Find Your Voice: A Linguistic Introduction to Style Guide Creation

Languages are messy.

Brands want to establish their tone of voice and style, whether through text, image, or multimedia content. Style guides are usually limited to generic grammar rules and formal/informal registers; nevertheless, these alone are not adequate criteria to fully forge a linguistic brand identity. Some brands want to come across as reliable and dynamic, others fun and contemporary — through specific linguistic features, a brand can position itself before an audience in relation with a broad market and conceptual spectrum. The lack of an adequate style guide can result in the fragmentation of a brand’s identity across different languages and markets.

There are several aspects that a brand could consider as significant for its content identity. When focusing on linguistic aspects, 4 examples would be:

  1. How references to the brand and its products are made through (multimodal) text
  2. The participant roles and relations they build through cases, transitivity, voice (e.g. active, passive)
  3. The presuppositions and the implicit assumptions that are made about participants
  4. Formality/Informality and social distance

Reference

Repeating the full name of the brand, the name of its products (including special terms), brand elements (brand colours or logos) are some of the ways that a brand identity can strongly be evoked in opposition to more general or possessive inferables, where a brand refers to itself via something it has/does e.g. “our network”). Strong evocation is not always the aim since well-established brands do not need to mention themselves frequently, as their prestige is taken as a presupposition.

Participant Roles

You can become a “dreamer”, a “doer”, a “helper” depending on the verbs and the syntactic structures you use in your content. Action verbs and their syntax (get, call, click, shop) create different images from mental ones (imagine, think, consider, forget, don’t worry, take our word). For example, the decision to place the customer as the subject of the verbs can create a brand identity that is there to support the client (“a helper”), whereas the brand as a subject of the verbs brings the brand to the forefront.

Presuppositions

Often, presuppositions based on data must be made about customers when creating content i.e. assumptions about their age, gender, interests, economic status etc. Content creation should be processed only after a meticulous persona creation and strategy has been planned.

Social Distance

Formality is not as easy as a mere grammatical morpheme (for the languages that manifest the register morphologically). The resources and the connotations from which words, syntactic structures, images, modalities, voices, and presuppositions are drawn play a key role in the creation of a formal or informal register in relation to the audience. Nothing in language is neutral. Even formality doesn’t necessarily have the same affective response in two different markets.

These key-points are but a very brief indication of topics and characteristics your style guide should include. It is not a matter of choosing one kind of verb or one kind of reference type over others, since a careful amalgamation is often what’s usually needed. Languages are messy and complex. For this reason, you need someone that can employ their intricacies effectively, and help you create a style guide that will mirror your brand’s voice and intended affective response regardless of language or market.

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