Are you confusing potential customers by not using a style guide?

Are you confusing your customers by not using a style guide?

When it comes to fashion most people have a style… it could be trendy and sophisticated, or vibrant and exotic. It reflects who you are and your personality. It makes you, you. If you suddenly change that style, your friends are going to notice.

It’s the same with writing. Everyone has their own style. But when you’re writing to speak for your business then it’s the businesses’ personality you should be expressing, not your own. 

And if more than one person writes for the same business, all using their own style, you’ve got an identity crisis on your hands!

When you’re writing for a business the style must reflect the business – not the author. 

This is where a style guide is crucial.

What is a style guide?

A style guide tells you how to format words to create consistency in a piece of writing or across a range of publications. It covers hundreds of things that can be written in many different ways. For example, the time, date, bullet points, capital letters, abbreviations, job titles… and many more.

Imagine this scenario…

Two employees at a leisure centre were asked to write copy to advertise kids’ badminton classes. One employee produced a leaflet, and the other updated their website. They didn’t have a style guide to follow.

Here’s what they wrote.

Leaflet copy:

NEW Kids’ Badminton Classes at Park Wood Leisure Centre
Want to get your kids more active? Then bring them along to our kids’ badminton classes. It’s a fun and easy game to learn, making it enjoyable for kids of all ages. 
All kids aged 5-16 are welcome.
Starts Monday 7 January 2019.
4-5pm.
£5 per session.
Visit our website parkwoodleisure.co.uk/kidsbadminton or call us on 01234 567890 to find out more.

Website copy:

New children’s badminton classes
Badminton is a racquet sport, played indoors using a shuttlecock. The classes are for children aged five to sixteen. 
It starts on Mon, 7thJan 2019.
It is held at 4PM until 5PM.
It costs £5.
Phone 01234 567890 to book a place.


Both of these convey the same message, but they’re written very differently. The first is conversational and friendly, whereas the second is more formal. 

Then look at the differences in the formatting:

  • Heading: title case in bold versus sentence case in bold italics.
  • Ages: numbers spelt out versus digits with a hyphen between.
  • Date: written in full versus abbreviated (and with or without the ‘th’).
  • Time: 4-5pm versus 4PM until 5PM.
  • Call to action: bold versus italics.

You may ask… does it matter? Who’s going to notice detail like that? They’re two separate pieces of marketing that won’t be seen side by side.

But it DOES MATTER. 

What if a customer sees the leaflet, then goes to the website to find out more? What about all the other marketing materials customers see from the leisure centre? 

If the style differs across different marketing platforms, or even worse, within the same piece of copy, it looks unprofessional. And you’ve lost the leisure centres personality. 

Customers may ask: Who are this company? Are they fun or boring? Can I trust them with my kids? 

You could argue that it’s not a big deal for a leisure centre. The level of trust you need to pay for a £5 badminton lesson may be quite low. 

But what if you’re a Financial Advisor, a Solicitor, an Accountancy firm, a company supplying and fitting windows and conservatories, a private health care provider… 

Would you trust your hard-earned money, or your health, with a business that has an identity crisis? One that looks unprofessional? 

I doubt it.

Your business needs a style guide to:

  • maintain a consistent tone of voice,
  • make sure everyone is speaking the same language
  • standardise industry terms,
  • be professional, and
  • build trust.

If you don’t already have a style guide, using an existing one is a good place to start

I use the Guardian style guide which has a free online version: https://www.theguardian.com/guardian-observer-style-guide-a 

The guide covers hundreds of things, so, if you don’t want to reinvent the wheel you can adopt their style to get consistency in your businesses’ writing straight away.

But, even if you do use an existing style guide, you should write your own guide for your tone of voice and specific company terms.

Tone of voice

This is the way your businesses’ personality comes across. It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it. Are you corporate and formal, or friendly and professional?

Specific company terms

If there are words or phrases that are unique to your business, they need to be written and used in a consistent way. For example, if you’re selling a ‘thingymabob’, will it be written as ‘Thingy-Ma-Bob’, Thingyma-Bob’ or ‘thingymabob’?

I’d love to know if you have a style guide for your business, or if you use somebody else’s. And if you don’t… are you going to get one now?

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