In the world of content creation and copywriting, there’s often a moment when you’re faced with balancing the initial giddiness of taking on a huge new project vs. the anxiety of staring at a blank page which can only be trumped by the excruciating sensation of having to fit your creative genius into someone else’s template.
What if you could find a way to balance your client’s or company’s needs with your own talents and self-expression? Better yet, what if you could create your own way to ensure that branded copy you’re connected to remains within your desired parameters each and every time?
While it might seem like more work right now, eventually this will create a more seamless end result and hopefully result in fewer rounds of edits and endless back and forth down the line.
Where do you start with creating a branding template?
Here’s a thought — why not create your own set of guidelines or templates that can work when you’re writing about your own brand or even when working collaboratively? In the world of branding, there’s so much that goes into a word or design or tagline; creating a template allows you to honor the brand while exploring the creative process in a way that won’t dilute the brand or existing collateral materials.
Start by making a shortlist:
- What to include every time
- What to avoid every time
- The keywords that best sum up your brand
- The keywords that best sum up the competition
- The colors, design elements, logos and slang that are used in promotional materials
- Three versions of your mission statement: The long one that covers all the bases. The bio-length one that runs about 100-250 words and can be used on a website or handout. The elevator pitch or single sentence that effectively sums up who you are and what you do, provide or sell.
Then fine-tune this list until you’ve distilled it down to the things that are crucial to sharing your brand vision and must remain constant every single time. If you’re feeling creative, start adding your content to a branding template to see if it flows or sinks.
If you’re feeling brave, share it with colleagues working on content and see if it’s helpful and if the end result is more unified or cohesive. If it isn’t, simply start over again.
6 Ways to spark your own brand guideline process:
1. Think like an ad agency.
In addition to my work at my own content agency, I do a lot of work with advertising agencies and work on everything from naming new products and creating product copy to creating full brand bibles and yes, copy guidelines and templates. As a free spirit, it’s interesting to me to see how each of the major brands create their guidelines.
Often included is a mélange of information from the ad and branding team, the attorneys and even pop culture references we may include or must avoid at all costs.
I’ve even worked for a global fashion brand that made me memorize key elements of past lawsuits so that we’d never even have a whisper of scandal in new branding. Most of us have worked within these rigid guidelines but might not necessarily have created similar for our own businesses. And while it can feel almost overwhelming to think of adding another element to your work, it might ultimately elevate your own content by creating a document that automatically fine-tunes the quality of your work.
2. Stay between the lines.
The artist Jackson Pollock was known for a form of painting that blurred the boundaries between fine art and previously unknown splatter effect form of abstract expressionism. His canvases expressed both his feelings and that of a generation. That worked in the zeitgeist he lived through and brought across a message people might not have been able to put into words.
But as professional communicators, we can’t get our messages across through paint spatters, we need to make our words work for us.
3. Learn from Prince William.
Whatever your feelings are on Prince Harry and wife Meghan easing their way out of the British Royal Family, for the purposes of this article, let’s focus on big brother William’s place in the royal family.
As heir to the throne, the Duke of Cambridge pretty much knew from birth the path that was set out for him. And in a majority of ways, he conformed. But what he also did was work within the stringent regulations of The Firm to create his own niche brand —The Cambridges.
It’s an offshoot. It’s the future. It’s all the parts of the British Royal Family that work along with slightly updated brand ambassadors. If you think of the British Royal Family as the overall brand template, the Cambridge brand embodies many of the same ideals while also updating them for the Instagram generation.
What William embraced best:
Celebrating the ultimate heritage brand: Prince William understands that to carry on the ideals of a thousand-year-old monarchy, he has to stick to some of the things that work. Otherwise, he risks chipping away at his own future position.
Template lesson takeaway: If you work for a startup, it’s easy to include fresh new ideas. When you work with a more established corporation you can expect to be almost forced to rely on past brand hallmarks to provide inspiration for even your completely revamped messaging.
The pomp: From his spectacular Westminster Abbey wedding to taking part in things like the annual Garter Day celebration where Wills and the fam are pictured in floofy hats and capes, William seems to be a very good sport about taking part in moments that might seem outdated.
Template lesson takeaway: What Prince William seems to realize about brand building within the monarchy is that there are certain benchmarks and yearly anniversaries that must be acknowledged and highlighted, if only to pay homage to what came before.
- If your product is connected to a specific holiday or yearly event, don’t automatically reject it.
- Try instead to find new and meaningful connections to highlight and share.
The future: Ah. Here’s the tricky one. For a monarchy or great brand to exist, they don’t just have to serve their current demographic, they have to set up a system wherein future consumers are embraced as well. It’s also a bit of a conundrum since, in essence, that means that to succeed for the very long term, both you and Prince William have to set up a system that will benefit not just you, but also your successor.
Template lesson takeaway: It’s okay to be generous with your work and talent. Some people feel resentful when faced with creating a document or template that will be used by everyone else in the office as well. But if it makes your life easier or better for the long-term, who really cares if you create something that benefits others as well? Wouldn’t you rather be remembered as the person who created something brilliant rather than the person who wrote the crappy copy now trending on Twitter?
4. Let your branding do the work for you.
Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos is often quoted as having said: “Branding is what people say about you when you’re not in the room.” While that thought holds true, for the most part, people like having the tools to sound informative when they speak about big topics and big brands. If your brand is smaller than Amazon’s, you might have to work harder to get noticed.
For smaller brands that present themselves as one of the big guys, creating language that is easily or instantly recognizable allows your clients and fans to become part of the conversation. Think of it as the verbal equivalent of a hyperlink or share button. By making your copy snappy and catchy, you make it cool for people to talk about your product.
5. Inspire action.
In a Tedx talk called “How Great Leaders Inspire Action” that was viewed over 48 million times, Simon Sinek, author of ‘Start with Why,’ described something he refers to as the golden circle. Sinek said, “All the great inspiring leaders and organizations in the world, whether it’s Apple or Martin Luther King or the Wright brothers, they all think, act and communicate the exact same way.” Sinek then goes on to explain why some inspire while others don’t.
On a granular branding level, this is the part before the call to action or even the descriptor. This is the part where we remind people why they care enough to work with us, interact with us, support our brand, trust our services or buy our products. But it rarely starts with a hard sell.
Sinek asks a series of questions that could help you to determine how to create your own branding template.
- What’s your purpose?
- What’s your cause?
- What’s your belief?
- Why does your organization exist?
- Why do you get out of bed in the morning?
Most importantly, Sinek wants you to ask yourself — Why should anyone care?
6. Take stock of what your content will serve.
While you’re puzzling over those questions, you might want to take stock of the product or service or corporation your content and templates will serve. Is there a recurring theme in every aspect of your initial branding? Do you change daily or is your heritage the thing most people respond to? I know. Lots of questions.
But if you realize that your end product will answer questions consumers and end-users didn’t even know they had, you’re already ahead of the game.