As a brand, you want what you’re saying to be meaningful. The words to be memorable. And you want your message to be recognizable. All of these qualities, like the visual identifiers of your brand, help create the overall brand experience. To guide brainstorming and crafting of headlines, narratives, scripts, digital ads, e-blasts, social media posts, signage, blogs and everything else you can think of, every brand requires copy standards.
At Wilson Creative Group, we first created copy standards for ourselves, driven by fundamentals of effective copywriting and plain common sense. These same fundamentals apply to business writing, including proposals, executive correspondence and more. Rather than elaborate on them, we’ll highlight the major points: Be clear. Be concise. Be consistent.
- Clarity is a must-have. If it’s not accomplished in the first draft, it better be in the revised version. Use words and phrases unlikely to be misinterpreted.
- Brevity proves you respect your readers’ time. Make your point. ‘Nuff said.
- Consistency is key. Copy should look and sound the same way all the time. For example, do you prefer clients, clientele, customers or patrons? How about employees, staff, teammates or crew? Consistent patterns are memorable and help differentiate you.
Be on brand.
This is where “brand voice” emerges from fundamental copy standards. If your business focuses on luxury goods and services, then your copy standards will guide you to a vocabulary familiar and meaningful to a luxury audience. Words expressing confidence, service and sublime quality. They may even require copy to include descriptors like sublime, extraordinary, exceptional, singular, impeccable and discerning—when and where appropriate. Copy standards keep the brand voice true to the brand across all platforms.
Some copy standards might also require “positive” words. Begin messages with an active verb and avoid “can’t” and “don’t.” And speaking of can’t and don’t, copy standards might forbid contractions. This is especially true of luxury brands. “We would like to…” rather than “We’d like to…” If it is absolutely necessary, “cannot” and “do not” may be used with discretion.
Keep in mind, anyone who represents the brand at any level should abide by copy standards in how they verbally speak to clients and prospects. They ain’t just applicable to written stuff.
Finally, never confuse standards for ad copy with grammar. While proper grammar is important, it is completely acceptable to break grammar rules for the sake of brand voice. Like starting a sentence with a preposition such as “like.” Or a conjunction like “or.” To keep the brand voice informal and conversational. For a luxury brand, remember to whom you are speaking. Violating the King’s English is something up with which they may not put (translation: a highfalutin luxury brand might not be cool with sloppy grammar).
Be blindly obedient.
Kidding. But not all copy standards have a logical business rationale for their existence. They can also simply reflect preferences which have become formalized over time. In industry parlance, these formalized preferences are called “house style.” Some examples of quirky house style standards at WCG include:
- You will never see that. Literally, the word “that” is verboten. If you ever see “that” in copy we write for you, call us immediately from a safe location and we’ll have it extricated and destroyed.
- It’s always the state name, not the postal code. In other words, Florida, never FL—except on an envelope. But maybe not even then. We just like the way names look and sound more than abbreviations.
- What about punctuation? Do we ever need more than one exclamation point? No!!!
- The same goes for ellipses (the plural form of ellipsis). You know, those three cute dots indicating a pause… why you ask? They subliminally tell readers you’ve lost your train of thought… or you’re daydreaming about… something… If we get a client with a slow-roasted pulled pork barbecue restaurant, we may lift the ban for brand voice purposes.
- And don’t get us started on the Oxford comma—the optional comma before the word ‘and’ at the end of a list as in “Mary loves her dogs, Hawaii, and cheese.” If you remove the comma after “Hawaii,” you might think “Hawaii” and “cheese” are the names of Mary’s canines. We say “tough.” We’d rather reword the sentence to clarify than use an icky extra comma. FYI, Hawaii and cheese would be cool dog names—so there.
- Restrict emojis to their designated cells—e-mails, texts and social media posts. Use of emojis outside these designated areas carries a penalty of a 1,000-word essay on why human beings invented language and words so hieroglyphics would be unnecessary.
And speaking of language and words, we hope we’ve explained how thoughtfully we regard their contribution to meaningful brand experiences. If you missed our post on logo colors and color theory, check it out while you’re here!