4 Steps to Easy Brand Copy Guidelines for Your Business

Becky Carruthers
Oct 7, 2020 · 5 min read

Branding is more than skin deep

An orange with the outside painted blue to match the blue background. It’s cut in half so you see the inside orange.
Photo by davisuko on Unsplash

It’s easy to see the importance of visual branding — choosing the right colours, typography, and visual style that makes your brand stand out from the crowd and is distinguishably you.

But there’s more to branding than what’s seen on the surface.

As a copywriter & content strategist, one big piece of the puzzle that I often find missing from my client’s brand guidelines — especially if they’ve created it themselves — is a breakdown of their copy.

Copy is the voice of your company — it’s how your customers hear you when they read your website, receive your promos, and interact with you on social.

Without clear guidelines around your brand voice, tone, messaging, and words to use/avoid, even the most consistently-coloured copy can become confusing for customers — especially when there are different people writing behind the scenes.

If you’re a large business, or small one looking to scale, it’s essential that you create brand copy guidelines to ensure that your marketing manager, freelance writer, new social media maven, and all future hires keep up a consistent style and standard set by you.

Creating brand copy guidelines, or a copy style guide, for your business doesn’t have to be difficult. You can create a basic one in just four steps:

Step 1: Specify Your Voice

  • Witty / Punny to To-The-Point
  • Neighbourly to Expert
  • Quirky to Straight
  • Professional to Relatable

Think not only about what will represent your company, but also what will resonate with your audience. A younger demographic may respond well to cheeky humour, where an older demographic seeks direct language.

Your tone is also important — this is how you communicate feeling through your copy. Do you want to inspire and encourage? Instil confidence? Trigger fear?

What kind of emotions do you want your audience to feel as they read your copy? Write these down, and keep them handy to “temperature check” your copy as you’re writing.

A bright orange megaphone against a bright orange wall.
A bright orange megaphone against a bright orange wall.
Photo by Oleg Laptev on Unsplash

Step 2: Specify Words You Like

If your business is a travel agency for the wealthy, your words list might include:

  • Boutique
  • Tailor-made
  • Luxury
  • High-end travel
  • Comfort
  • Glamour
  • Exclusive

Your word list can be as short or long as you like — I’d usually aim for 10–20 words. They can be a mix of nouns, verbs, adjectives, phrases, or concepts — there’s no limit.

These words will form a quick-reference guide for getting into the voice & tone of your company when writing, and making sure that you’re giving the right impression across all marketing touchpoints.

Note that this is not an SEO keyword list, as these words are not necessarily going to reflect your search terms — they’re more about triggering responses and recognition in your target customer’s mind, and creating the right impression of your brand.

Step 3: Specify Words You Don’t Like

Using as an example again, the travel agency for wealthy customers, they’d want to avoid any language referencing:

  • Budget
  • Shoestring
  • Cheap
  • Backpacker

Using those words would speak to the wrong type of customers, and create an impression that the business services both cheaper and high-end patrons, when in reality their target audience is exclusively the wealthy.

To write this list, you have to know already what type of customers you DON’T want to attract. Plenty of businesses know their target customer, but not enough consider who they want to repel.

Time-wasters, unqualified leads, and bad customers can’t be avoided altogether, but they can be reduced with the right messaging to help them see your company isn’t right for them.

An arrow sticking out of a target, with the target out of focus.
An arrow sticking out of a target, with the target out of focus.
Photo by Ricardo Arce on Unsplash

Step 4: Create a Checklist

Depending on how deep you want to go and the goals of your copy, the checklist could be as high-level as:

“Does this add value? Is this educational? Does this answer a need?” or
“Which customer persona does this speak to? Which pain point does it solve?”

To ensure you’re on-point with your branding, you might want to check:

“Does this fit my brand voice? Does this fit my tone? Does this use my positive words? Does this use any of my negative words?”

For conversion-focused copy, your checklist could include:

“Does this have an engaging hook? Does this have a CTA? Does this highlight benefits over features? Is this customer-centric, not company-centric?”

And for SEO-centric copy, your checklist might look like this:

“Which keywords does this include? Are these in the H1? Are these in the first 100 words? Do all H2s and H3s feature keywords? Has your meta-data included said keywords?”

I use checklists for all of my clients, as a simple way to make sure I’m hitting the right notes every time, and never slipping.

On busy days when I’m working across multiple clients within the space of a few hours, it’s too easy to get their voices muddled or forget which tone is what. Checklists keep my work up to standard and keep me on track, so my clients can push out strong copy every time.

Now go create some beautifully on-brand communications and see your business grow!

A blue sky with multiple hot air balloons flying in the air.
A blue sky with multiple hot air balloons flying in the air.
Photo by ian dooley on Unsplash

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Becky Carruthers

Written by

Freelance copywriter, content strategist & creative, passionate about helping others communicate better and grow their business.

The Startup

Get smarter at building your thing. Follow to join The Startup’s +8 million monthly readers & +724K followers.

Becky Carruthers

Written by

Freelance copywriter, content strategist & creative, passionate about helping others communicate better and grow their business.

The Startup

Get smarter at building your thing. Follow to join The Startup’s +8 million monthly readers & +724K followers.

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