Motorists who once used printed road maps now have GPS that verbally directs them to their destination. Alexa now replaces the need to write to-do and shopping lists, remember to catch the weather forecast on the 6 pm news or set the alarm. But brands that don’t have their own style guides sometimes find themselves in embarrassing and even controversial situations.
KFC recently ran into a hailstorm of criticism for its “finger-lickin’ good” campaign during the pandemic. Although the slogan predated COVID-19 and started in the 1950s, the brand wisely suspended airing those commercials.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t KFC’s only faux pas. That same slogan was translated when the firm expanded its market to China in the late 1980s and came out to mean “eat your fingers off.” What may have helped avoid embarrassment or controversy is a brand style guide.
What’s a Style Guide?
The style guide intends to help ensure that the brand’s content is consistent, enjoyable, and recognizable wherever its product is marketed. It cites such things as logo usage, tone, grammar, and point of view as key elements to achieve those goals.
Putting together an inclusive style guide requires the participation and input from many departments. Be sure to include folks from marketing, sales, creative, public relations, and other departments that interface with customers.
What to Include
The main focus of the style guide is to know a brand’s audience. This is a bigger challenge for brands marketing internationally as there can be important yet subtle differences in values, interpretation, and translation. Coors discovered this when the beer company introduced its “Turn It Loose” campaign to Spain. When translated, it came out to mean “suffer from diarrhea,” which didn’t go over well at all with that market. The style guide should include the following sections.
The style guide should adopt and use an existing guide like AP or Chicago and define things like emojis and differences that set the brand apart. Sections about the kind of tone and voice being sought and used and formatting need to be included. What’s the brand’s personality? Define how it should be reflected in the content.
Knowing the preferences of the brand’s target audience is invaluable in identifying the best visuals to use. Is it pictures, infographics, videos, etc.? Be sure to include information about that as well as the appropriate colors, logos, fonts, etc. to ensure consistency.
Brands marketing nationally and internationally need to be aware of cultural and regional differences in language and how certain things can be perceived differently. That’s the value of focus groups. Another option is working with a marketing/pr person local to a new area or country and previewing a campaign with that expert before rolling anything out.
Encourage and support PR/marketing staff to join professional organizations like the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) and the American Marketing Association (AMA), which have many useful resources. PRSA has a Diversity Committee that serves and includes multicultural markets. Besides an annual award for multicultural mentoring, AMA also offers training and has published several multicultural marketing papers.