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Over recent months, this blog series has covered a range of topics and you may have noticed that the posts have been authored by several different Fresh Egg staffers. However, even though we have a number of authors on this blog, we take great pains to ensure that everyone follows a consistent house blog style. And this is even more strictly the case when we produce more formal content such as onsite copy and client reports for example.
Why does it matter?
Why do we do this? It’s very simple: when it comes to brands, consistency matters. Your digital content is the face of your brand online. Your website may be the first, or even the only, interaction your potential customers have with your organisation, so your site needs to represent your brand at its very best.
Your website should deliver a consistent impression of your company to all visitors, no matter whether they’re browsing your home page, reading a product description, or digging around in your FAQ section. If your editorial style, use of language, or tone of voice is inconsistent across your site, depending on who wrote it and when it was last updated, you risk appearing at best, unprofessional, or at worst, downright sloppy.
Think of it from the customer’s perspective: if you aren’t managing your web content tightly enough to use a consistent lexicon and tone of voice across your website, how can they be confident in your consistent provision of products and services, your control over the ordering process, or crucially, your secure processing of their personal information, should they choose to purchase online?
Showing you care
On the other side of the coin though, if you ensure your use of language, tone of voice and terminology are consistent, it demonstrates that you care enough to have taken some trouble with the ‘little things’, i.e. the words on your website, and therefore the ‘bigger things’, i.e. your products or services, are likely to be equally well cared-for. A well-managed website indicates a company that values its business and is therefore more likely to value its customers too.
To illustrate this, let’s take the analogy offline: would you prefer to shop at a well-stocked, clean, tidy shop where the merchandise is displayed with clear pricing labels, or would you choose an outlet that usually displays pricing labels in ‘£1.00’ format, sometimes as ‘100p’, or occasionally as ‘one pound’? The impression left by the latter is that the shop owner doesn’t care enough to ensure their pricing is consistently displayed. Therefore, how can you, the customer, be sure the pricing is even correct? The customer becomes confused, suspicious, or worse: frustrated.
When we take this analogy back online, a frustrated visitor won’t stick around to figure out if your site’s inconsistencies are actually symptomatic of any deeper problems or not; they’ll be off to your competitor’s site to continue their task instead.
Once your stakeholders have bought into the concept that consistency really does matter, the next question is: how to manage it? A brand style guide answers that question. Larger brands may already have an extensive brand guidelines document which will perhaps include a small section on tone of voice and language, if you are lucky. However, most companies will need to create a written style guide from scratch.
Are they customers, shoppers or visitors?
This might sound like a difficult or onerous task, but it doesn’t have to be. At its simplest, a style guide provides an easy reference set of rules to follow – so you don’t have to spend time deciding how to write something, or having a heated discussion with colleagues over how, for example, your company refers to your valued customers. I may prefer to use ‘customer’ but my colleague might prefer ‘shopper’. Neither of these is right or wrong, so without a style guide to refer to, the author would need to make their own choice. A clear style guide removes the need for decision-making over simple lexicon issues and allows the writer to instead concentrate their energies on producing quality content.
Your style guide will cover standard grammar rules, plus number and date styles, capitalisation rules, e.g. should a job title be written as ‘Managing Director’, ‘Managing director’, or ‘managing director’?, and an in-house lexicon, covering specific terminology your company uses, but which can be tricky to pin down, e.g. do we say keyterm, key term or key-term?
The style guide will provide clear direction for how your brand writes, the types of phrases to be encouraged or avoided and the particular style your brand would employ across different formats (yes, a style guide isn’t just for the web: it’s for life). A good style guide will provide tailored direction for writing blog posts vs. product descriptions, and company boilerplate vs. press releases.
Keeping pace with change
Importantly, once you’ve created your style guide, it needs to be shared across the organisation. Everyone needs to know where it lives and be encouraged to refer to it continuously. And your style guide needs to be updated regularly to keep pace with change. As your business grows and changes, so should your style guide, to reflect the types of content you need to produce. And not least, your style guide needs to reflect changes to the English language: after all, it wasn’t so long ago that Google was just a noun, not the omnipresent verb it’s become today.
If you've found this post interesting, you might like to read the other posts in our If Content is King series.