Content Has Power

From Mailchimp’s “internal” style guide, Voice and Tone:

Our content has power. The right tone of voice can turn someone’s confusion into trust, skepticism into optimism, boredom into curiosity. The wrong tone of voice can turn someone’s interest into annoyance, anticipation into disappointment, frustration into full-on anger. That’s a big responsibility, and the best way we can handle that responsibility is to be empathetic writers. That’s why this guide exists.


Take a minute to check out Mailchimp’s internal style guide (which they’ve helpfully published for the world to see). It will blow you away. If you have any interest or passion for improving the experience for users of any kind, it will probably make you shake with excitement.

It’s awe-inspiring that they turned what is usually a nightmare of creative handcuffs into something that is actually fun to read. Rather than treating their employees as liabilities, they enable staff to be human when communicating with customers. Mailchimp understands that their voice is critical to the brand and that it needs to be curated and cultivated.

Mailchimp understands that the tone of their brand voice must change depending on the mood and emotion of their users. That’s really what this guide is for. It guides staff on the right tone to take in different contexts while keeping a consistent voice.

They’ve distilled the most important parts of traditional style guides and tossed out the rest. Let’s break it down with a screenshot:

  1. Audience
    • See the “Loyal users” in brackets? That’s key. Knowing how the audience probably feels about you before speaking is critical.
  2. Start with the user
    • They use an example of what the user might say while interacting with a particular channel.
    • They describe what the user is probably feeling. Mailchimp understands that writing to fit the user’s emotional state has way more impact.
  3. Tips
    • A few short tips to guide staff. Concise and easy to digest always wins.
    • A real world example. Many of these examples are clearly pulled from actual communications.

A final point. The way they’ve presented this guide is probably the most amazing part. It’s not a 60 page PDF document, or hosted on an internal portal. It’s a beautifully designed HTML site that everyone can access. It’s easy for staff to find guidelines for a particular channel or content type and quickly grasp the key points.

I’m off to figure out how to make something like this for the place I work. Wish me luck.