Style guides are indispensible tools that help translators recreate your global brand voice in local markets. They ensure consistency within a given brand, such as the corporate brand or disparately branded product lines.
So how do you create a document that does all that?
Following up on my recent post about how style guides boost control of your global marketing, let’s dive into the tactical details of how to write a great one. We’ve broken it down into 10 key steps.
1. Create the Source Language Style Guide.
You have no foundation without a style guide in your source language. If you have a well-developed brand and voice, your ad agency has probably already helped you create this guide. If not, it’s time to have that done.
2. Build One Guide Per Brand and Market.
Style guides are brand-specific and market-specific. For each distinctive brand, you should have as many guides as you have markets. (Check out Facebook’s 72 style guides).
3. Engage Appropriate Expertise.
Only a seasoned linguist will be able to capture the nuances of a brand and adapt those nuances to a target market. Look for support from someone with marketing or brand management background.
4. Profile the Target Demographic.
Target demographics can vary significantly by market. Who will be reading the end content? Is your app targeted at singles in their 20s, stay-at-home moms, or desk workers? Basic demographic details include age, level of education, gender, and any lifestyle or behavior indicators such as buying preferences or whether they own or rent their home.
5. Specify Tone for Each Market.
Tone may stay consistent across all markets, or it may adapt to the conventions of different languages or cultures. For example, Facebook uses a simple, straightforward, conversational tone in all content, regardless of the language. In order to specify that voice, make sure to include a few things in the style guide: do you want formal or informal language? Do you prefer active or passive voice? Do you want simple language, or is more academic or advanced discourse preferred?
6. Define Your Formatting Preferences.
If you have any preferences about formatting or punctuation, the style guide is the place to mention them. Provide any details about capitalization, preferences about the use of acronyms or abbreviations, mandated fonts, chosen units of measurement. Also include any specifics about how your translators should deal with currencies, addresses, phone numbers, and the like.
7. Offer Relevant References.
Do you want a translator to refer to any industry standard or language specific bodies of reference? Many languages have a formal guide created by a governing body that reigns supreme over language conventions. Check out Spain’s here.
8. List Do’s and Don’ts.
Sometimes it’s easier to perceive what is appropriate by distinguishing what’s not approrpriate. Likely you’ve gotten feedback from your own in-country linguists regarding errors — and if you audit them, many probably have to do with vibe, tone and voice. Use the most commonly reported errors as “don’ts” in the style guide.
9. Show and Tell.
Provide examples and illustrate them vividly. Provide a string of source text and highlight the approach you want translators to take, step by step. Give translators a “bad” and “good” table so they can see concretely what might be an error contrasted with a spot-on translation.
10. Don’t Rest on Your Laurels.
And lastly, once you’ve created those guides, don’t assume they are good forever. Update the style guide as needed. Inputs will come that demand changes: your translators will come to you with good questions or additions, or you’ll realize that something is unclear. Since language is fluid and brands can evolve, a great style guide is always a work in progress.