Designers ask me all the time if they “really need to blog.” And I totally get it – who wants to add something like that to their to-do list?! But the fact remains that content marketing (whether it’s written blog posts, video content, or even audio files) is one of the most powerful and effective tools in the marketing world – IF you use a solid content strategy.
You probably already know it’s not enough to try to skate by with slipshod content. Your marketing efforts need to provide your audience with some sort of actual value, whether in the form of information they can use in their own lives or simply giving them a little entertainment. You also know it’s important to deliver that value on a regular basis. This could be weekly, biweekly, or even just monthly blog posts/online content. You don’t want your followers to forget all about you when they don’t see anything new from you in ages, so you need to capitalize on the SEO benefits of continually adding fresh content to your website.
But something you may never have thought about is whether or not your content is bringing the best bang for your investment right back to your brand’s front door. Unless you’re regularly providing your audience with awesome value that’s also intrinsically tied to your brand, it’s not doing everything it could to move your business forward. In other words, you’re not using a good, solid content strategy.
Give Them a Taste of Your Brand
So what exactly does it mean to “intrinsically tie” your content to your brand? I’m sure you’ve heard of fruit-infused water, right? Mmmm! Watermelon water on a hot summer day is my fave! Anyway, think about how the fruit isn’t squeezed or pressed to release its juice; it’s just dropped into the water. This gives the water just a hint of its flavor; just a subtle touch.
That’s essentially what you want to do with your blog posts and other forms of content. You don’t want the content to be overwhelmingly filled with your brand since that would distract from its value as a genuinely useful piece of content. Nor do you want to force your brand into the copy, disrupting all the good stuff with sales-y sounding mantras or out of place mentions of your services. Instead, you want that content to have just a hint of the flavor of your brand. It’s not easy, but once you get the idea and start to put it into practice, it will become more natural and more effective.
Here’s How to Do It
When I wrote articles for magazines and large corporations, I was usually required to use the publication’s style guide. This was a document that listed all of the “dos and don’ts” their writers had to follow so that the overall voice, style, and messaging was consistent with their brand. The guides included things like examples of acceptable and unacceptable language and lists of approved terms. For example, “interior designer” may be preferred over “decorator,” and “outdoor furnishings” is acceptable while “patio furniture” is a big no-no.
While these guidelines could have seemed restrictive, they really weren’t. Quite the opposite, in fact. These guides gave me as the writer a solid jumping off point to help me match the voice of the article to the brand and ensure the terminology I used helped to underscore the messaging they were working to convey. That’s why I believe every design firm should have a brand-style guide in their back pocket, ensuring all their content maintains their “voice” and messaging. This is particularly true if the content creation is outsourced to external contractors or junior team members.
Creating a Style Guide as Part of Your Content Strategy
Don’t let this scare you – creating a style guide as part of your business’ content strategy sounds like way, way more work than it is in practice.
Start by putting together a style checklist. This should include things like:
- What’s your unique point of view on design? What can you bring to the conversation that no one else can?
- What’s unique about your brand and your offers?
- What problems do your service offerings solve?
- What are your brand values?
- What is the voice of your brand? Is it more formal or more casual? Friendly and personal, or warm and professional?
- What kind of phrasing are you comfortable with for CTAs (calls-to-action or “the ask”); for example, “Contact us!” vs. “Let’s chat!” vs. “Schedule a call?”
- What gets your audience excited about your brand?
- What are the words you want to use to describe your design aesthetic?
The good news is you don’t need to include any “writerly” stuff (like your stance on the serial comma or whether to follow AP or Chicago style) in your guide, like the ones I had to use in my magazine writing days – blech! Blogging is much more laid back than that. The important thing here is that you capture the essence of your brand (remember the fruit-infused water) in your guide so you can drip it into your content as you go along.
How to Use Your Brand’s Style Guide
Whenever you sit down to write a blog post, your brand’s style guide should be open in front of you (or whoever is writing the piece). As you write the content, use the guide to make sure that your brand’s preferred language and style is woven in throughout. Be sure to mention your values using your brand’s preferred language, highlighting the thing that makes your brand so special to your clients – without making it too overt or belaboring the point. Whether your topic is your latest client project reveal or a blog about lighting trends, it should be filled with on-brand language and messaging.
Keep in mind that your style guide is just that: A guide. It isn’t a list of hard and fast rules that must be followed at all costs. If you feel like breaking any of the conventions listed inside, feel free. And you certainly don’t have to worry about including absolutely every single item in the guide. Instead, carefully go through your checklist as you’re creating your content to make sure that you’re writing effectively and clearly communicating your brand’s personality and values. Do that every time you create content and voilà! You’re suddenly rocking a pretty awesome content strategy!
After you’re finished writing (or the content has been delivered to you from your writer), make sure to give it a good read from a number of different perspectives.
- First, read it as yourself, the CEO, asking if it says what you want it to say about your brand.
- Next, try to read it as someone looking for information to help them solve a problem, to give them knowledge they don’t have, or to provide them with a bit of inspiration or entertainment as a bright spot in their day. Make sure it’s actually valuable content rather than just randomness.
- And finally, the super important but often neglected perspective: Try to read it as a potential customer, asking yourself if the brand messaging is there. If so, ask what message is coming across, as well as if it’s too “in your face.” What you’re aiming for is messaging that’s only subtly there in the background, helping that potential customer get to know you and your brand a little bit better.
If it doesn’t meet your standards, no problem at all. Just get out the style guide again and look for places where you can sprinkle your brand into the content!
Don’t Stress About It
I don’t mean to give you added blogging stress here. Writing a piece of content is hard enough without you constantly worrying about whether or not you’re putting enough of your brand into it! Personally, I think it’s more of a mindset. If you go into writing a blog with your brand in mind, chances are that your values and language will be reflected in the content. Your brand’s style guide is kind of like training wheels. You may need to rely on it for a time, but once you’re regularly writing brand-infused content, you’ll be able to do it without even thinking about it!
If you want a headstart on tightening up your content strategy game by creating a style guide for your brand’s content, I have just the shortcut for you. Just download my free Content Style Guide & Checklist, where I’m giving you all of the questions you need to answer to subtly put your brand front and center in your content. All you need to do is fill it out and keep it handy for when you’re creating your content, and you’ll be all set!