Our brands are increasingly brought to life by others out of our direct control. Innocent Drinks describes its brand as composed of “thousands of nice little touches”.
It can be tough to synchronize the brand so that it feels consistent at every touchpoint. Many brands create strict guidelines to keep everyone in check: a style guide, visual standards, identity manuals, etc. While useful and inspiring if done well, brand guidelines can easily devolve into command-and-control compliance if taken too far.
I came across an interesting Fast Company article on the “creative straightjackets” of many brand guidelines:
“Anyone who’s ever written copy for a marketing agency has probably had to deal with a dreaded “style guide”–a Kafka-esque document laying out all the rules for what you can and can’t say, and how you should and shouldn’t say it. The soul-deadening power of these manuals goes double–they’re a creative straitjacket, and they’re horribly, horribly boring.”
The article goes on to profile MailChimp, one of my favorite brands. MailChimp manages my email newsletters. They are my fifth email newsletter provider over the last 12 years, but the only one that I’ve liked, and the only one that’s bothered to build a compelling brand personality, particularly around the more technical messages.
MailChimp created a simple copywriting style guide called VoiceAndTone for all of their creative partners. It captures the nuances of tone depending on how the user will likely feel when reading it. Rather than clamp down on creativity, it inspires creativity even when reporting tracking stats.
Here’s how MailChimp describes the style guide:
“This isn’t meant to be used as a lookup tool or a set of rules. It’s meant to change our perspective, and help us put ourselves in our readers’ shoes. This is really an internal tool, so its content is MailChimp-specific. But any company can relate. Our content has power. The right tone of voice can turn someone’s confusion into trust, skepticism into optimism, boredom into curiosity. The wrong tone of voice can turn someone’s interest into annoyance, anticipation into disappointment, frustration into full-on anger. That’s a big responsibility, and the best way we can handle that responsibility is to be empathetic writers. That’s why this guide exists.”
Instead of brand police, we should be more like brand sherpa: experienced guides that help our creative partners climb higher.
(Marketoonist Monday: I’m giving away one signed print of this week’s cartoon. Just share an insightful comment to this week’s post by 5:00 PST on Monday. I’ll pick one comment. Thanks!)