One hundred books make up the Amazon Best-Sellers list for the Creative Writing & Composition category — that’s just a small sampling of the universe of writing books your team has at its disposal. If you’re unintentional about your company’s writing style, you can only expect hundreds of styles to spread across your content marketing efforts.
This may sound counterintuitive (as writers can feel constrained when placed inside the box of their employer’s process), but in reality, that box provides a framework that great writers view as liberating.
Just as the process of defining your target market frees you to be more relevant for those you are targeting by ignoring those you are not targeting, company-specific guidelines allow writers to unleash their creativity where you want them to, and not waste any time where you don’t.
It also ensures that your audience will know what to expect from your writing. It’s like when you go to Starbucks in California or in Maine, you can expect their drinks to taste the same. In the same way, customers and prospects, while desiring some variety, want to see the same level of quality in every piece they read from your business. If you can achieve that, they’ll be as loyal to your content as people who relate to all of these questions.
Narrowing content production to what is appropriate for your business is a natural process as writers and editors work together. They begin to understand each other intuitively without intentionally thinking about it.
However, if you’re just starting out, or onboarding new hires in your marketing department, here are three great ways to get people up to speed faster than the natural process will allow.
1. Train with a style guide
The easiest way to get you and your creative team on the same page quickly is with a style guide. The one we’ve put together for our writers at Lesson.ly has worked wonders.
Creating a style guide is easier than you think. Simply focus on key principles that transcend all of your content. This should include grammatical style choices, punctuation style choices, etc. The purpose of your style guide is not to teach your writers how to write or how to use proper grammar, but it is to get on the same page as quickly as possible with regard to stylistic choices.
A minor example would be capitalizing headings. Are you going to capitalize every word in the heading, or just the first one? Neither choice is right or wrong, but you should define what you and your team will use as a standard.
Be sure to use and include as many brand standards as well — for instance, is your company name one or two words? Is it capitalized or not? What is the legal name for official documents, as opposed to a DBA (doing business as) name for marketing purposes?
My biggest tip here is to simply start with the list of rules you know off the top of your head that are unique to your brand. Then, as issues arise, be sure to document them in your style guide as well.
Share your style guide with newcomers and freelance writers and you’ll save yourself from repeating the same processes over and over.
2. Work alongside execs
There is no better way to understand the vision, direction, and spirit of your business than by working closely with the executives at your company. At our company specifically, our writers work with our CEO on a regular basis to create new content that is pushing toward our goals.
Simply put, if you know your writing staff is thinking the exact same way that your CEO does, you will be more confident in publishing their content. You know that whatever you are publishing is representative of your company, your brand, your vision, and targeting what your customers need and inspiring your customers and prospects.
Quick tip: If you find yourself in a position where your CEO is unwilling to spend time with your writers, capturing a quick 15-minute, opinion-based video interview for internal purposes can work, too. Pass it on to your staff to disseminate into the pieces they need.
Coach your team to discuss what’s next, focusing on why those decisions are being made, and teasing out long-term storylines, rather than one-off topics. Focusing on conversations that could be a regular series, not paragraphs will help your team build out a more strategic focus for your content. Then, secondarily, they'll be able to tease out specific details for the pieces that are coming up next in the queue if time allows.
This is learning through osmosis. It’s intangible and untrackable, but critical for training your team to think consistently.
3. Build SOP checklists
The most tangible piece of advice I can give you is to create a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) checklist for each and every type of content your team publishes. The checklists should include as many elements of the category of content and even the publishing process as you can include.
For example, with an earned media piece, we make sure that we have reviewed the piece for our company’s style guidelines, included a link back to our website or resources, customized our bio for the publication when necessary, and tied the content to both our goals as well as the publication’s.
For owned media, we have a spreadsheet for each type of piece that we publish, with a step-by-step checkbox for each and every element in the publishing process.
Since we created these checklists, we have saved so much brainpower, mainly because we don't have to think about the mundane, mindless tasks involved in the publishing process. Instead, we can save our brainpower for thinking about the actual content itself, and trust in the checklist to show us what we need to do at each point in the process.
Raise your brand voice!
Get your team up to speed and save yourself time (and headaches) by implementing these three tangible and simple ways to align your content marketing team to your company’s standards.
Do you have any other tips for developing your brand's voice? Tell us in the comments!