Are you struggling to strike the right tone and harness the full persuasive power of words? Do buzzwords and jargon fill your writing like weeds choking a garden? If so, you’re not alone. Crafting compelling copy that connects with readers and converts them into customers is trickier than it seems.
That’s why I’ve put together this free style guide checklist – to keep your writing on track, prune away wordy phrases, and cultivate meaningful connections with readers.
By following these guidelines, you can ensure that your brand messaging is coherent and reliable across all your marketing channels!
If brands were human, Google would be the eccentric genius. Always thinking ten steps ahead, churning out new ideas and inventions at a breakneck pace, but a bit absentminded and scattered at times.
Apple would be the elegant sophisticate. Stylish, graceful, and always impeccably designed with an air of effortless cool. But a bit pretentious and controlling at the core.
Disney would be the eternal optimist. Cheerful, endearingly innocent, and full of imagination and wonder at the world. But potentially naive at times and unable to see the darker side of things.
Nike would be the intense athlete. Focused, disciplined, and relentlessly driven to be the best. But possibly pushy and ‘too intense’ for most people’s taste.
Netflix would be the laid-back hipster. Cultural and unconventional, with an endless stash of obscure trivia and stories to share. But potentially judgemental of more ‘mainstream’ tastes.
So what tone do you want to convey through your marketing copy? Determine if you want to be casual and fun, serious and authoritative, friendly yet professional. Your personality will shape how you communicate with your audience.
Here are some options to consider for the tone of your marketing copy:
Use lighthearted language, jokes, emojis and hashtags. This works well for products aimed at younger audiences. However, be careful not to come across as unprofessional.
Use strict and formal language that establishes you as an expert. Focus on facts, details and data that support your product or service benefits. This works well for B2B and technical products.
Strike a balanced tone that is helpful, approachable and polite, but still professional. Use simple language, make recommendations and offer value. This is a good default tone for most B2C products and services aimed at mainstream audiences.
Ultimately you’ll want to select a tone that:
Your goal should be consistency – maintaining the same tone across all your marketing materials and customer interactions. Test different options with a small group to get feedback and refine your tone. Over time the consistent language and style you use will reinforce recognition and trust with your audience.
Focus on how your product/service benefits customers, not just what it has. Use phrases like:
Choose words customers can clearly understand and visualize. Avoid vague, abstract terms like:
Use short, direct sentences with the subject performing the action. Examples:
Recommendations imply expertise and build trust. Use phrases like:
Address customers by name when possible and use “you” to show how your product meets their specific needs. Examples:
Explain concrete benefits instead of vague words like “nice,” “great” and “good.”
Limit modifiers and when used, choose powerful options like:
Explain any industry or technical terms to improve understanding for non-experts.
Brands should typically stick to either active or passive voice for consistency, rather than mixing the two. Active voice (subject-verb-object word order) is usually clearer, more direct and more conversational. Passive voice (object-verb-subject) can sound more formal or indirect at times.
Brands should specify typical grammatical choices like whether to use contractions (e.g. don’t vs do not), split infinitives (e.g. to boldly go vs to go boldly), serial commas and so on. While either choice is technically correct, consistency helps build a distinctive tone of voice.
Include guidelines around the use of exclamation points, em dashes, ellipses, quotation marks and other punctuation for copy. Stylistic choices like excessive exclamation points can impact how approachable or authoritative a brand’s voice is perceived.
Capitalization choices (proper vs common nouns, always capitalize key words) also contribute to a brand’s distinctive voice. Rules around capitals help ensure consistency across all marketing copy.
Decide if you prefer APA, MLA, Chicago or another style and outline guidelines for elements like citations, headings, lists and tables. A consistent formatting style enhances readability and professionalism.
Choosing one or two fonts families (e.g. Arial, Times New Roman) and specifying acceptable font sizes creates consistency across all brand documents from marketing emails to webpage copy.
Mandate use of styles for heading levels, pull quotes, drop caps, and other distinctive stylistic elements. Requiring these elements ensures visual consistency that reinforces the brand.
Dictate preferences around design choices like line spacing, margin size, text alignment, caption placement and imagery to ensure visual uniformity for all materials. Design enhances how readers perceive a brand’s professionalism and attention to detail.
Specify the capitalization, hyphenation and overall formatting of web and email addresses so they appear consistent each time readers encounter them.
Showcasing existing ad copies, headlines, social media posts, emails and other successful marketing materials gives copywriters a sense of what “on-brand” content looks and feels like.
Incorporate copies from various touchpoints like the website, emails, social media, advertisements, etc. This illustrates how the brand voice remains cohesive across different mediums.
The selected examples should authentically fulfill the brand’s purpose and mission, inspiring copywriters to align their content with the company’s core principles.
As the brand’s goals and image change over time, replace outdated materials in the style guide with newer exemplars that better capture the current brand identity.
Discussing the included copies during project kickoffs shows copywriters concrete manifestations of the ‘aspirational tone’ you want them to emulate in their work.
Dictate if technical or industry-specific terminology should be avoided, limited or freely used based on the brand’s desired tone and audience. Clarity is important for consistency.
Brands with a classic or timeless image should restrict words that date copy quickly to maintain relevance for longer. Fad terms can threaten consistency.
Clichéd language often sounds trite and unoriginal, conflicting with a distinctive brand voice. Limiting common sayings enhances consistency and professionalism.
Excessive use of hyperbole (e.g. best, easiest) can undermine credibility and authenticity. Restrict superlatives to help ensure consistency and accuracy in copy.
Language with a strong negative or positive spin may sound inappropriate or exaggerated for some brands. Limiting emotive terms ensures evenness in tone.
Brands must avoid any biased, offensive or exclusionary terminology that does not align with their values. Intolerant language threatens consistency and credibility.
Designate a single person or department (e.g. marketing) responsible for maintaining the style guide. They ensure it remains up-to-date and enforce its usage.
Provide refreshers or train new hires on the contents and proper usage of the style guide. Training reinforces the guidelines, improves consistency and highlights any needed updates.
Incorporate real-world examples, exercises and quizzes to make training more engaging and memoTable. Interactive training helps cement the guidelines in attendees’ minds.
Have the style guide owner review copies created by internal and external writers for adherence to the guidelines. They can then suggest improvements, clarifications or updates to the style guide.
Whenever adjustments are made to the style guide, its owner should notify relevant teams and retrain writers. Clearly communicated changes minimize confusion and inconsistency.
The style guide owner may need to reject non-compliant copies, ask for rewrites or withhold payment from external writers who do not follow guidelines. Enforcement drives accountability.
Set a schedule (e.g. quarterly, annually) to revisit the style guide and ensure it remains relevant and effective. Regular reviews catch necessary updates early.
Seek input from copywriters, marketers, and others who use the style guide. Their suggestions can highlight areas of ambiguity, inconsistency or that need more clarification.
Examine marketing materials produced under the style guide to identify points of confusion, common mistakes or gaps that warrant clearer guidelines.
Have inexperienced copywriters test the style guide to surface assumptions, lack of context or instructions that experienced writers take for granted. Their feedback ensures the guide is self-explanatory.
As the company’s goals, personality and image mature, refresh the style guide accordingly. Evolving brand positioning may warrant revising certain guidelines.
Any allowed deviations or exceptions to the style guide that accumulate over time should be formally included in the main guidelines to minimize inconsistency.
Review the style guide periodically for ways to reduce complexity, repetition and ambiguity. The goal is to make the guidelines as intuitive and user-friendly as possible.
A well-developed and consistently followed copywriting style guide will improve the quality, cohesion and credibility of all your marketing communications. Use these steps as a starting point to craft brand guidelines tailored to your company’s unique needs. Consistent tone, voice and writing style will go a long way in forging a meaningful connection with your target audience.
To help you master SEO copywriting, I have created a free SEO copywriting checklist that covers the essential tips and strategies outlined in this article. You can use as a handy reference when optimizing your own website content for search engines and converting readers. With this checklist, you’ll have a valuable resource to boost your SEO content and see greater results from your efforts!
A copywriting style guide is a set of rules and standards that governs how copy for different types of content should be written. It ensures consistency in tone, voice, terminology, grammar and formatting across all of a company’s written materials.
A style guide helps create a uniform and professional brand voice. It ensures all writers follow the same style rules and conventions, producing copy that feels cohesive and on-brand. This consistency and clarity improves the reader’s experience and understanding.
A comprehensive copywriting style guide checklist typically covers: