The missing element in your Corporate and Brand I.D. Manual

Thank you for visiting my business writing blog. It’s about writing and editing to make your copy easier to read. Given the importance of brands, it’s worthwhile asking how your organisation’s writing style is affecting your brand.

I searched the term ‘Corporate I.D. manual’ and studied ten of them. Of the first five, only two mentioned writing.

The five manuals had a total of 171 pages, but only 1¾ pages referred to writing. Here are some of the lowlights:

http://www.borrett.id.au/downloads/protech_corporate_identity.pdf — Protech Australia supplied software in 1995. Their 14-page manual for that year offered a bit over half a page on ‘legibility’, but nothing on readability.

For instance, Protech prescribed line lengths of “…maximum 60 to 85 characters per line, and a minimum of 30 characters per line.” But they gave no guidance on words per sentence, which has a far greater impact on the reader.

http://www.witsa.org/news/newsletter_Q309/img/WITSA_CorporateIdentityManual v1.0_20091023_Final.pdf — WITSA is the international association of the Information and Communications Technology (ICT) industry. The second sentence of their 37-page manual went like this:

We earn loyalty and respect when we effectively communicate and reinforce the WITSA brand.

What followed was 30-odd pages of clumsy, ungrammatical and jargon-laced prose. Mercifully, it attempted no instruction on writing and editing for clarity.

Regarding clarity, The Northern Ireland Policing Board (http://www.nipolicingboard.org.uk/nipb_corpguide_v4-2.pdf) offered this:

The Board’s stationery is intended to promote clarity through the use of simple layouts and clear typography. The font used throughout is Helvetica Neue.

As with almost all other corporate identity manuals, ‘clarity’ referred only to typography, never to language.

The most interesting site was a Paris design shop that specialises in developing corporate I.D. programs and manuals: (http://www.logoorange.com/corporate-identity-manual-brand-style-guide.php)

They listed five problems experienced by companies with no I.D. manual. One of them was this:

Inconsistent messages that result in poor sales.

Later on they listed six things a brand I.D. manual should include. Here’s number three:

3. Tone and use of words relating to the brand

Only two of the manuals were instructive about language. One was from Diebold, who make safes and ATMs. — www.diebold.com/brandmanual.pdf  — Diebold’s 48-page Corporate Identity and Brand Standards had one page on ‘Tone and Manner’. These four bullet points caught my eye:

– Be clean and crisp. Use elegant, simple but effective communication. Visually and verbally, less is more.

– Be conversational. The message should speak with people, not talk at them. Diebold is their partner, share our message with them.

– Be respectful and non-promotional. Engage the reader by speaking in a common language. No chest- beating or competitor-bashing. Avoid jargon.

– Be benefit-driven. How does this product or service enhance people’s lives? Talk about the benefit.

The other good one was from Tech Data, an international distributor of digital products. (http://www.techdata.com/content/visitor/abouttd/documents/big.pdf)

Their excellent manual lists six key aspects of ‘Brand Identity’. The first is ‘Message Tone and Voice’. Here’s how the section begins:

Three of our five senses are directly related to language. Defining language and voice infuses a brand with an emotional dimension, helps make it real and distinctive, and creates trust and credibility. A carefully developed brand voice:

* Shapes advertising and marketing communications

* Influences how people in the company speak to customers and each other

* Structures how presentations are framed and delivered

Then it gave four defining words for Tech Data’s corporate voice: ‘authentic, determined, confident, vibrant’. Each was expanded upon, like this:

Confident

Definition: Certain

Synonyms: assured, bold, brave, convinced, courageous, dauntless, expectant, expecting, fearless, intrepid, positive, secure, self-assured, self- reliant, self-sufficient, sure, trusting, unafraid, undaunted, upbeat, valiant

Antonyms: diffident, insecure, uncertain, unsure

But there was nothing in the way of instructions or specifications. Nothing to indicate how the writer should achieve this Tone and Voice. Contrast this with Tech Data’s instructions for reproducing their logo:

The minimum size for the logo with the tagline is 1.437” (36 mm). The Tech Data logo without the tagline should be no smaller than 1” (25.4 mm).

Tone and Voice are defined in loose, referential terms, but the size of the logo is specified to one one-thousandth of an inch.

And that’s the problem:

Colours can be specified as one of several thousand possibilities with PMS numbers. Online colour (24-bit Truecolor) can be specified as one of 16,777,216 tints. (Humans can discriminate 2 million to 10 million.)

The size and spacing of type can be specified to a single pixel. At 600dpi this is 0.042mm (0.00167”).

But all of the manuals that mention writing avoid naming a style guide or a minimum Flesch Reading Ease score. So let me offer this suggestion for your Corporate and Brand Identity Manual:

All text must be grammatically correct, correctly spelled and punctuated, according to the …  (fill in title of your preferred style manual). Spell Checker is not sufficient for Corporate and Brand Identity purposes. All text must be proofread by a competent person.

All text must be edited to a Flesch Reading Ease Score of 40 or more – AND a Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level of Less than 11. In meeting both of these criteria we ensure all text is easy for the vast majority of our audience to read and comprehend.

If you want to be persnickety, you can specify which Flesch calculator they must use. There’s one built into Microsoft® Word, or you can download this one for free: http://flesh.sourceforge.net/

I’m serious. If your outfit thinks it’s appropriate to specify colour tints to a precision of 1:16,777,216 and type sizes down to 0.042mm, then surely they are willing to specify readability using the widely-accepted Flesch scales.

How to edit to this standard is the subject of almost every other post on my blog. Thank you again for visiting.

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About Copymentor

Australian and US copywriter, creative director and author
This entry was posted in Business, Editing, English, Marketing, Uncategorized and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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