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Marketing in style: 5 reasons why style guides matter

Posted by Tom Power on January 22, 2014

Does your organization have a style guide for its marketing content? If it doesn’t, it should. Your credibility with your target audience may be at stake.

As someone who spent much of his career as an editor in business journalism before entering the marketing communications industry, I have an obvious bias toward strict adherence to a style regimen, particularly the Associated Press Stylebook. In the decade since I have been working as a proofreader, copy editor and copywriter in this business, I have often heard the argument that a style guide is just going to get trumped by client preferences, so what’s the use?

It is true that clients will often stet changes in copy that marketers make to improve readability and flow. Most of the time they have their reasons, and marketers need to respect that. But that is no reason not to have a general agency or organization style guide for the content you produce for clients and your own internal audience.

Implementing a style guide provides uniformity in style across a variety of documents, including direct mail pieces, press releases, brochures, website content and emails. The guide customarily includes a set of standards for the organization that is often then referred to as “house style.”
Following are 5 reasons why having a general style guide can make your marketing communications content more effective.

1. Accuracy: How many times in your conversations with friends and colleagues do you find yourself correcting yourself or being corrected by others because you pulled a word out of the air that sounded right but in fact was wrong? Probably more often than you would like to admit. That’s no big deal in casual conversations, but it’s a very big deal when it happens in marketing communications copy, especially when you’re serving as the voice of a client. Having a go-to reference source available is crucial to ensuring your content is as accurate as possible.

2. Clarity: Any good organization style guide will not only include industry information and terminology but also refreshers on basic elements of English usage, including punctuation. It may sound hard to believe, but a misplaced or omitted comma can completely change the meaning of a sentence. For example, read the following sentence: This marketer thrives on executing, tough clients and lost customers. Now read it without the comma: This marketer thrives on executing tough clients and lost customers. Style guides help marketers communicate with precision.

3. Consistency: Since most marketing organizations have a number of individuals contributing to the content they produce, it is vital that all writers are on the same page in the way they articulate the messages they are delivering. Whether it is on a conscious or subconscious level, your audience will notice if you are talking about a “Web site” in one paragraph and a “website” in the next, and it won’t reflect favorably on your organization.

4. Credibility: Nothing screams “unprofessional” louder than a blog that’s full of misspelled words, website content written in the passive voice or a direct mail piece lacking a clear call-to-action. Having a thorough style guide and ensuring that your communications strictly adhere to it will help your organization achieve esteem with your clients, your prospects and your competitors.

5. Specificity: Your style guide should include the language that defines what your organization is and what its mission is. It should spell out exactly how to articulate that definition and when and where to use it. For example, you will find the following definition of J&C on every page of our website and virtually every marketing communications piece we produce: The multichannel digital direct marketing agency that provides measurable response.

If you haven’t already implemented a style guide for your organization, we hope these 5 reasons will help you if you decide to in the future. For more ways to improve your marketing communications efforts, read our blog article, Was it the idea or the execution? Or sign up for our FREE personalized webinar, Improving Performance and Optimizing Your Communications, to see how best practices can be applied to your marketing activities for more actionable and measurable results.

Topics: Best Practices

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