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What is a copy style guide and why is it so important in marketing?

Consistency in copy is more important than you might think, which is why your business needs a copy style guide.

Some office arguments are universal: someone’s hogging the printer, two hours is too long for a meeting (yes, it is), who took my yoghurt from the fridge?

Usually, these arguments are resolved pretty quickly, and we all move on. Other disputes, though, seem to rear their ugly heads time and time again.

Should we use an em-dash or a hyphen? Will readers know what this word means or should we use another? Can a woman ever be referred to as ‘Miss’ or is ‘Ms’ appropriate for all women (yes it is, unless you’re going to describe men by their marital status, don’t do it for women!)

These are copy style questions and the reason disputes happen is because everyone has their own way of using English.

In marketing, consistency in copy is more important than you might think, which is why your business needs a copy style guide.

What is a copy style guide?

Much of marketing is ruled by words – words on your website, words on your in-store promotions, words used in your social media posts. Even video uses words in the form of speech and copy in subtitles, and images are normally accompanied by straplines.

This is why it’s important to think of your copywriting style guide as your brand’s word rulebook.

It outlines preferred words and turns of phrase; it tells you when letters should be used in upper case; it clears up any dispute about the use of the Oxford comma. It details how words and punctuation are to be used to achieve the brand’s tone of voice.

Your copywriting style guide helps your copywriter craft copy that is consistent and brand compliant, and provides customers with clear and strong messaging.

Examples of how a copy style guide is used

Marketing copywriters love copy style guides because they answer every question they might have.

When in doubt, copywriters can refer to the style guide and have their grammar, spelling and word-use questions answered.

Here’s some examples of questions a copywriter might have when it comes to copy style:

  • Should you use the symbol “%” or spell out “per cent”?
  • Do you capitalise the brand name even if it’s all in lower case on the logo?
  • Should you use first names or the honorifics Mr and Ms?
  • Is it okay to use bullet lists?
  • What’s the brand’s tone of voice?

Copy style guides can be set out according to topic, such as spelling, punctuation and tone of voice, or according to usage.

Mailchimp’s copy style guide, for example, has chapters named “Writing about people” and “Writing goals and principles”.

How does a copy style guide differ from brand guidelines?

A copy style guide and brand guidelines are both rulebooks, just covering different aspects of marketing.

Brand guidelines define design elements such as logos, colours, fonts, typography, whereas a copy style guide is a set of standards and regulations for the use of words.

Most brand guidelines actually contain copy style guides.

Despite their differences, they all perform the same function: to create and maintain consistency, brand compliance, and build a strong tone of voice.

Why is having a copy style guide important?

In marketing, a copy style guide does more than resolve disputes across the meeting table. Here are some reasons why having a copy style guide is important:

  • It keeps copy consistent across all marketing channels. This means your website, social media posts, marketing materials and even customer support interactions will have a unified tone and style.
  • It boosts trust and credibility. Consistent and well-written copy demonstrates professionalism and reliability.
  • It saves time. No more wasting time debating grammar, punctuation or tone.
  • It means there will be fewer errors. Having a clear set of rules lessen the margins for mistake.
  • It builds a stronger brand. A well-defined writing style that reflects your brand’s personality can make a lasting impression on your audience.

What should you include in your copy style guide?

In marketing, a copy style guide should contain, at the very least, rules for each of these elements:

  • tone of voice
  • punctuation
  • numbers
  • contractions
  • capitalisation
  • bullet lists
  • formatting of time and dates
  • preferred spelling and word usage.

Increasingly, brands are placing importance on diversity because, firstly, they don’t want to cause harm or offence to another person, but also to protect the brand.

Therefore, your copy style guide might also want to include rules about representing issues to do with:

  • race or ethnicity
  • disability
  • sexuality and gender identity.

Speak to the marketing experts

Assemblo is a full-service marketing agency based in Melbourne, and we know how many dots make up an ellipsis, and we know that the Oxford comma makes copy clearer.

We also know how to create a copy style guide that gives you the best ways to make your copy strong, consistent, and memorable.

To find out how we can help your business, give us a call on (03) 9079 2555 or send us a note via the contact form below.

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