Here are a few of my favourite things: my local butcher, Samsung phones, Bravissimo lingerie store and Andrew Edmunds restaurant in London. (Seriously, if you ever visit the Big Smoke, eat there.)
This flock may appear a bit random, but they actually have two fundamental business qualities in common: they’re consistent and reliable.
Whether they’re selling product or offering me a service, all deliver these two things repeatedly. As a result, there’s a good level of trust between the prospect (me) and the company.
For many businesses, including my favourites, these values manifest in logistics like delivery, quality of product, customer service and a functioning website. This is the priority bandwagon many companies jump on. Fair enough.
But it confuses the eff out of me why some businesses let their commitment to consistency and reliability slip when it comes to their copy.
For example, you could be reading a webpage and it’s all ‘organize’, ‘color’ and ‘traveling’. Then you click on another page within the same site and it’s ‘organise’, ‘colour’ and ‘travelling’.
Neither way is wrong. But it’s a bit like, geez. If these guys can’t even decide on a consistent way to spell ‘organise’ why should I trust them with my custom?
In the grand scheme of things, it might be a small detail to you, but haphazard copy could cause a prospect to make bigger, wilder assumptions about dealing with you.
Honestly, there’s no reason why a business should suffer this when there’s a really simple solution.
Let me introduce you to the idea of a style guide
A copy style guide (sometimes called a house style guide or brand bible) is a document containing a company’s rules concerning copy and design. As a copywriter, I’m only going to discuss this from a word-nerd perspective.
Thorough copy style guides include:
- tone of voice,
- acceptable and unacceptable phrasing,
- grammar and rules regarding punctuation and
- spelling preferences (cos, ya know, the English language is a bugger at times. IRL example with one of my clients: mangoes vs mangos).
Now get ready, because here’s the moment that brings it full circle.
Copy style guides allow anyone inside or outside the business to write in a way that’s consistent with your brand. It promotes readability and develops trust between your company and your prospects.
And that folks, is why it’s good to tighten this stuff up because it’s a further reflection of your brand.
So let’s get you some quick copy wins and tackle the really obvious traps that you can fix up in a jiffy.
Inconsistent copy offences I see consistently
Start by making style guide decisions on:
- How numbers are used and written
- The use of acronyms
- British vs American spellings (more clear-cut if you’re dominant audience is in either of these countries)
- When to use upper and lower case. Main offenders: headings, product names and job titles.
It doesn’t really matter in the first instance how you choose to tackle each of these. You may decide that all numbers should be written numerically unless starting a sentence.
There were 6 eggs in the box. Six eggs were needed to make the cake.
The important bit is that once you’ve decided on a rule, you stick to it. For always.
Copy style guides can get pretty involved
Companies who outsource a lot of their copywriting and content marketing to several writers may find their copy style guide growing and expanding over the years.
Take a look at the Mailchimp content style guide and you’ll see how granular it can get. No doubt everything in there is content decisions they’ve had to address in the copy contributions they’ve received over the years, so it makes sense to lay it all out clearly for writers so their content continues to sit comfortably under the Mailchimp brand.
My own copy style guide is several pages long and covers everything from how I capitalise my headings and call to actions, through to how I format my bullet point lists. It might seem fussy, but it keeps me consistent.
You can start your own copy style guide by noting down in Word or a Google Doc all the conscious decisions you make about your copy and how you write it. This is what I do for my clients when I write their website copy or blog articles, so they have a record of the copy style so far. Whether they choose to move forward with me or use another writer, they at least have the opportunity to keep it all in the same tone and format.