Can Media Style Issues Affect Your Brand?

The issue of consistency in business-based communications keeps popping up in discussions. It makes sense. The challenge is greater than ever, and it grows more complicated daily.

Why is this important? Media style issues are a key component of brand identity and brand recognition. (Look for more discussion on brand standards soon.)

Large brand-conscious organizations use style guides to define and protect their brand.

Procter & Gamble, for example, has extensive guidelines devoted to logo and name use, spelling, treatment, placement, etc. Similar guidelines exist for every product line and business unit. The Ohio State University has well-defined style standards, and its guide is posted online as a reference for anyone communicating for, by or about OSU.

Luckily, your own company brand and style issues are much more manageable, but if you're seeking to build brand recognition, make sure everyone in your company understands the simple but important aspects of following whatever guidelines you’ve established.

Companies of all sizes have significant content online and in print, whether that content is sales and marketing oriented or informational in nature. The quality and consistency varies widely from one blog post or webpage to the next. Add in webinars, social media pages, online profiles, and print materials (both internal and external), and it becomes a real challenge.

Of course, in order to uphold company styles and enforce brand standards, you need to have these things clearly defined and ready to share. Oral instruction doesn’t cut it, there’s too much room for interpretation.

For small businesses there are three easy way to improve the consistency and quality of web, blog and social media communications:
  1. Adopt a pre-existing style guide, such as The Web Content Style Guide
  2. Create your own custom guide
  3. Adopt some combination of the two
This last course of action is easiest. Adopt an official published guide and you’ve instantly resolved most style and consistency issues. Recognize that you’re going to run into situations and use specialized terms the guide doesn’t address. When those circumstances occur, simply document your preferred solutions as a supplement to the official guide. It's a practical approach to improved consistency and quality across all media.

Your supplemental style guide doesn't need to be complicated, but it should be clear and specific. For example, if you always use an ampersand (&) in your full company name, note that in your list and spell it out to show how it should appear. If you have an official company acronym, nickname or shortened name, do the same. If specific terms need to be spelled or handled in a particular way, document that, too.

This all sounds so obvious and a bit obsessive, doesn't it? When we raised this issue with one client, they said, we don't need this, just follow the spellings, treatments and special terms used in Document X. Well, Document X contained several versions of the organization's name, multiple misspellings and treatments for key terms, plus many other contradictions and inconsistencies.

It's difficult to make a believable claim you're "best in class" if your company name is misspelled or treated differently in every print, digital and online piece. Equally important, such vagaries affect search-engine rankings and results, which hampers your findability.

Share your style list with everyone involved in writing, editing, approving or posting content on your website or blog, and also share it with those who create print pieces, such as brochures, ads, press releases, and so forth. Update the list as you encounter new issues. Also make sure everyone involved in communications development, dissemination or management has a copy of any published guide you adopt.

Once you've done this, you've started to build a custom style guide tailored to your specific needs. More importantly, you've taken significant steps to protect your brand and establish professional communication standards for your company.

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