Finding Your Style

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Corporate Communications,

Fiona Nicolson

Director

Continuous


Top Down Bottom Up

Coco Chanel said that fashion fades, but only style remains the same.

This doesn’t just apply to haute couture; it’s just as true for the way you present your business or the company you work for.

Whether you’re in the business of global asset management, insurance, mortgage advice or fintech, your clients will judge the quality and style of your communications. They expect high levels of accuracy, attention to detail and well-written content.

There’s nothing wrong with emojis or any other trend or preference for expressing your values and individuality. But spelling, grammar and punctuation still matter, if you want your content to be taken seriously.

Looking it up

So, how do you make sure your communications are consistently correct? If you don’t have an in-house style guide, use a good dictionary for reference and make sure everyone else in the company does the same. The online version of the Cambridge dictionary is useful, for instance, but you might prefer an alternative. The main thing is for everyone to refer to the same one.

It can be confusing to see different usage in different newspapers or other trusted sources – which can lead to lots of variation of communication styles across a business. It’s also easy to fall into the trap of sticking to what we learned at school. But some of that no longer applies. Split infinitives, for instance, used to be viewed with horror. Now it’s often recognised that they can aid the flow of a sentence and are therefore OK.

Find your style

Using a reputable, online style guide is a good place to start if you don’t have your own. Take a look at the BBC’s version, which also has links to The Guardian’s and The Telegraph’s style guides. The Campaign for Clear English website is helpful too.

And again, make sure everyone is using the same one, for that all-important consistency. Some companies, however, like to create their own style guide. This means that everyone has a reference point to turn to, specifically tailored to the business, to ensure all external (and internal) communications are consistent and correct. This also avoids debate – enhancing your communications is time well spent − people arguing about where to put a comma is not.

Style guide tips

Companies communicate with their audiences in many different ways and you can tell when they’re using a style guide effectively. Everything they communicate is consistently readable, engaging and easy on the eye.

You can also tell when they’re not using a style guide.

Global asset managers, for instance, produce high volumes of fund reports. They may have a team of investment writers and/or external writers to edit these. But if there isn’t a style guide (or if team members and suppliers aren’t complying with it), the quality of the reports will be uneven – and clients may notice. So, if your company has a style guide, make sure everyone knows where to find it and that they can access it easily. It should also be reviewed and updated regularly – a ‘dog-eared’ one-pager of bullet points that someone put together years ago is not enough.

Increased productivity and competitive advantage

A style guide is a must-have for every business in financial services, regardless of the type or volume of content it delivers. If your content is impeccably turned out, it will boost competitive advantage. New and existing customers and clients want to see that accuracy and quality matters to your company, in everything that it does − particularly when they’ve entrusted their money to you.

From an internal perspective, using a style guide effectively can also increase productivity. I mentioned earlier that it’s a waste of time for well-paid people to argue about punctuation. But it can happen, either when people don’t know there is a style guide or where they don’t take it seriously. Also, some people say that grammar and punctuation doesn’t matter. But that approach shows in the quality of their content.

At the other end of the scale, I have worked with a company which takes attention to detail very seriously. Its editors created a state-of-the-art online style guide, used by everyone. The last I heard, this company had more assets under management than most of its competitors. So, I rest my case.

It’s not about being perfect, though, because nobody has a perfect grasp of the English language or its grammar and punctuation. It’s all about making sure your communications are as polished and professional as possible. That’s what your customers, clients and stakeholders want to see.

And if you’d like to have a chat about collaborating on creating your own tailored style guide, why not take a look here https://continuouscommunications.com/style-guides to start the conversation.