Recently, I have been working with a client as they update their style guide, a document that tells you whether you should put the double zero after a time (i.e. is it 2 p.m. or 2:00 p.m.?), along with ten full pages of stuff like that. If you've ever taken on the task of writing anything for your employer or company, you know that there are dozens of tiny decisions on details like that, and it's difficult to stay consistent with what you've written in the past, much less what other people are writing. So this document serves as a guide on all those detail-related decisions.
For most large companies, this is a standard practice. There is a subtle message implied when your written communication is all over the map that the company isn't well run. It implies a lack of attention to detail. A website that reads "2 p.m." at the top of the screen, "2:00 p.m." in the middle, and "2 in the afternoon" at the bottom looks as though it's been thrown together in your basement. A brochure that includes phone numbers with the area codes in parentheses in one section, and without them in another, makes your customer wonder if they should do business with you, especially if they're also holding a competitor's brochure without all these inconsistencies.
By the way, this isn't limited to just writing. Most large companies also have an established color palette to guide graphic designers on which shade of green or purple to use. You've probably noticed the way well-run service organizations strive for consistency in things like the uniforms their customer-facing employees wear, or how their trucks are painted. It all goes toward the goal of projecting a professional image to the public, to your customers!
Inconsistencies within a single brochure or website is clearly amateurish, which is a shame because it can be easily and inexpensively corrected before you print. What the larger companies are looking for, though, is consistency throughout all their external communications, which conveys to the world that they are a highly professional, well-run organization. Thus, the need for a style guide that everyone can adhere to.
So what do you do if you're a smaller company and you want to project a more professional image of your company? I am often amazed at how loosely some companies are with this. So you can start by deciding how you want your company's name to be written and stick to it 100 percent of the time. If you are the owner of Frank's Seafood Cafe, one can assume you created that name because it communicates something. Each of those three words should have some value in what they communicate. However, if your marketing materials, menus, websites and so forth refer to the business as "Frank's", "Frank's Seafood", "Frank's Cafe" or "FSC", depending on who is doing the writing, you're missing out on an easy opportunity to enhance your customer's perception of you. All you need to do is clean this stuff up!
Everyone knows someone who's a decent writer. Ask them to look it over before you print or post to the web. And if you don't, hire a writer to look your materials over. It's kind of like straightening up your living room before you have company. Make sure your marketing materials reflect the professionalism and dedication you put into your company every day.
Marta Kagan's "Bonafide Marketing Genius" Blog
Andre Sanders' "Running Without Condition" Blog
Jessica Sneeringer's "Mal-Diction" Blog