How Building a Business Identity Works

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Those of you who own your own business may know that customer recognition of your business's name and logo is important. Did you know, however, that the clearer your overall business identity is, the more likely your business is to survive and thrive? In order for your identity to be clear to your customers, it has to be unique, as well as consistently displayed in every aspect of your business. People are highly affected by visual elements. Remember the saying about a "picture is worth a thousand words?" That is why using a consistent visual image is so important for businesses. A sense of cohesion concerning your business, what you do, who you are, what your culture is, is very important in today's congested marketplace.

Establishing a clear and memorable identity is the first step, and is probably one of the easier steps you'll be taking. The hard part is maintaining that identity consistently, especially when your business begins to grow.

In this edition of HowStuffWorks, we'll talk about some of the work that goes into establishing a business identity, but we'll focus primarily on how to set up written guidelines to ensure that image is displayed consistently to the public.

 

What is Your Position?

If you read our "Building your Marketing Plan" article then you probably have an idea of what positioning is. In that article we stated that positioning is the perception your target audience has of your product. Planning your product's positioning must involve taking into consideration such issues as the competition and how their products are perceived, the needs and desires of your target audience, and the element of mystique or drama that your product or service naturally has about it.

In crowded markets it is very important to position your product appropriately. Think about the advertising messages your audience is bombarded with every day. In order to stand out, your product has to have a clear position their minds. But how do you come up with the positioning for your product?

First, you have to determine a broad positioning. This means determining if your product should fall into a niche, be a low-cost-leader, or a product differentiator. These are each very different strategy highways, and will take you in different directions when fine tuning your message. Think of the qualities of your product, its strengths and weaknesses, the opportunities you've uncovered, the pricing you've considered, and your target market to determine which broad position you will be taking.

Next, you will have to determine specific positioning. This could be based on a certain quality or benefit of your product such as ease of use, durability, reliability, safety, convenience, etc. In some cases you may even be able to position your product based on two qualities. For example, think of Volvo. Safety and durability are their primary and secondary positions.

Taglines and positioning statements

Once you have a specific position developed that fits your business, your products, your goals, and your customers' needs, turn that position into a single statement that can be used with your logo on everything that comes out of your business. Sound hard? Of course it is. You have to be creative and often getting help from an outsider such as a public relations firm or ad agency is a good idea because it's a fresh set of eyes looking at it more likely as your customers might look at it. Or, at least get a good consensus from family, friends, associates, and your employees. Talk to as many people as you can.

Your tagline isn't something you want to change. It will be used in your advertising messages, on promotional items, posters, banners, your web site... you get the idea. Make the right decision from the beginning and stick with it.

Business culture

Creating a business culture is also an essential element of establishing your identity as a company. A business culture pulls in the total experience, meaning the complete vision and mission for your company. The culture has to be communicated and enmeshed with your style and image. Your vision and mission must not only relate back to your position, but should also dictate the manner in which you communicate who you are to your customers.

Vision statement

A vision statement is a business's guiding image of success, formed in terms of their contribution to society. It is a more emotionally-derived statement that elicits a visual image of the company's destination. It is the dream that brought the whole thing to reality. Perhaps you saw a problem and your vision is the solution to that problem. Your vision is the final product. For example, an architect's vision is the final product of his design. An artist's vision is the final artwork that he creates.

Similarly, your business vision is the ultimate goal of what you are trying to accomplish, or how you are trying to alter the current landscape in your market to make it better.

Here are some examples of company vision statements:

  • From a state department of education. --Each school will exemplify a community of virtue in which caring, justice and fairness, respect, responsibility, trustworthiness, and service learning are regularly expected, modeled, taught and celebrated as an integral part of the curriculum and daily school operation. Working in partnership with family and community, these practices will result in improved student achievement, safe, orderly school environments, and citizens that are contributing members of society.
  • From the American Probation and Parole Association. --We see a fair, just and safe society where community partnerships are restoring hope by embracing a balance of prevention, intervention, and advocacy.
  • From a hotel chain. --To be a premier hotel company by exceeding industry standards through innovation and team member excellence, ensuring the satisfaction of our guests and shareholders.

Mission statement

A mission statement is defined as a business's guiding principles that state what the company's goals are, what their values are, and where they are headed. The mission statement defines the company's overall plan in a succinct and interesting manner with a tone reflective of the tone of the business itself. It should answer questions like:

  1. What needs does the business address? Or, what is the purpose of the business?
  2. How does the business address those needs?
  3. What are the principles and beliefs that guide how the company addresses the need?

Here is some examples of mission statements

  • From a home healthcare company-- "To improve the quality of our customers' lives."
  • From a a big brother/big sister organization.-- "To make a positive difference in the lives of children and youth, primarily through a professionally supported, one-to-one relationship with a caring adult, and to assist them in achieving their highest potential as they grow to become confident, competent, and caring individuals, by providing committed volunteers, national leadership, and standards of excellence."

Employer branding

Employer branding is the image your company displays to potential employees, and builds with employees once they're onboard. Much of your employer branding will overlap with your corporate identity. In fact, according to a survey by The Conference Board Inc., New York, the goals of corporate branding and employer branding have significant overlap at about 90% of all companies.

Employer branding helps employees internalize a company's values and goals. By creating a unified feeling among your employees, you can more effectively communicate that same message to your customers. Effective employer branding also promotes good customer service and a consistent message throughout your company.

This article should have given you some ideas about what your business identity could be, or at least how take steps toward determining the information you need to set up your business identity. Now we'll go into how to put that information down on paper into written guidelines for use by you and your employees, in order to help achieve consistency in how your image is displayed to the public. After all, you don't want to waste all of that time and effort you spent coming up with your company's position by allowing a mishmash of images to float out to your customers.

Written Guidelines

Even if your company is small, it makes sense to write down guidelines about how to use and display your business identity. Remember the importance of a consistent "look." This means setting up a guideline document that includes information like:

  • Logo usage
  • Stationery usage
  • Signage
  • Marketing materials
  • Presentation materials
  • Advertising materials
  • Product packaging
  • and more

This document should be detailed and cover every area that might be necessary for your business. For example, if you have locations that might be developing their own marketing materials, it probably isn't enough just to give them logo guidelines. You should also have a layout template or guide, voice guidelines for the written text, color palette and paper stock guides, and possibly even designated printing companies.

Even if you don't have several office locations yet, you should develop this document as if you did. This will provide a standard of quality and a look for your materials and business that you can refer back to yourself. You will probably find that it is difficult to remember how something was done a year earlier. If you have this document, you can simply refer to it and know you are staying within your own guidelines.

Let's move on to the information and detail you should include in your document.

The "Look"

How do you keep the look of your business consistent across different media? There are several design elements that play a critical role in helping you do this.

Logo

First of all, your company logo has to remain consistently displayed in color, size, and the spacial relationships with the elements around it.

Color choices

The color can be standardized by using a set color system such as the Pantone Matching System (PMS). The printer you select will use a specific PMS ink color designated by you and your logo designer. By always using this PMS ink color, you can be assured your logo will be a consistent color in all of your materials and documents.

Here is an example of some of the Pantone colors and how their numbering system works:

There are, of course, many more colors than those displayed here. Your printer or designer should have a printed color chart you can look at to determine the exact color you want to use. It is difficult to select a specific color solely by seeing it on a computer screen because computer monitors very greatly in how they display colors, so make sure you see an actual printed sample.

Black and white versions

You will need to make sure your logo can be printed nicely in black and white, as well as color. If you know you will be faxing and photocopying the logo then you should also make sure it still looks good when produced this way. You may need to have variations of the logo for use in these types of documents. (This is something to keep in mind for many of your documents such as letterhead, forms, etc.)

Backgrounds

You should come up with guidelines addressing the placement of you logo on patterned or colored backgrounds. The background can detract considerably from the look and impact of the logo and should be limited to white or whatever you feel looks the best.

Logo Variations

Sometimes it is necessary to reverse your logo in order to print it on a dark background. For example, if you have company shirts made, you may want to use a dark color that would require your logo to be stitched in white. Make sure you have reversed versions of your logo specifically for these uses. Sometimes the reversal process changes certain elements of the logo such as shaded areas and gradations. By creating these versions initially, you'll have it set up in a usable format from the start and can address those changes without being in a rush for some special event and ending up with a surprise.

Size and Space Considerations

Set up minimum, as well as maximum, sizes for using the logo in typical documents and materials. Often the logo is reduced to fit a space and ends up being illegible in the final document. This creates a bad image that only becomes worse if the document is then faxed or photocopied.

In addition to size, it is also important to set requirements for the spacing around your logo. Look at the examples below to see what we mean. The document on the right crowds the logo and looks unprofessional.

Illustrate, in your guidelines, the required white space on all sides of the logo. This will ensure that the logo has the impact and look you have worked so hard to develop. These examples show how this can be illustrated.

Incorrect Uses of the Logo

Set up an example page of incorrect uses of the logo. This is especially important if you have other locations that may be creating their own materials. Making an electronic version of your logo available to others can be helpful or harmful.

Examples of incorrect use may be using wrong colors, stretching, squeezing or otherwise distorting the logo. Here are some examples.

Instructions for Using Logo Files

It is a very good idea to have instructions about how to use electronic logo files. If you make the logo available electronically to your employees then you will very likely have a lot of questions about how to use it. The first thing you hear will be, "I can't open the logo." This will always be the case unless your employees have graphics programs that can read the file formats that your logo will be in. Most likely you will have .pcx format or .bmp format for use in everyday word processing documents. Your employees will need to know that, in order to use those files, they have to "place" or "insert" the logo file as a graphic or clip art file onto the document in the position where they want it to appear.

For example, in Microsoft® Word, to place a .pcx logo file into a document, you simply go to the "Insert" menu and select "Picture" which gives you a pop-out box that let's you tell it what type. There they would select "from file" and then direct it to the location of the logo file on their hard drive. This will place a scalable copy of the logo graphic on their page.

Other logo file formats should be available. For example, your printer or designer will need the logo in an .eps (encapsulated postscript) format or a .tif format. Your web designer will use a .jpg or a .gif format. You may also want to make the .gif or .jpg formats of your logo available to your employees for use in computer presentations. These files are designed for on-screen use and are typically smaller in file size.

Fonts

An element that can have almost as much impact as your logo on the recognition of your business, is the font face you use in your marketing materials, documents, and other printed collateral. Select a standard font family and use it consistently in all of your documents. Consistent font usage has more of a cumulative effect on how your customers recognize and perceive your company. This level of attention to detail contributes to both the recognition and the perceived image of your company, as well as the professionalism your company displays to the public.

As with the guidelines for your logo, you'll also need to set up guidelines for the fonts your company will use, as well as how and where each style should be used. Here is an example of how you can set up standard font faces and the guidelines for their use.

Make sure you also have rules against alterations to the fonts just as you did with your logo. This would include restricting things like changing width (the actual width of the letter) or kerning (the spacing between the letters) of the font, or using odd spacing between lines of text. All of these things effect the look of the document.

Color palette

The colors your company uses will obviously be dictated by the color you chose for your logo. There should be, however, additional colors selected for use in media and documentation that can support it. By selecting a color palette for your company to use, you can ensure that the hues and shades of colors used are complementary to the logo color.

If your company has different divisions or areas of business, you may even want to set up a standard color for each to establish a sort of sub-identity for that area.

Remember to consider the emotions that different colors evoke and make your selections accordingly. For example, green has a calming effect, while red has a more intense and exciting effect. Blue tends to bring about a more sober and contemplative feeling, while purple brings about a regal, dignified and even a mystic feeling. Yellow and orange elicit more feelings of joy, energy, and cheerfulness. While these associations are not absolute, they can be used as somewhat of a guide for color selection.

Some examples of color combinations that can work are shown on the right. Use your imagination when thinking of colors to put use. Many of these samples may not be something you would think could work together, but when they're used in marketing materials or presentations, they can provide good impact and a professional image.

Paper Stocks

The paper that your stationery, business cards, brochures, and other materials are printed on have an impact as well. You should make your paper selections based on color, texture and weight, as well as cost. Keep in mind that if you choose a color other than white, your printed inks will also shift in color. Also keep in mind that all white stocks are not created equal. There are many varying levels of brightness for white stock. Typically, the brighter the stock, the higher the quality and, therefore, the more expensive. This may not always hold true, but can be used as a rule of thumb.

There are many paper producers and hundreds of styles of papers. Visit a printer and look through their sample books to get an idea of what you like. Or, if you use a designer to design your materials and identity, they will probably also have some good suggestions and samples you can look at.

Papers will be available in several different weights within the same style and color family. There may also be variations of shading within a specific texture family. This may work well for differentiating various segments of your business, as we mentioned above in the color palette section.

Once you have determined the stocks and weights you want to use for your materials, you should make sure you identify those styles in your written identity guidelines. If you are a small business, this will help you keep track of it down the line and stay consistent when you need reprints. In many cases, your printer will keep a record of what you used in the past, but don't depend on them solely to keep track of details. If you have other locations, detailing this information in your written guidelines will provide them with the information they need in order to have their own materials printed.

Now, let's move on to your stationery design and how you can maintain a consistent look across all of your documents.

Stationery

Your business stationery consists of letterhead and accompanying unprinted stock for additional pages, envelopes, mailing and shipping labels, note cards, business cards, and more. Each of these documents should be designed using a consistent layout -- meaning the same consistent "look."

In your written guidelines, show examples of each of these and set standards for how they should and should not be used. For example, you may want to restrict the use of your letterhead for non-business-related correspondence, or you may want to show exactly how letters or reports should be formatted. (We talk about setting up standard document templates below.)

You should address how each printed piece should be used. For example, if you have company note cards, you may want to describe the types of things those should be used for such as invitations to open houses, thank you notes, or other types of client communications.

Creating Templates

By creating document templates for things like letters, memos, reports, proposals, and presentations, you can ensure a higher level of consistency for what leaves your office and finds its way to your customers. A template is simply a blank formatted file that has imbedded styles that can be used for each section of the document. For reports or proposals that have many similarly worded sections, standard introductions, or other areas that do not change, you can create a "boilerplate" type document that has these elements already entered correctly.

These documents should be saved as "templates" under the "save" "options" in your software program. By saving them as templates rather than just the regular document, you protect the original document. When you open a template, you get a new untitled document that is based on the original. It is very easy to forget to rename a new document and overwrite the original one if you're not using a template!

Formatted Electronic Masters

Other standard printed items include fax lead sheets, memos, and office forms. These documents can be set up in either word processing programs, or converted to PDF (Adobe's Portable Document Format) files that maintain the exact formatting you've set up. PDF documents can't be altered without the Adobe Acrobat Software, but can be read and printed with Adobe's free Acrobat Reader Software. This software can be downloaded from the Adobe Web site. If you don't have Adobe Acrobat to create these documents in, check with your software manufacturer or Adobe about exporting documents from your existing programs to the PDF format. It can be as simple as saving the file as a "PDF" or selecting a PDF option under your "print" command.

Create a Library of Documents

It is often helpful to have an established directory on your network or intranet (if you have one), or simply a diskette or CD-ROM that contains electronic logo files, formatted masters, and document templates for use by you and your employees. If you have a Web site, you can even have an unlinked or "hidden" download page that contains links to these documents for download. By setting it up this way, you can easily keep the documents updated when you update your Web site. To keep visitors from coming to the page, you can set up a password protected page. Your webmaster should be able to do this easily.

Regardless of how you distribute these documents, it is important to make sure you have them set up correctly, and that you and your employees know how to use them. Therefore, within that library it's a good idea to have files explaining "How to use electronic logo files," "How to use document templates," and "How to use document masters." You can even have a copy of your Identity Guidelines available for download.

There is also the option of putting the written guidelines and right on your Web site with links to downloadable documents, templates, and logos.

Marketing and Collateral Materials

Your marketing materials probably have the most impact on the recognition and image of your business of anything. Whether it's print, broadcast, or your exhibit booth, it should have a look consistent with everything else you are using. A designer can help you set up the initial designs, but in the event that designer is no longer around, you'll also want to have guidelines about how new materials should be set up in order to blend with the old materials.

All of the standards we talked out previously, such as fonts, colors, paper stocks, etc. will also carry over to your marketing materials. If you have locations that prepare their own materials, you'll at least have guidelines for their printers and designers to use.

Pre-printed Drop-in Sheets

If your staff have the need for low quantity customized "flyers," it may also be helpful to have templates set up that they can use to enter text and create professional-looking and customized documents on the fly. These types of documents can be printed via laser printer onto a pre-printed, but mostly blank, paper stock. The information that is pre-printed onto the sheet could simply be the company logo and some graphic design elements that pull the sheet into the standard look of the other company pieces. This method is a very cost-effective way to produce quick and inexpensive marketing materials. The pre-printed sheets can be printed in bulk and distributed for use by anyone within the company. The key is the use of the template files so the final product has the same text formatting and look as everything else. Spacing and fonts are very important.

Good instructions should be included in your written guidelines outlining the proper usage of the drop-in sheets, as well as how to go about doing it with various software programs. You should also set guidelines about when the quantity produced ceases to be "small" and should be printed professionally. Most offset presses have no problem over-printing onto this type of pre-printed stock. In fact, you might use this pre-printing technique for other types of literature needs. Use your imagination. It's a good way to get more color into your materials at a lower cost.

Promotional Items

Most likely, you'll order all of your promotion items like imprinted pens, mugs, notepads, etc. from a central source and either store them until needed, or distribute them among locations (if you have several locations). This is another item that needs guidelines in the event you have others placing their own orders for new items. If you will be having several employees or locations ordering their own premium items for trade shows or special events, then it's important to set some boundaries. Those catalogs make you think you need all of that junk (I mean stuff)!

First, assemble a list of approved types of items with the level of description you think necessary to limit the items to what you want to approve.

Second, create a graphic guideline for how the logo should be placed on each item and how it can be altered. Remember the example we used about the logo shirts? If you have to reverse the logo then at least you can feel comfortable with how it will look.

Third, set up an approval system that will ensure you have final say over the ultimate design. This may seem a bit extreme, but remember some of those "premium" items can be cheesy enough by themselves without having your logo mangled upon them.

Print Advertisements

Print ads your company runs in newspapers, magazines, newsletters, or other media should also have an established design that is strictly adhered to. Determine layouts for several ad sizes and shapes that follow the same design. Below is an example of some of the specifications you may want to include.

Set up guides for each ad size and shape you expect to need. Since most print media will have their own specific ad sizes, you probably won't be able to set up standard ads that can be used anywhere. If you do, watch out for publications that say they can alter the ad for you. You may end up with a squished or stretched version of the original! Have a new ad set to the specified size whenever possible.

Press Releases

Though not quite as important in layout as content, your press releases should at least follow a standard press release format stating the release date, contact information (yours), and the subject clearly at the top of the page. We'll talk more about style guides and voice for written text later in this article.

Product Packaging

This may be beginning to sound like a broken record, but.... yes, your product packaging should not take a drastic leap away from the established image of the rest of your company. It's possible the packaging is the only thing some customers ever see of your company's "look." If this is the case, and it will depend of course on the type of business you have, then pay extra attention to the consistent look and design of your packaging.

Don't stray from the color palette, although you may end up having to expand the palette if you have an extensive product line. But at least select colors wisely and make sure they complement the other standard colors. Then, make sure any supporting literature and advertisements for that product use the same colors. Color is a very memorable part of our world. Research has shown that consistent use of a color in the marketing of a product has significant impact on recall of that product.

Presentations

It's a good idea to have presentation templates set up that employees can use for sales presentations, training courses, or other presentation needs. These templates can be part of your library of templates, documents, and master files.

Photos, Art, and Images

Another important piece of the image puzzle is the photos and artwork that accompany most pieces of literature, presentations, and other media. Assuming you have unrestricted use of these photos and images, it is recommended that they also be a part of your "library" so employees can use them as needed. Again, instruction will be need be provided about how to use the images along with restrictions of use such as alterations or misuse.

You may have an extensive list of documents and materials that you'll need to write guidelines about, but doing so will ensure you don't have a lot of bad stuff floating around!

Property Issues

The signs and other physical attributes that announce the location of your business are another important area that must remain consistent in regard to look and image. Particularly if you have more than one location, you'll need to make sure that each has a consistent look. Some large chains like Toys 'R Us and others make sure that every store is set up the same way so that customers can quickly find what they are looking for regardless of which location they are at. That takes a lot of planning and attention to detail. You can do that too, even if you don't have multiple locations in every state!

Exterior and Interior Signs

If you have a single office location then you probably don't have to worry so much about the layout, colors, and design of your company's signage -- other than making sure it follows your established "image."

If you have several locations, either through acquisition or simply expansion, then you do need to deal considerably with directing the design, production and placement of signs outside and inside of your locations.

The first thing you should do is determine the material, layout, size and placement that you think is necessary for your business's signs. This would include deciding between aluminum signs with vinyl lettering verses painted or even hand-carved wooden signs, all depending on your business and its image.

There may also be restrictions by building landlords. Check with them prior to setting your standards, or allow for exceptions for certain locations. Some towns and cities also have restrictions about the height, size, and even the colors of business signs. Check town ordinances regarding these issues.

Vendors

Once you have nailed down the design details, and know the restrictions about what you can and cannot do, then you can move on to setting up your guidelines. You can consider either having all signs created by a central sign company and shipped to each location, or selecting a national vendor who can produce the same product in all the cities in which you have business locations.

If you go with the latter, you need to have sign material guidelines such as backing material and letter material, specific color selections (you probably won't be able to indicate a PMS color for sign shops), font selections, size, and layout. Most sign shops can work from a computer-printed sample layout that indicates sizes, layout and other specifications. Some can even take electronic logo files and output machine cut versions for your signs. Interview some sign shops, find out their capabilities and requirements for art.

Placement

Where you place the signs is also an issue that should be addressed in your identity guidelines. As we mentioned above, however, you may be restricted by your landlord (if you have one) and others so make sure you check first.

Other things that should (or can) be standardized

Details, details, details. The more attention you give them, the more professional and organized your business will come across to customers. Obviously, different types of businesses will have very different details they need to deal with. Below are some details that may play a part in many businesses.

Some of the other issues you should consider standardizing include:

  • Phone messages - Phone etiquette is an often overlooked part of business. How your locations answer their phones, set up voice-mail messages, and even leave messages for clients can have an impact on your overall business. Guidelines for these areas, particularly if you have several locations, can help create expected and consistent communications to your clients.
  • Protocol and policies - Protocol guidelines for unexpected events can also be helpful. For example, if your business has an inclement weather policy then there should also be protocol for how customer interaction and communication is addressed during these weather-related closings. You might, for instance, establish a protocol that instructs employees to put a specific message on their voice mail systems, direct callers to a central number in another location not affected by the closing, or even establish a designated emergency home-based number for clients to call.
  • Vehicles - Company-owned vehicles are another area that might need consideration. Do you have employees who travel to client locations in company cars? Do those cars have proper signs identifying them as being part of your business? Would this be necessary for your type of business?
  • Uniforms - Employee uniforms may or may not be specifically "issued" pants and shirts. It may simply mean a type or style of dress for specific occasions such as exhibiting at trade shows, or conducting seminars. It may be as relaxed as requiring khaki pants and a company logo-imprinted polo shirt. This is just another area that might need some thought and some type of established guidelines.

While this is certainly not an all-inclusive list, it does give you a starting point. Your business will have its own needs and unique challenges.

Voice and Style

Another often forgotten, but still important, image aspect is the style and voice of your written materials, correspondence, and advertising. Does your company want to put forth a light, humorous image, or a stoic, dignified, and perhaps more professional image? The word choices and syntax of your written documents, and even the phrasing of market- or industry-specific issues may need to be examined and standardized.

Do you have employees performing training seminars that use different pronunciations for industry buzz-words? That is something you may need to correct. Use your own judgement and get as nit-picky as you need to. It does make a difference over the long haul in how your customers perceive the cohesion of your business. This may, in turn, effect how they perceive the overall quality of your business.

What is voice?

Voice is the tone that your written statements relay to the reader. It is the feeling and often emotional impact that the word choices and phrasing evoke. It can be conversational, formal, informal, colloquial, and can fall into various levels of each. The intonation you use is important, as well as the sentence structure. Think about how differently a news story is written from an editorial story. Of course, the purpose of the editorial is to relay the opinion of the author, but there is a distinct difference even when comparing the descriptions of the basic information of the story before the opinions take over.

Should your business voice follow a more formal, institutional voice that strictly adheres to the facts and leaves out any emotion or personality? Or, should it follow more informal patterns as in conversation and spontaneous speech? The decision will lie, once again, in your type of business, your level of relationship with your clients, and what types of written materials you produce. Are you a consultant? If so, you may have more of a personal relationship with some of your clients. This might lead you to decide that a more conversational tone is needed in your written materials. Do you write "How-to" books? Then you should definitely use a more conversational tone. You don't want your readers to have to translate what you're saying into everyday language. Make it easier on them.

Of course, many businesses can't operate that way because using more conversational tones may lead them to leave out some detail that might leave them vulnerable. For example, the legal industry must make sure every written statement covers all of the bases and doesn't leave anything to a potentially incorrect interpretation.

Look for answers to these questions when determining the most effective voice for your type of business. Then clearly describe the voice and tone you expect. Give examples and offer a point of assistance such as a company spokesperson or communications manager.

Style Guides

Don't forget about style details such as:

  • how your company name is written out -- Do you use ", Inc." after the name, do you put periods after any initials, do you spell out the word "and" or use an ampersand (&)? This also applies to other industry- or market-specific phrases.
  • optional spellings of words you use often
  • titles and designations of employees and managers
  • use of trade marks and their symbols

Set up a guide that addresses each of these style questions and state your requirements clearly.

Once you have established your written style and voice, make sure that they are incorporated into all of your written materials including:

  • all marketing communications
  • your web site
  • your newsletter
  • all proposals, letters, and reports
  • e-mail
  • public relations releases
  • published manuals, books, and users' guides

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