Brand Guidelines - Key to Successful B2B Content Marketing

July 13, 2022

The recipe for successful B2B content marketing includes at least a dozen ingredients.

Among the most important are sharing valuable information, using an engaging format, publishing on the right channels for your audience, and making the content findable via paid, owned, and earned media.

One that’s often overlooked is consistency of brand.

Why does branding play such an important role?

Here are six factors to consider.


Branding Helps Content Trigger a Desired Emotion

While your content should be designed to communicate a specific message to your audience, it often plays an even bigger role in evoking an emotion.

This matters because 90-percent of B2B buying decisions are based on emotion, rather than on logic, features, and benefits.

The emotion evoked by a piece of content is influenced by the words themselves, the style and tone in which they are conveyed, and the visual elements that accompany them.

We’ll come back to each of those elements in a moment.

And while a piece of content can trigger an emotion all by itself, buyers seldom make their decision based on one interaction—what marketers like to call a ‘touchpoint’.

It usually takes 8, 10, 12 or even more interactions with you and your solution before they will commit.

Emotional response is the cumulative effect of several pieces of content

Their emotional response is the cumulative effect of several pieces of content, rather than any one in particular—although the last piece they encounter is often attributed with the sale.

Which begs the question: what happens when those pieces of content fail to work together?


Consistency is Key to Building a Strong Emotional Connection

We know a consistent brand when we see one. It makes us say things like “I could tell right away that was written by X” or “Everything company Y publishes sounds like it comes from the same person.”

Similarly, we find it jarring when a business publishes something that’s inconsistent with previous pieces of content we’ve encountered.

We don’t appreciate schizophrenic branding. We expect the same company to show up every time.

Businesses that establish a mental connection between their brand and particular places, behaviors, or characteristics create a shortcut in their customers’ brains.

When you recognize a logo, it acts like a desktop icon, immediately instructing your brain to recall the relationship you have had with that brand and business.

When you read an article that’s written in a style consistent with others by the same author, your brain spots the pattern and builds upon whatever impression you formed previously.

This can be good or bad, of course. If you hated the previous encounter, you may well reinforce that emotion. That’s okay. Their product isn’t for you.

Turning the tables, you must ensure your content consistently triggers positive emotions in your target customer.

It’s no use if the first time they read your blog they enjoy your easygoing, conversational style but the next time find it stilted and preachy.

Or if they find the colorful cartoons in your first video memorable but don’t encounter the same thing when they return to watch episode two.

An inconsistent brand leaves them confused and uncertain whether they can trust you or your products.


Consistent Content Marketing is Difficult to Achieve

Making your content consistent—across all channels and at every stage of the buyer’s journey—is straightforward if the same person or team is producing it every time and they follow an agreed upon formula.

But what happens when multiple people contribute to your content?

And what if different teams are responsible for different types of content?

That is the situation at most companies—especially growing businesses that depend on external resources to help produce and publish their content.

The more people you involve, the harder it gets to produce consistent content.

There are two keys to making it work:

1.    Write detailed brand guidelines that explain how every piece of content must be written and formatted

2.    Appoint a managing editor who is responsible for ensuring everything your company publishes complies with the brand guidelines

If you manufacture a physical product, you will use written specifications and employ a quality control manager to ensure the finished articles meet them.

If you produce software, you will establish coding standards and have a testing and quality control team checking that they are being followed.

If your business delivers a service, you train your customer-facing personnel in how that service gets delivered, put them through in-house tests, and observe them on the job to ensure they perform as expected.

Content is an important product that you ship to prospects and customers to help them make the right buying decision

It’s the same for your content. Content is an important product that you ship to prospects and customers to help them make the right buying decision.

Like the other forms of specification and quality control, writing and policing brand guidelines takes effort.

Some companies choose to invest more effort than others, and it shows in the consistency and effectiveness of their content.


What Makes an Effective Brand Guideline?

When writing brand guidelines, there’s a balance to be struck between obsessive detail and usefulness.

I’m not aware of anyone having studied this in detail (please message me if you can share relevant research) but I suspect it must follow the Pareto Principle. 80-percent of the value will come from getting the most critical 20-percent right. The remainder will be a long tail of less-important tweaks and details.

In other words, start by spelling out the big-ticket stuff. This should include:

Visual Brand Elements

⭐ Typography: What fonts, font sizes, and font weights will be used for titles, headings, subheadings, and body copy? I recommend choosing one font for titles and headings and one for body copy and making sure the two fonts are visually different but complimentary.

⭐ Colors: What colors will make up your brand palette and how will they be used? Each color evokes a particular set of emotions among a population, although this can vary by region, so tread carefully. I recommend picking at most 2-3 primary colors, plus another 3-4 accent colors that will be used sparingly. Identify which color will be used for each element of your content.

⭐ Imagery: What types of images will be used and how will they be formatted? Give examples of acceptable and unacceptable images and treatments, including requirements for diversity and inclusion. Growing businesses often default to stock images, which can make your brand seem generic and bland. Engage a photographer to capture bespoke images or a graphic designer to produce custom artwork, icons, and cartoons. It costs less than you might think and is well worth the investment.

Elements of Brand Personality

⭐ Voice: How do you want your brand to come across? Pick a handful of common adjectives that describe the way your brand will ‘speak’. This helps to humanize the brand and make it more relatable. For example, think about the way a faculty professor might speak compared to a radio talk show host or a friendly uncle. Your brand’s voice should be consistent no matter what type of content you’re producing, or the subject being addressed.

⭐ Tone: What tone will your brand adopt for different situations and types of content? The tone you use will depend on the subject matter—differing, for example, between a helpful how-to guide and a serious product safety notice—but should be consistent between pieces of the same ilk. Will you lean towards a causal, friendly tone or is serious and instructive more appropriate for your business and its audience?

⭐ Style: What stylistic rules will you adopt for different types of content? This relates to convention rather than choice. We expect a white paper to appear in a consistent format, which will be quite different from a blog post or an explainer video. There are published style guides for many types of content, including the Chicago Manual of Style and the Associated Press (AP) Style Guide.  

As you deploy your brand guidelines, you’ll get a feel for what needs greater explanation and where to add more detailed instructions.


How to Effectively Deploy Brand Guidelines

I mentioned the key role that a managing editor plays in ensuring consistent content is leaving the premises.

However, they can only do so much.

Setting your team up for success involves communicating your brand guidelines to them and explaining why each element matters.

Contributors who have no idea that the guidelines exist or don’t understand why a particular component is important to the business will produce content in whichever way comes most naturally. This will include habits acquired earlier in their career, which might not align with your expectations.

Share your brand guidelines throughout the organization and reinforce them regularly

Share your brand guidelines throughout the organization and reinforce them regularly by mentioning them in company emails and all-hands meetings.  

Once the rules have been explained, it’s easier for the managing editor to enforce them, working with contributors to continuously improve their output. It’s unreasonable to expect perfection from the get-go but it’s entirely reasonable to expect increasing conformance in response to constructive feedback.

I’ve seen organizations where the person or team responsible for brand compliance is known as the ‘brand police’. That’s taking things too far in my book. Be reasonable, be fair, and be consistent.


Measuring How Well Your Brand is Performing

Evaluating and improving your content marketing efforts requires feedback.

Unlike your product or service, where feedback is generally freely offered by satisfied or dissatisfied customers, content often doesn’t elicit much response.

Pay attention to comments left on digital channels, since those can be valuable indicators, and conduct informal and formal surveys to gauge the broader impact of your content.

Ask customers and members of your target audience what they recall about your content. How did it make them feel? What stood out? Did they find it consistent from one piece or channel to another?

Track these sentiments over time to assess how effectively you are implementing your brand guidelines and how effectively your brand elements evoke the emotions you desire.

Finally, take action to correct anything that’s not working.

If the feedback suggests your brand is coming across differently from how it’s intended, adjust accordingly. This might require asking additional, detailed questions to find out which aspects of your brand are contributing to the audience’s perceptions.


In Summary: How Brand Guidelines Can Make Your B2B Content Marketing More Effective

⭐ Content is most effective when it evokes an emotional reaction in your target audience because 90-percent of B2B purchases are based on emotion rather than logic.

⭐ Consistency is key to producing a strong emotional connection. We remember brands that always appear and sound the same way, associating them with favorable emotions and experiences. Inconsistent brands leave us confused and uncertain whether we can trust them and their products.

⭐ Producing consistent content is hard, especially when multiple people and teams are contributing to the process. Write clear and complete brand guidelines and appoint a managing editor to ensure everything that your company publishes follows your guidelines.

⭐ An effective set of brand guidelines covers the most critical items without getting into so much detail that it becomes a burden. Begin by specifying the main visual elements of your brand (typography, colors, imagery) and its personality (voice, tone, and style).

⭐ To be effective, brand guidelines must be shared and enforced. Communicate them throughout the company and remind team members about them regularly in company communications and meetings. This sets your managing editor up for success, letting them work with contributors to continuously improve brand compliance and the consistency of your content.

⭐ Measure the effectiveness of your content by seeking formal and informal feedback from prospects and customers.  Ask them what they recall about your content, what stood out for them, and what emotions it evoked.  If your brand isn’t coming across as you intended, seek additional feedback and adjust whichever elements are contributing to your audience’s perceptions.


Photo by Egor Myznik on Unsplash


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