Inconsistent communications make for a poor brand impression. Create uniformity with our simple consistency tactics.
Running a small business is a bit like being a one-man band. With your left foot you’re tapping out client emails, with your right foot you’re ringing HMRC, with one hand you’re banging out products, and with your other, you’re busy chiming all of your marketing to the same sound.
It’s no wonder that things can slip. But if your communications are out of tune, that’s a big problem. The content that customers see on your website, social media platforms and on paper is a representation of your brand. If it’s inconsistent they might question your professionalism, or the quality of your product.
Think of your communications as coffee. You go to a new coffee shop and order a flat white. Mmmm delicious. So the next day you go back and order another, but this time they give you more of a latte. Ok. Not happy, but maybe you let it slip. Then the next day, it’s more of a cappuccino. Seriously?! You’re not going to that coffee shop again.
In business it only takes the smallest inconsistencies to lose trust: titles in upper case on one page, sentence case another. Double quotation marks used sometimes, single other times. Familial tone on one page, uber-formal on the next. You’ve probably seen it on other people’s websites. And then never returned. So, consistency really counts.
While not everyone is an editor, everyone can implement the following simple measures to ensure their website is consistent.
1. Create and use a style guide
Whether you’re in the process of building a website, or its been live for years, it’s never too late to create a style guide and shape your content.
Style guides provide a framework for you to constantly reference so it’s not just all in your head. All of your team can refer to them and stick to their guidance. Make sure you share it with anyone who might be designing your content.
The best examples incorporate aspects of your brand guidelines, including image standardisations, tone of voice and rules for writing. Here’s an excellent example from HR software company Cornerstone.
2. Keep things simple
You’re up against it enough as a small business, so don’t add to your pressure by creating a gazillion rules or reinventing the wheel when it comes to standard practice.
There are lots of great examples that have been used in the publishing world for decades. Take a look at the Guardian’s which is used as a gold standard.
Even so, this extensive guide might seem a bit complicated. So if you do design your own style guide, keep it as simple as possible and it will be easier to adhere to. Use lists for your rules like in the Guardian example, as well as standard web-friendly image sizes and formatting. Here’s what Squarespace recommends.
3. Deliver your content using a standard process
Process is the key to continuity. If you get into the routine of doing things in an order, it leaves less opportunity for error.
Build in specific checkpoints throughout your process, so that every piece of content that you produce gets looked at twice, at least.
Check the first draft, check again during the upload, and check further once it’s published.
4. Create templates
Every blog or page might have different information, but it doesn’t have to be in a different style. Creating templates is a great way to ensure you don’t deviate from your chosen style.
Templates can be used for all of your communications, from webpages to social posts. With most content management systems, once you have a format that you’re happy with you can clone that page and simply edit the information.
For design content, Canva is one of the best tools I’ve come across for delivering consistency. You can set any design as a template to reuse time and again and store your designs in folders to ensure they’re used for the correct purpose. There’s also lots of ready-made templates to choose from and adjust to suit your brand.
5. Have an editor or designated person check everything you publish
Once you’ve got a style guide in place and you’ve communicated it with your colleagues, you’d like to think it would be adhered to. But the odd error can still slip through.
To try to avoid inconsistencies making their way to the live environment designate one person in your company as the ‘editor’. This person should know the rules inside and out and have their eyes on every piece of content that is delivered.
If you don’t have anyone in your business who could do this, or you’re lacking in time, (shameless plug alert:) turn to a professional who can familiarise themselves with your brand style and help you deliver uniformity. Then go and grab yourself a nice flat white from a coffee shop you trust.