Where to start when creating a brand? Well, we’d recommend starting out by creating a brand guideline document - a living, breathing brand guide that will help you identify, build and maintain your brand.
When kickstarting a branding project, creating new brand identities, or undertaking a rebrand, all of your brand elements should be outlined in one document, so that everyone involved in creating and maintaining your brand image – from copywriters, freelance illustrators, and in-house graphic designers – can consistently convey, communicate and create your brand.
Today, brands go far beyond existing as mere logos and products – they’re personalities that tell stories, offer lifestyles, create communities, build networks, and forge deep-rooted, long-lasting relationships with their customers. As consumers’ attitudes towards brands shift, companies are beginning to recognise the importance of holistic brand guidelines that encompass everything from their company logo, to colour charts, brand personality and tone of voice – driving brand cohesion, integrity and equity.
We know that creating brand clarity and consistency can sometimes be difficult – particularly for startups looking to position themselves in competitive markets or businesses that have grown rapidly.
So, in this guide, we’ve pulled together everything you need to know to create and implement a unified, resounding and consistent brand visual identity, that can be communicated consistently, and outshine any competition.
What are brand guidelines?
Simply put, company guidelines are a list of features and attributes that together, constitute a brand’s visual identity. Guideline documents cover everything from logo usage, fonts, colour palettes, typography, tone of voice, as well as a brand’s mission statement, positioning, identity, and values.
These guidelines are pulled together in a guidelines document – or brand guide – which reinforces how a brand should be communicated across all channels and touchpoints, at all times. Essentially, these guidelines are the sum of your brand strategy, acting as your brand bible and should cover everything that anyone might need to know.
They can be used internally and in collaboration with partners to ensure congruent – and correct – representation of the brand’s image across the board – and are very valuable to executing a successful marketing strategy. A brand’s collaborators and partners should know how to put the brand assets to use, convey its brand personality and brand messaging – and, a guidelines document will give them the know-how to do this correctly. With a firm knowledge of brand elements and brand voice, designers, copywriters and developers can all work with the same building blocks.
Chiefly, guidelines ensure that a brand is consistently represented. What’s the importance of consistent representation, you ask? A brand that is deemed honest, integrous and trustworthy by consumers, and stands a better chance of earning their loyalty and buy-in. Customers are more likely to trust brands that always look and feel the same.
What do they do?
You might think that your logo, tagline, or colour palette are the most important part of your branding, but unless there’s a brand guideline document outlining brand standards and ensuring that these elements are connected and congruent – these elements won’t serve your brand’s identity.
Guidelines have many purposes and benefits which we will discuss throughout this. Although, chiefly, guideline documents:
- Ensure brand consistency: Above all else, brand guides maintain a consistent brand image which is vital when it comes to building brand recognition and customer loyalty.
- Guarantee brand quality: Brand guides ensure that any communications a brand sends out will be unified and professional, and that the quality of their outputs remains the same, come rain or shine.
- Drive brand integrity: Through implementing guidelines, brand’s can narrow their designs to occupy a distinct look and feel. Following guidelines allows brand strategists to make informed and deliberate decisions when it comes to conveying their brand story.
The big question, what should brand guidelines include?
As with most things, you can opt for more basic models, or a more comprehensive approach when designing your own brand guidelines. For smaller startups, something easy to navigate is often the best route. Whereas, the larger the brand, the more touchpoints they’ll have, and the more comprehensive their guidelines will need to be.
Typically, brand identity guidelines will focus on a brand’s proposition, visual and verbal brand identity, with the average brand guide covering:
- Vision, values, brand story and essence
- Naming and messaging
- Visual brand assets
- Tone of voice / brand messaging
- Examples of the brand in use: external and internal brand communication
This may be more applicable for brands wishing to adopt a more comprehensive approach to their brand identity guidelines, but we also find that it’s useful to include sections for:
- Audience personas: This is a deep understanding around who you are creating your content and communications for. Rather than focussing on specific individuals, personas seek to understand the main problems, fears, and ambitions of your target audience. This helps brand experts and marketeers understand – and more importantly relate to – their target audience, and will help them deliver value through their marketing materials and communications.
- Accessibility: This one is actually relevant to all brands. Creating brands that are inclusive and accessible has never been more important, so we’d recommend striving for nothing less. You should aim to include guidance on creating accessible material, key considerations, and an accessible colour combination chart that looks something like this.
- If you’re in a highly regulated industry that needs to adhere to web accessibility guidelines, we recommend extending your brand colour palette and guidelines to support it.
- Asset library: Also known as a brand library, or DAM library, an asset library houses all of your brand’s assets. It’s a very handy contact sheet that highlights where people can the full scope of your brand toolkit, and familiarise themselves with the assets they will need, use and implement.
- Further guidance: We’d recommend leaving no stone unturned and being as thorough and informative as possible. Be sure to let readers know exactly where to go for further guidance, contact details, or any additional information they might need. It’s your job to point them in the right direction and leaving nothing to presume.
We’re now going to break down the key elements that all brand guides should include.
1. Brand proposition
This is a core component of all brand development. Coining a distinctive positioning statement which reveals your brand’s outlook, vision and philosophy – and which mirrors what your customers aspire to – is vital to your brand’s success.
Be sure to include your brand proposition statement in your guidelines, covering your core values, personality, vision, and purpose. A simple summary into what exists at the heart of your business will make your brand feel more human, authentic and relatable – and will enable new users to connect with, and communicate your brand.
Logos are one aspect of your overall branding, although they are the first visual cue that customers come to recognise you by – and are therefore incredibly important. It’s important that your logo be consistently represented across different media and devices, otherwise it could risk diminishing your brand identity.
When it comes to guidelines, you should include:
- How your logo should and shouldn’t be used
- The size and proportions of your logo
- Requirements regarding exclusion zones (clear space around the logo)
- Colour ways, online and offline
Most companies have a several logo variations depending on the situation, such as a large-scale and detailed logo for bigger treatments (like full spread advertisements), smaller logos for smaller treatments (like online use, social media icons and letterheads).
It’s important that your logo be fully flexible and that your guideline document include your logo design in its full spectrum – a version without the tagline, a version without the symbol, and so on. You will also need to show your logo against different colour background, and in single colour.
Logo spacing is important – the space around your logo (exclusion zone) is often as important as the design itself. It should be displayed with ‘x-height’ guides, which show how much space should be around the logo at all times. There should also be an indication of how small you should take your logo at any time.
The fonts you use are a huge part of your visual identity. You’ll need to decide whether you’re going to use a single typeface across your media choices, or whether you’re going to communicate with different typefaces for online and offline. Defining this eliminates guesswork for designers, and ensures that your communications are consistent and clean across the board.
In your guidelines, be sure to identify:
- Your choice of fonts (Styles, families, and where to access them)
- Appropriate Applications of These Fonts:
- Text Alignment Options:
- Spacing Considerations:
- Tracking and Kerning Ratios
- Offline and online usages
4. Colour palette
All brands should have a select set of colours that they use when developing a visual identity. Your brand guidelines should distinguish primary and secondary colour palettes.
Make sure that your toolkit includes information on reproducing your chosen colours accurately and effectively, which will mean focussing on colour values / codes for digital – HEX and RGB (Red, Blue and Green), and colours for print – CMYK (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and Key) details, and Pantone colour matches.
Remember, your colour palette will be used across various marketing channels – from brochures, to your social media and website, so consider the colour variations between digital and physical materials.
Photography, illustration, iconography and infographics can play a critical role in your brand identity. Including image style guidelines in your overall guide ensures that a consistent photographic or illustrative style is established from the get-go.
There are a few ways you can approach imagery in your brand toolkit. For instance:
- Best practice examples: Include examples of imagery in a variety of contexts that performed well for your brand in the past.
- Aspirations: If you don’t have the right examples for your brand yet, showcase potential imagery to give you a set of guidelines to follow, (it’s important to make sure you always seek the image creators permission).
- Include examples of what you don’t want to see: Collect images that do not convey the brand image you want to portray and listing out why they are not correct always helps.
6. Verbal identity and brand voice
Your brand’s tone of voice strongly impacts the way customers associate and connect with your brand. A tone of voice guidelines section should do two things:
- Introduce your brand’s tone of voice and tonal values, explaining what they stand for and how they support your brand and company mission.
- Give detailed, practical support to the people creating content for different channels.
When making your guideline document, ensure the design of the brand guide matches the visual tone of your company. A house style guide is a brilliant tool when it comes to aligning your visual tone and verbal tone. This covers everything from email etiquette, to content marketing, to slogan use – ensuring consistency across internal and external brand communications.
Show examples of best practices, for example messaging that has worked well for you in the past. A list of do’s and don’ts is a great way to break down what works and what doesn’t. Choose specific words that you do, and don’t like in relation to your band, brand specific phrases or copy (such as Calls-To-Action), keywords to use (and to avoid), and writing style (first-person, informal, direct etc).
Your brand guidelines should…
- Inform: Fundamentally, this is what it’s here to do – its job is to tell everyone who reads it, what your brand essence is and how to communicate it. It will inform use of everything from your logo, to your brand story, and even your social media marketing campaigns.
- Inspire: Above merely informing, you still want to engage and stimulate your various audiences – be they employees, stakeholders or customers. Your brand elements should breathe life into your business, transforming the functional business of a company into a personality.
- Enforce: Your guidelines need to enforce your brand identity – ensuring that every aspect of your branding journey is – for lack of a better saying – on brand.
The best brand guidelines examples: three businesses that get it right
Their brand toolkit not only highlights the things designers should keep in mind when implementing the Skype style, but their global directory shows its readers what becomes possible through Skype. They help people understand the why behind their branding choices.
This great brand has a thorough style guide that explains how to communicate their brand through logo, colour, composition, iconography, illustration, photography, tone of voice, typography, and motion.
Their brand page provides an overview into each of these elements, alongside examples for speedy insights. Uber’s brand guidelines are user-friendly and well-organised, guaranteeing that users access precisely what they require without the need to endlessly scroll through numerous pages of content.
They highly informative guidelines provide information on tone of voice, appearance, and so on. Understanding that the people using their guidelines are most likely designers, their document is rich in detail and doesn’t leave anything to the imagination.
Are brand guidelines really that important?
They couldn’t be more important.
Whether you’re a fledgling startup or a global corporation, brand guidelines are critical to helping your brand work effectively. Both internally and externally, brand books and toolkits communicate the essence of your brand, and drive consistency.
Above all else, strong and consistent branding helps to clarify what your brand stands for and create a strong brand identity. Informative and flexible guidelines act as a template guide and allow you to communicate your brand’s purpose, personality and promise.
You want customers to recognise your brand no matter where they see it – in a magazine, on their phone, on the TV screen. Your branding is the beating heart of your business, and brand guidelines are integral to producing consistent messaging and cultivating brand unity. Guidelines help to:
- They forge long-standing relationships: The connection between brands and their customers is maintained through consistency. Without consistency, brand’s run the risk of seeming inauthentic losing their customers’ trust.
- They eliminate confusion: Knowing what to expect from a brand will often mean that customers are willing to pay the premium for their services – because they trust it.
- They reduce unnecessary costs: Knowing exactly what you need will limit pointless spending. Guidelines can mean that budgetary spending becomes more efficient.
- They’re useful for employees: This one’s a no-brainer, and is very practical reason as to why you should consider creating guidelines. Brand books ensure that your employees are always using your brand in the correct way – the right shade of green, the right tagline, the right font, the right size logo, and so on. If you have a new starter, or your Marketing Manager is out of the office, having a set of brand guidelines means that the right branding is easily accessible to everyone, and that everyone knows how to use it properly.
- They aid brand recognition: This is the most obvious reason why businesses need brand guidelines. The consistency that guidelines create means that brands are instantly recognisable to customers, without having to introduce who they are and what they do.
You can increase the efficiency of your creative teams and ensure brand consistency with a practical set of branding guidelines. We’d recommend using tools like Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator, and InDesign to compile these rules in sharp, user-friendly style guides. This will give designers and writers a great reference tool to help them speak with the same creative voice, and your customers will identify and trust your brand more readily when they see consistent, creative output.
We can guide you through your branding guidelines
If you’re thinking about rebranding, or just need a hand creating brand identity guidelines – we’re here to help. Get in touch to discuss how we can help you maintain a strong, cohesive and distinguished brand through a set of identity guidelines that get to the heart of your business and consistently communicate your promise.