style guide
style guide

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.

Writing Section

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.

Visual Section

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.

Awareness Section

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.

Also Helpful

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.

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Ronn Torossian is the founder and CEO of 5W Public Relations, one of the largest independently-owned PR firms in the United States. With over 20 years of experience crafting and executing powerful narratives, Torossian is one of America's most prolific and well-respected Public Relations professionals. Since founding 5WPR in 2003, he has led the company's growth, overseeing more than 175 professionals in the company's headquarters in midtown Manhattan. With clients spanning corporate, technology, consumer and crisis, in addition to digital marketing and public affairs capabilities, 5WPR is regularly recognized as an industry leader and has been named "PR Agency of the Year" by the American Business Awards on multiple occasions. Throughout his career, Torossian has worked with some of the world's most visible companies, brands and organizations. His strategic, resourceful approach has been recognized with numerous awards including being named the Stevie American Business Awards 2020 Entrepreneur of the Year, the American Business Awards PR Executive of the Year, twice over, an Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year semi-finalist, Metropolitan Magazine's Most Influential New Yorker, and a 2020 Top Crisis Communications Professional by Business Insider. Torossian is known as one of the country's foremost experts on crisis communications, and is called on to counsel blue chip companies, top business executives and entrepreneurs both in the United States and worldwide. Torossian has lectured on crisis PR at Harvard Business School, appears regularly on CNN & CNBC, was named to PR Week's "40 under Forty" list, is a contributing columnist for Forbes and the New York Observer, and his book, "For Immediate Release: Shape Minds, Build Brands, and Deliver Results With Game-Changing Public Relations" is an industry best-seller. A NYC native, Torossian lives in Manhattan with his children. He is a member of Young Presidents Organization (YPO), and active in numerous charities.