This talk features the award-winning Mrs. Christine Souffrant Ntim explaining how to build your personal brand during a pandemic specifically in emerging tech ecosystems.
About the Presenter
Mrs. Christine Souffrant Ntim is an award-winning Haitian-American and Ghanaian expert on the startup ecosystem for emerging markets. She was featured in Forbes 30 Under 30, AdAge 40 Under 40, Haiti Changemakers 1804 List, Singularity NASA, Entrepreneur Magazine, Huffington Post, Inc Magazine, and more. She speaks on digital entrepreneurship, personal branding, and future tech for emerging markets at over 20+ global conferences a year, including former appearances at the United Nations, Davos, TEDx, SXSW, European Union Forum, US State Department Tours, Startup Grind Global, SeedStars World, and more.
Maintaining consistency is vital to a brand’s success. However, if you have several people involved in creating and maintaining your website, and they aren’t on the same page when it comes to how to portray your brand, consistency becomes difficult to achieve.
A style guide can provide your team with the tools to better maintain your brand’s image, and give your site’s users a dependable experience. In other words, by establishing clearer and more efficient communication across your team, style guides improve the experience of your brand for both the people creating it and those encountering it.
In this article, we’ll discuss what a brand style guide is and why it’s essential to your website. Then we’ll explain how to create one for your site in just five steps. Let’s get going!
An Introduction to Brand Style Guides
A brand style guide is a set of rules for how your brand will be portrayed, both online and off. Think of it as the foundation of your brand story. This includes its web design, tone, and content, the way you handle customer interactions, and more. Businesses are built on customers’ perceptions, so anything that impacts how your site’s audience sees your brand can be taken into account.
Some specific areas of interest for your style guide might include visual design elements and choices such as color scheme, iconography and typography, site layout, images, and logos (including your marketing materials). Your web copy, ‘about’ page, blog, and social media content should also match your brand personality in the eyes of users.
Any elements related to user interactions, including live chats and forms, also make an impact on how customers feel about your brand. How quickly you respond, what you say, and how you say it can turn a lead into a promoter for your brand. When done poorly, it can also lead them towards your competition instead.
It’s important to note that a style guide, or brand book, is different from a pattern library. While pattern libraries are also useful, they only list the essential elements of your brand’s visual identity. They don’t provide any direction as to how those elements should be used. For example, without a style guide, your team may have a copy of your logo at hand, but they won’t know what to do with it.
Why a Brand Style Guide Is Crucial to Your Website
Having a brand style guide for your website keeps all team members on the same page about how to present your content to the world. It’s also helpful if you have to hire outside designers or developers to work on your site, as it can prevent them from taking off with their own ideas and leaving your site looking disjointed.
Consistency is key to a brand’s success. Users will more quickly recognize your brand if you have a distinct style that you use everywhere. What’s more, if all aspects of your brand’s identity aren’t the same across your website, social media platforms, and anywhere else it appears, users may become confused and wonder if it’s all really part of the same brand.
Implementing a thorough brand style guide as soon as you bring in new team members (or even freelancers, such as graphic designer or web developer) will set the standard for consistency right out of the gate. The more consistent you can be, the faster you’ll be able to start building your brand identity and acquiring repeat users.
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How to Create a Brand Style Guide for Your Website (5 Key Steps)
There are several factors to consider when creating your brand style guide. Most importantly, building it around your vision for your brand will enable you to craft brand guidelines that help you achieve your goals. Let’s talk about how that process works.
Step 1: Decide Where Your Style Guide Will ‘Live’
Style guides can be created in a variety of formats. Where your guidelines will reside is up to you, but remember that a style guide is most useful when it clearly communicates your requirements and is easily accessible to anyone who needs to use it.
Some businesses create subdomains for their websites that specify page layout, image and logo placement, font, and more. The advantage of using a subdomain is that it’s a visual representation of your style, instead of just a bulleted list of rules. Anyone using your guide will see precisely what the content they’re creating should look like.
Alternatively, project management tools such as Trello are also a useful option. They’re made to be used by teams, so it’s easy to share your guide with anyone who might need it. This kind of tool also makes it simple to organize information in a way that provides clear direction to the people working on your brand.
Of course, if you just need a quick and painless way to create a branding style guide, there’s nothing wrong with writing it up as a document. Including images with examples can help to clarify any complex points. Just make sure the file is easy to share, as you’ll have to make it accessible to everyone who creates content related to your brand.
Step 2: Clarify Your Brand’s Mission
You may have an idea of what you want to accomplish with your website, but writing out a clear and firmly-established mission statement is still important. It will be a useful reminder for yourself, and make it easier to communicate your goals to other people working on your brand.
When creating your mission statement, make sure to focus on your brand’s purpose, and be specific about your values and what you hope to accomplish. You’ll want to communicate your big-picture goals, while also providing concrete examples that are easy for people to remember.
Step 3: Define Your Brand’s Tone and Voice
Your brand’s ‘tone’ is the overall feeling it conveys to your target audience, while its ‘voice’ is its specific personality. Tone can be easily communicated through images and written content. Voice will also come across in written content, and in interactions with users.
Your brand’s tone and voice often define how users interact with your content, and what emotions it evokes in them. Using the same style consistently helps users get to know your business ‘personally.’ Just as a person who is joking around one minute and angry the next can be off-putting, sudden shifts in tone and voice will likely confuse your users.
Incorporating tone and voice into your style guide can be tricky. However, you can start by listing qualities you want your content to express, and emotions you’d like it to trigger. It’s also smart to use your brand’s tone and voice to create the guide itself. If you’re going for a relaxed and welcoming vibe, for example, throw in a few emojis or some slang. On the other hand, more formal brands will want to present their guidelines in a straightforward manner.
Step 4: Determine Guidelines for Your Brand’s Visual Elements
In your style guide, you’ll also want to include specifications on your logo’s usage. This includes when and where it will be displayed. If you always want your logo to be set as the thumbnail for blog posts, for example, you would want to mention this in your style guide (so everyone who works on blog content will know what to do).
Similarly, setting rules about what kinds of images will be allowed can help you maintain brand consistency across your site. For example, you may want to specify whether memes are appropriate for use in blog posts, or if they’re too casual for your brand’s tone. Mentioning licensing requirements in order to avoid copyright infringement would also be wise.
Creating a clear list of all the brand colors, typefaces, icons, and layouts you want to use for your site will ensure that the people working on your brand know these specifications exist. It will prevent them from imposing their own preferences and help those with good intentions avoid mistakes, such as using a color palette that’s just a few shades off from your logo.
Step 5: Allow Your Style Guide to Evolve With Your Brand
As your brand grows and changes, your style guide will probably need to do the same. Feedback from users, changes in industry standards, and modifications to your mission statement might mean you’ll want to modify your tone or certain visual elements.
It’s far more effective to let your style adapt with your brand than to cling to your old guidelines and end up with a style that doesn’t match your current goals. Remember, users’ perceptions can make or break your brand. If they find your style confusing or inconsistent with your brand’s message, they’re more likely to have a negative reaction (or to simply not remember you).
Any time you make updates to your brand bible, be sure to alert everyone working on your site right away. People get used to doing things a certain way, so they may overlook your changes if they aren’t pointed out directly.
Inconsistency across a website’s brand often leads to confusion for your users and your team members. Creating a style guide can help everyone working on your site understand exactly what it should look, sound, and feel like, so your visitors can have a positive experience.
Do you have any questions about using or creating this type of style guide? Follow us on Twitter and let’s discuss!
Image credits: Netflix, I Heart NY, Urban Outfitters, Spotify, DreamHost.
Back in the day, blogging essentially amounted to taking the stage in an empty theater. The spotlight shone on you as you stood behind the microphone and embarked on a soliloquy about your day. Maybe your dog did something funny and adorable, or perhaps you had a handful of vacation stories and photos to share. Maybe your aging water heater finally keeled over and died, setting off a tragically comedic series of home improvement projects.
The availability and accessibility of personal web space in the mid-2000s gave rise to countless bloggers — but not many readers or business opportunities. Blogs typically added up to online diaries shared among close friends and family members, words thrown into the ether.
Over the last several years, however, blogging has shifted from a self-serving ritual to an often fruitful endeavor. Several top blogs have turned into leading voices of industry and now amass hundreds of thousands of dollars each month.
But blogging success isn’t just reserved for the Arianna Huffingtons of the world. From personal finance and fitness to food and fashion, individual writers can use their voice (well, their fingers and keyboard) to build a brand and expand it into a livelihood.
However, don’t let the technical aspects of creating an online presence weigh you down or prevent you from starting. Coming up with your blogging idea and goals is plenty intimidating; once you’ve overcome that big hurdle, take a look at the steps we’ve outlined below to see how to make your dream a reality.
Step 1: Pick Your Platform
You know what you want to say, but how will anyone hear you? Your new blogging venture will face a critical early test when you choose which venue to share your point of view. While the writing, editing, and publishing features found in most blogging platforms are mostly the same, your experience and effectiveness will be significantly impacted.
Website builders offer a beginner-friendly way to get online, but many of the big-name services tend to emphasize drag-and-drop design over providing a substantive and dynamic writing environment. Blogging is a bit of an afterthought, more of an extra feature thrown into the mix.
Third-party publishing platforms like Blogger, Tumblr, or Medium emphasizes content and community, but it’s easy for authors to get lost in the crowd. Your brand becomes absorbed by the platform displaying your work.
Even though all these options come with free or low-cost options, expenses can get a bit out of hand once you add the features you need to be successful (a custom domain name, for instance). You tend not to have as much flexibility as you’d think.
Worst of all, those platforms own your content. The proprietary programs often make it difficult for you to download your content, and you won’t be able to transfer your site anywhere else without completely rebuilding. Granted, the companies mentioned likely aren’t disappearing anytime soon, but even promising startups can vanish in the blink of an eye — and take your blog with them.
Turning to an open-source content management system like WordPress immediately solves all these woes. This free software powers nearly a third of the web, making it the most popular and trusted publishing tool.
With a history rooted in blogging, WordPress balances writing tools with beautiful customizable designs (that will soon get even easier to use with the debut of Gutenberg and blocks). Both hobbyists and Fortune 500 companies use WordPress to build their brand and foster interactions with readers. You maintain complete control over your site and content. Trust us: go with WordPress.
Want to learn more about WordPress? Check out our WordPress tutorials.
Step 2: Set the Stage With a Domain Name and Hosting
Although you can dip a toe into WordPress by using the all-in-one WordPress.com, we think self-hosted WordPress (found at WordPress.org) is the way to go. Hosting your website files with a trusted provider like DreamHost gives you extra security and stability, along with unlimited growth opportunities and friendly support.
What’s the difference between WordPress.com and WordPress.org? Turns out, it’s big, especially when you want full control over your website.
Most new bloggers will be well served with a shared web hosting plan. The configuration is the thankfully the cheapest option, but smaller price tags can open the door for performance issues or crummy customer service, depending on your provider.
Instead of signing up with a generic web hosting plan, explore the specialized features WordPress hosting introduces. If you’re worried about the tech stuff becoming too involved or complicated, purchase managed WordPress hosting and let the experts take care of it. For more information on the similarities and differences between traditional web hosting and the managed WordPress variety, check out this resource from HostingAdvice.com.
Once hosting is acquired, it’s time to take the first big, demonstrable step in establishing your blog! Many new hosting accounts, including ones through DreamHost, come with a free domain name registration. This is the URL your readers will associate with you and your content, so you’ll want to make this count! Hopefully, you already have a brand name in mind, but don’t be crushed if it’s not available as a domain. Some tips to consider when domain shopping:
Use descriptive keywords to describe your blog
Look for something short, pronounceable, and easy to spell
Avoid hyphens and other punctuation
Don’t be afraid to try different domain extensions
See if your name is also available on social media
Make sure there are no trademark or copyright infringements
Step 3: Find a Theme and Customize Your Look
Many hosts have simplified the WordPress installation process to just a click or two, but DreamHost has even eliminated that step. We’ll install WordPress for you, along with a handful of rock-solid themes and plugins to get you started. Finding the right theme or design is critical for your blog’s success, as it connects your readers with your content and quickly informs their first impression of your brand.
Instead of getting bogged down in color schemes and typography, focus on functionality. Good blog themes should make your content easy to find. As such, pay attention to the information you display above the fold:
Is your navigation menu there?
What about a search box?
Recent or popular posts?
Don’t feel like you need to make some big splash with your theme — clean, simple, useful designs always win.
Obviously, your blog’s landing page and individual posts will garner the lion’s share of looks, but don’t forget about creating a visually engaging and useful design for an about page and a contact page. An about page helps build trust with your readers and enables you to share your personality and credentials, along with the blog’s mission and aspirations.
Your theme and your content should work together and add value, not compete for attention. Fonts should be large and readable. Make sure the responsive or mobile-friendly versions of your site don’t hide important information on smaller screens. Instead of playing with the fun parts of web design, such as colors, imagery, and animations, concentrate on user experience. After all, your blog’s design is for your readers, not you!
Step 4: Construct a Keyword-Driven Content Strategy
Sure, you know you want to blog. But are you sure you’re treating this as a possible business venture and source of income (and not as a self-satisfying bout of verbal preening)? Briefly put your writing talents aside and come up with a business plan for your blog that avoids these common mistakes.
For instance, how often do you plan on publishing a new post? Temper the initial excitement and avoid committing to an unsustainable writing schedule. Seek consistency, both in terms of frequency and tone. Your personality and chosen topic area will likely shape the voice you naturally bring to your content, but don’t lose sight of your target audience. Your readers’ demographics, locations, interests, and habits all offer hints as to what information will be the most useful and entertaining.
Take the guesswork out of your writing prompts by engaging in a healthy bit of keyword research. In addition to the obvious benefits to search engine optimization and higher rankings, keyword research reveals what your target audience is actually looking for. Your blog might be the best content on the web, but it’s all largely for naught if Google can’t find it. If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?
Instead of jumping straight into the deep end with high-value — and highly competitive — broad search terms, identify a handful of more specific searches that you can build a base around. Don’t write content around the area’s best restaurants; craft your posts around, say, the coziest Italian restaurant that’s the best spot to bring a date. The experts at Moz do a great job of explaining a straightforward, easy-to-follow method of keyword research.
Step 5: Work Ahead With Writing
Once you have a healthy list of topics to explore, it’s time to finally get to work! Are you surprised that writing is such a small part of establishing a successful blog? Because writing is theoretically the part that comes most natural to you, we’re just helping establish the guidelines through which to funnel your creativity and steer your success.
For starters, you’ll want to publish a few posts before you officially launch your blog. Give readers a glimpse of what they can expect from your brand by covering a handful of topics in the voice and tone you envision using for the long haul. This enables your visitors to connect with you more personally and gain insights and information beyond the generic, “Hey, I started a blog” post.
You might be chomping at the bit to get started blogging, but channel that excitement in ways that will keep that momentum going long after the initial rush wears off. In addition to the three to five posts you’ll publish, try to have another five to 10 posts written and saved in drafts. Beyond that, maintain a list of ideas or keywords you’ll want to write about in the future. By stocking up on content and topics, you’ll be poised to handle any bout of writer’s block that emerges.
As for the content itself, find a schedule that works best for you. Publishing only two or three new posts a week is perfectly acceptable (that’s what we aim to do on the DreamHost blog). Daily articles sound great in theory, but first you need to find out if that is the right amount of content for your audience. Then take your time working up to that cadence. Spend the extra time formatting, proofreading, and otherwise perfecting each post.
Step 6: Build Interactions and Boost Your Following
Once your new blog is open for business, now it’s time to start attacking the second part of this post’s headline: broadcasting your brand. Just as the quality of your content won’t matter if Google can’t find you, the same can be said for your audience. Ideally, you set up your blog’s social media accounts as you worked on the site and starter content (remember when we listed social media availability as part of a strong domain name?).
Naturally, you’ll frequently rely on your brand’s social media profiles to share new blog posts, but don’t resort to mindlessly copy/pasting links into your feed. Many of your same content creation and brainstorming exercises for your blog should also be used toward your social media: How can you be engaging, entertaining, and relevant to your followers? Find compelling images and other visual elements to accompany your posts; graphics alone can lead to more than 30 percent more clicks and visits on social media. Pose questions to your readers and lend timely insights into trending issues.
Be sure to keep in mind that interactions with readers don’t (and shouldn’t) need to happen away from your blog. Social media networks connect broad swaths of people, but the most important audiences to focus on are the ones who have already found you. Turn your readers into brand advocates by creating engaging opportunities to interact and return to your blog. You can bridge the gap by making it easy for visitors to share their favorite post on Facebook and Twitter, of course, but consider allowing them to comment directly on the post — and be sure to respond to their questions and opinions. Doing so humanizes your brand and deepens the relationship with your readers.
Consider capturing readers’ attention by flipping the relationship. Instead of sitting back and hoping for readers to come to your blog, set up an email newsletter or subscription and collect people’s addresses. That way, you can more actively get your content to the front and center, rather than waiting for someone to browse your blog’s way. This can easily be accomplished with an email marketing platform that provides embeddable code that can be placed in a widget on your blog’s sidebar or footer. Alternatively, consider a WordPress plugin that pops open a window directly asking for engagement. While these can be extraordinarily effective, beware of the fine line between user engagement and dark UX practices.
Step 7: Analyze Analytics and Tweak Your Tactics
So now your blog is a buzzing hive of activity. Readers are zipping around from one post to the next. Or maybe they’re checking out your About Page. Or instead of reading a post until the end, they’re just glancing at the headings. Maybe they’re not even opening a post.
You’ll never know for sure until you look at analytics or the data that shows where visitors come from, how they move around their site, and why they leave. Google Analytics is the go-to (and free!) service that can provide a wealth of information about your audience and your site’s performance. Pageviews can identify your most popular blog post over a certain period, for instance, while a high bounce rate (the percentage of users who leave a site quickly after viewing only one page) may indicate some design or content changes could be in order.
As you learn how long your readers stay on your blog and where they go, you might discover they don’t interact with your website quite how you anticipated. Find where the common hangups are and make the related tweaks to your navigation menu, read more links, and other interaction points. By solving your first few users’ problems, you’re paving the way for more and more readers.
Do you have any questions about crafting the perfect blog? Join the DreamHost Community and let’s talk shop!