Directors of Marketing Communications need a number of tools to steward their brand effectively. This is the first in a series of blog posts that will help make your job much easier and insure brand adhesion in your marketing efforts.
Consistency may be the hobgoblin of little minds, but it is also the hallmark of professional marketing efforts and a key element in a strong brand. A style guide will help you achieve consistency by providing guidelines on graphic identity and editorial preferences. Whenever a designer, copywriter, teacher, development staff member, or anyone else creates something for the school, it will appear to come from the same place. (Yep. This is what you’re going for.)
Do you capitalize job titles? How about references to “school?” How do you refer to proper names within the community? Is it seventh grade, grade 7, or 7th grade and 2011-12 or 2011-2012? What gets capitalized in a heading? Do you use serial commas? What colors can you use in logos and other official school graphics? Can you use the mascot with the logo? How do you give directions to the school?
These and many other questions—whatever is important to your school—can be cleared up early and easily with a style guide or two. (Larger institutions sometimes separate graphic identity style guides from editorial ones. Most schools we’ve worked with need only one.) You’ve got plenty of bigger fish to fry. Why tussle with this stuff all the time?
Tough to Create, Easy to Use
A style guide is difficult to create because it requires foresight, decision-making, and commitment, but it’s worth its weight in gold once completed. (Warning: It may be a work in progress for a while, as new issues crop up and are dealt with.) It tells both your internal and external communities that you have hard-and-fast rules about your graphic identity and editorial conventions, and that there are few exceptions.
No Bad Guys
It makes decisions less personal. It’s not you saying, “I don’t like that color so don’t use it.” It’s, “Fuchsia is against Leaf Academy’s style guide, and we can’t use it.” The Director of Marketing Communications then needs only to enforce the style guide, not mediate disputes.
By Example: Take a Look
I’ve gathered a number of sample style guides for your review. As you will notice, they range from simple, three- to four-page Word docs generated by small independent schools to ginormous tomes that are created to feed university machines.
The first example is a compendium of higher ed ones.
These are more like what you might develop:
For graphic identity guidelines, remember KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid), and try to include examples of what not to do. (Showing what not to do seems to sink in with users better than showing only what to do.) Turnaround created this graphic identity style guide [PDF] for Millbrook School. We think it gets the job done without a lot of fanfare.
Don’t Forget the Web
You might want to include specific website rules, such as the maximum number of words on a page, positioning and size of the school logo, permitted RGB colors, standardized link formats, etc. For some of you, your web developer will already have many of these guidelines built into your template.
Editorial North Star
For the truly picky, choosing a published style guide as your default and declaring it as such may work well. Most choose between the AP Stylebook and Chicago Manual of Style, but there are others. You might also want to pick a particular dictionary, such as Merriam-Webster.
Missing Component: Brand Messages
How can you be expected to promote the school’s brand without the brand messages? A style guide is a great place to include these messages along with your brand story. Washington State University has a great example.
Guide Them Along
Whatever format you choose and however simple or detailed your style guide is, by creating one, you will be giving your marketers a tool they need to do what you want them to do: adhere to the school’s approved graphic identity and editorial style and advance the school’s brand messages.