5 Things to Include in Your Brand’s Content Guidelines

Content Marketing


Let me tell you about the one time I got fired. Trust me, there’s a valuable lesson in here for marketers.

I was 16 years old and had just landed a groundskeeper job at a summer camp. One day, I was given the very simple task of removing all the weeds along the entrance road. Easy enough, right? I spent the next three hours pulling what I thought were weeds.

“Those plants cost hundreds of dollars!” he yelled after I was finished. “You’re done here.”

They looked like weeds to me. Anyway, the point of the story is that you shouldn’t make any assumptions. No matter how straightforward a task might seem to you—whether it’s pulling weeds or writing a whitepaper—there’s a good chance it’ll be done incorrectly without some basic guidelines.

It’s easier than ever to create content. The real challenge for marketers now is getting content to scale while remaining consistent in terms of tone, voice, and objective, regardless of the contributor.

If this is something you strive for, here are five things you should include in your content guidelines for internal and external contributors:

1. Establish Content Goals

If a writer produces a beautifully written thought leadership piece, but your goal was to generate leads for a webinar, can you blame them for missing the mark if you never communicated your goals?

It’s easy for someone to assume what those goals might be. A CMI report found that the most important goals for B2B marketers is lead generation (85%) and sales (84%), and sales (83%) and customer retention/loyalty (81%) for consumer content marketers—though yours may be different. This is especially true on an individual assignment level.

Unless you document and share the goals of your content marketing strategy (i.e. how you’ll be measuring success), your contributors will never know why they’re writing, which is arguably the most important piece of information they can have.

2. Develop Audience Personas

Some marketers like to praise the journalistic approach to content, but I don’t always see this as a good thing. Why? Because some journalists often write surface-level content for uniformed audiences. They explain basic concepts and facts (e.g. how to tell the difference between weeds vs. exotic plants) as if their readers know nothing about the topic at hand.

Your target audience may be different, especially if you’re targeting different roles and industry. Your audience likely has more knowledge about a specific topic or industry than others, so your content cannot just skim the surface. The problem here is that unless writers understand the audience they are writing for, surface-level “fluff” is what they are likely to produce. For this reason, you’ll want to create audience personas by documenting traits like:

  • Job titles
  • Demographic Information: Age, Gender, Income, etc.
  • Industries
  • Pain points
  • Stage of the buyer’s journey
  • Potential traffic sources

Now ideally, your contributors are experts in their fields and can easily create this type of “peer-to-peer” content. But if not, then you need to give them an in-depth overview on the audience so they can start to ramp up themselves. The more a writer knows about the audience, the more effective they’ll be in creating content that engages, informs and/or entertains them.

3. Create an Editorial Calendar

Knowing how all your content will fit together is vital to creating a unified multi-channel marketing strategy. Unfortunately, too many managers believe that they’re the only ones who need to know how everything will fit together.

Letting your contributors know your monthly topics and themes and the content plans you have for the future will not only help them on each piece they’re working on, but it will also help them contribute to that strategy. That’s right, by keeping your writers in the dark, you’re missing out on a major opportunity to meet your goals.

With deeper insights into your goals, audiences, and overall content strategy, your internal and external contributors can be a valuable source of content ideas. Rather than simply sending out assignments to them, you can allow them to pitch you ideas that could fit into your content calendar.

4. Document Technical Specifications

Let’s get granular! If you want your content to adhere to a specific style and format, then you need to develop technical specifications as part of your brand guidelines.

Include things like:

  • Desired tone: Is your content fun and playful, or professional and authoritative?
  • Length: How long should a blog be? What about a whitepaper?
  • Links: Do you prefer outside sources to be included? Are there any sources or competitors to avoid linking to?
  • Media: Should your writer include a picture or other multi-media, or is that handled by you or the design team?
  • Keywords: What keywords should be included? Also include main focus keywords for each individual piece.

You want writers to exercise their creativity, but at the end of the day, their content should still conform to certain standards.

5. Highlight Top Performing Content

Do your content creators know how high the bar has been set? If not, they should.

Put together a collection of the content pieces that have worked well for you in the past so writers know exactly what you’re looking for. You could even mark these documents up with comments that highlight specifically what made the posts work–an engaging intro, clear headers, actionable takeaways, and whatever else is important to you.

By doing this, you’ll be sharing content examples that bring together the other four points we’ve discussed. Writers will have a real-world example that they can reference, and aim to one-up it.

The demands of content creation have become too burdensome for one person to handle themselves. Eventually, you’re going to need to involve others in the mix. Understanding what guidelines to share (and why) will be a critical factor in how well your content efforts scale.

What else do you include in your brand’s content guidelines? Be sure to share in the comments section below!

Marketo Summit 2017