‘A hotel’ or ‘an hotel’? And, what’s the plural of zero? Answers later. But first, do those questions matter?
If you’re one of those people who is happy to use ‘your’ when you mean ‘you’re’ then possibly not, but good spelling and grammar do mean a lot to plenty of people. Getting these things wrong can eat away at the reputation of your business or organisation.
Poor writing will also cost you search ranking. Being close to the top of Google’s page one will get you noticed, but that’s less likely to happen if your site’s pages are full of shoddy text. Google says that ‘reputable sites tend to spell better’ – and reputable ones rank above less reputable ones.
So, what can you do if grammar isn’t your strong point? You can catch lots of errors using the spellcheck function, or better still a writing app. I like Ginger.
But don’t put all your trust in tech. It’s still best to also ask someone else to scan through your work before hitting print or publish.
Ultimately though, I’d recommend that you put together your own set of brand guidelines for writing. If you’re running an SME I’d guess there’s a good chance that it’s something that you haven’t got around to. There is only so much you can do in a day, isn’t there?
It is worth getting around to, however. Putting some time into creating a set of common-sense rules for your marketing effort will make them feel more professional and can save you time in the long-term.
It’s easy to do for yourself. And, as you put your guidelines together, you will be creating a ‘brand book’, a body of information that everybody can turn to when they are creating marketing material for your organisation.
Start out with the basics – say how your logo should be used and which colours and fonts are OK. It’s also a good idea to have some guidance for how photos (and video) should be used; collecting some examples of what’s right (and what’s not) is often the easiest way to make the point.
Finally, give time to working out a set of rules for writers. Some of that will be about spelling, grammar and the way you use names and titles, but it should also cover tone of voice.
Make that voice consistent. The way you ‘talk’ to your target audience through your web copy and print materials should same similar to the content of emails and social media posts.
It’s easier to grasp how good brand guidelines work if you can get a look at a well-crafted brand book. Mostly, they’re guarded like state secrets, but one US health care provider, Cleveland Clinic, has taken the enlightened step of making its brand rules open-access.
If you have time, take a look at the way they do at Cleveland and use their book as a blueprint for yours. What works for a big, complicated organisation like Cleveland’s hospitals, will also work for you.
And those questions? Both are examples of the grey area between right and wrong, which is where the style guide comes in. News organisations have their own in-house rules that reporters and editors are expected to follow and they can be a good reference resource for copywriters and brand journalists.
Personally, I like The Guardian style guide, which can answer just about every question that might come to you when you’re writing. So Guardian wisdom says it’s ‘zeros’, but that ‘he, or she, zeroes in’ on something.
And Guardian editors say it should ‘a hotel’. Use ‘an’ before a silent H (like ‘the honest politician’) but ‘a’ before an aspirated H – a hero, a hotel, a hedgehog, or whatever.