so marketing departments can get their work done faster.


Wix Studio allows agencies to design custom sites and brands that perfectly match your client’s needs. Our all-in-one business solution enables you to build style guides, drive traffic, manage sales and analyze customer behavior in the one platform, allowing your agency to scale and grow.


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