A Style Guide for Your Actions

Posted by on September 12, 2011

Style Guides and Audio Signatures: Part Two

THE OUTER YOU: The best ad campaigns have a style guide. Implicit or explicit, the style guide is always there.

A visual style guide determines the look and feel of visual ads, signage and décor. Audio Signatures (distinctive enunciations, sound effects, special effects, unusual voices, rhythms, delivery styles, etc.) are the primary elements in a style guide for electronic media.

If a campaign lacks a style guide, it’s a group of disconnected ads. The tighter your style guide, the tighter the connection between your ads and the more memorable your ad campaign.

THE INNER YOU: A Character Bible is the style guide that determines the personality of each actor on the stage, telling the playwright how each character thinks, acts and sees the world. The Character Bible is what makes character arcs believable in works of fiction. (A character arc is the emotional transformation of a fictional character as he or she reacts to events in the story, thereby becoming a different person than the one he or she was when the story began.)

Keep that thought in mind: The personality of a fictional entity is created through a style guide.

INSIDE YOUR BRAND: Every brand is a fictional entity. The strongest brands are those with the most attractive personalities.

What is the personality of your brand? What does it look like? What does it sound like? How does your brand think, act, and see the world? (If you’ve spent any time with David Freeman at Wizard Academy, you know exactly what I’m talking about.)

INSIDE YOUR COMPANY: A company is another type of fictional entity.

The personality of your company is spread across its employees, representatives who are supposed to think, act, and see the world according to the principles your company was built upon. Your employees are your actors and they hunger for a style guide.

Your Mission Statement is not your style guide. Mission Statements are amorphous dollops of wishful thinking, high hopes committed to paper. Forgive me, but the average Mission Statement is packed with more clichés than the greeting card aisle in a drugstore. Every time I read one I’m reminded of those young women in beauty pageants who look to the judges with big Bambi eyes and say, “My dream is for world peace.”

It takes more than a Mission Statement to bring about world peace and it will take more than a Mission Statement to unify your employees.


1. Identify the Unifying Principles of your company.

2. Write them down.

3. Make them real through your words and actions.

Unifying Principles become the Character Bible for real-world employees.

Unifying Principles are not core values. They provide more guidance than core values.

Unifying Principles are not rules. They provide more freedom than rules.

Unifying Principles are specific statements that reflect a belief system.

Unifying Principles bring people into unity and form the basis for coordinated action.

When Jesus was challenged to name “the highest” of the 10 Commandments, he did not answer with a commandment but with two Unifying Principles: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest [Unifying Principle.] And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two [Unifying Principles.]”

Honesty is a core value.
“Do not steal” is a rule.
“Love your neighbor as yourself” is a Unifying Principle.

Generosity is a core value.
“Allow second helpings” is a rule.
“Provide enough that an abundance remains when everyone has had all they want” is a Unifying Principle.

Rules are for people whose minds are too small to grasp the principle behind the rules. Involve your employees in your Unifying Principles and you’ll find that rules are no longer required.

Principles, not rules, determine how we think, act, and see the world. When employees embrace the principles upon which your company is built, you can trust them to make the right decisions.

Can you articulate your Unifying Principles? Give it some thought.

Need some help? Come to Austin.

Roy H. Williams

PS – Don’t miss the World Debut of the 3,000-Year Pendulum Nov. 15-16 at Wizard Academy. This event will definitely sell out (and the book won’t be available until February.)
– Indy

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