Conquer the world with style: The magic of a localised style guide

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The way in which you communicate is uniquely ‘you’. It shapes how every single person you interact with perceives you, changes subtly depending on your audience and company at any given moment, and comes naturally.

However, the same is true of any business or company – only it comes a little less naturally, and is all too easy to get wrong.

Without an objective style bible to help navigate the murky waters of colloquialisms, subjective style and differences of opinion, it’s easy to become muddled in the communications you disseminate as a brand.

When crafting our communications, both internal and external, we adhere to The Giles Agency style guide, which advises us on all things style and grammar.

How do we want our clients to perceive us? Is it March 20, 2019, or 20 March 2019? How does a hyphen differ from a dash? And on that note, is there ever an appropriate time to use an em dash – or should we always steer clear?

Maintaining a distinctive and consistent voice is key to the success of any brand. When done right, a client will immediately be able to identify your style of writing, ‘speaking’, designing, and generally presenting yourself as a company, and brand loyalty is likely to grow as a result.

However, a single company may require numerous style guides. If you work in multiple markets, or with communications companies that translate your work between languages, you have another step to consider: a localised style guide.

This ‘internationalisation’ of your style guide will help you to avoid cultural faux pas and convey your true meaning to potential customers and clients. It should include wisdom on…

Punctuation

If you’re a European company working mainly within Europe, you’ll likely be able to define a single rule across the board – but punctuation differs from continent to continent. For example, while it isn’t true of British English, some European countries use a comma in place of a decimal place and vice versa, so you’ll need rules in place for how to write ‘6.5’ or ‘6,500’ so as not to confuse your customers. Some regions or languages also have punctuation of their very own – examples being ¿, ¡, «», ·, and ، – so an understanding of how to use these in a nuanced, correct, and confident way is a necessity for any international brand.

Values

We’ve highlighted a number of instances in which a word-for-word or overly rigid translation of, say, an advertising slogan has resulted in disaster. There are multiple layers to this; for one, you need your content strategy to align with the tone, morals and vision of your brand, and secondly, your content should align with the values and knowledge of the culture in which it is being used. This is a key example of when transcreation can come to the rescue. By offering more flexibility to your translation and comms team, you can end up with a final product that, while different from the original copy or design, conveys the same information, character and personality, and leaves a very similar impression.

However, this comes full circle and highlights the importance of a localised style guide. As textunited point out, “It may sound as easy as telling the translator ‘just convey the message appropriately for your target market’, but things are rarely that simple, are they?”

Nuance

This is somewhat harder to define – it’s the nuances of language use, rather than solely the language itself, that define a particular way of communicating and can affect how customers perceive you. A good example of this is politeness. A country such as Australia has a somewhat freer and easier attitude to profanity than others, while some might say that British culture is quite reserved and apologetic, or deferential. Some countries in Eastern Europe use niceties like ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ relatively seldom, and so peppering your copy with excessive apology or gratitude may come across as insincere.

Knowledge

There’s no harm in ensuring that anyone using your localised guide has all the information they need to make the biggest impact possible – so include anything pertinent. For example, if you’re preparing a marketing campaign to go out in February, what might you tie it to? For some, their thoughts may leap to Valentine’s Day, with slogans and imagery that highlight love, romance, and heart-shaped boxes of chocolates. Others may immediately think of Chinese New Year, one of the most significant springtime festivals in Asia, and its characteristic lanterns, dancing dragons, and Chinese zodiac symbolism. Yet others still may think more light-heartedly of Groundhog Day, a tradition in the Americas that connects to the emergence and arrival of spring. A Chinese audience may be completely bewildered if they receive an email with a picture of a groundhog, while British audiences may be perplexed by an email about the Year of the Pig.

As this shows, there’s no single right way to approach international marketing, but an understanding of the hugely diverse cultural differences one may encounter certainly helps.

All guides should include explicit ‘dos’ and ‘don’ts’, and use examples of each – show, don’t tell.

Let’s work together

If you’re looking to put together your very own style guide, get in touch to see how we could help: enquiries.hk@gilesagency.com / enquiries.sg@gilesagency.com