Brand guidelines, also referred to as style guides, are a written manual that explains how a brand should be used internally and externally. They provide specific instructions about how tangible elements of a brand should be used in all forms of branded communications — covering everything from business cards to packaging, adverts to signage, and everything in between.
Brand guidelines are effectively a safeguard against the misuse or misrepresentation of a company’s brand or logo. By ensuring consistency across all channels and platforms, a brand leaves its distinguishing fingerprint across all customer touch points, building familiarity and trust in a brand in the process.
Imagine the Coca-Cola logo being used differently wherever you saw it, with a range of different fonts and colours thrown into the mix. There would be no way for consumers to make the instant connection between a logo and the brand promise that the company has worked so hard to communicate. In fact, a lack of consistency could breed mistrust in a brand and could seriously damage its reputation.
In this post, we’ll take you through what effective brand guidelines should consist of and the advantages they bring to your business.
Creating effective brand guidelines
Brand guidelines aren’t the same for every business, and nor should they be. Prominent brands with a wide reach require more detailed rules and descriptions, whereas start-ups and small businesses can get away with a more pared down version. However, there are several key elements which should be covered in every brand guidelines document.
This should summarise what makes the brand unique. It should briefly encapsulate the company’s history, values, character and aspirations. It should put in a nutshell all that a company wishes its customers and potential customers to know about it, whilst also providing an outline of the nature of the customers it is seeking to attract.
Tone of Voice
Defining your brand’s tone of voice is a crucial part of any brand guidelines document. Your brand voice isn’t what you say, but how you say it. The words and style of vocabulary a business uses define how it is perceived.
Tone of voice guidelines should define a brand’s personality as expressed by the written word. Just as it is important to have a consistent look and feel in terms of design across all forms of communication, it is just as important to make sure that all content feels like it is being spoken by a single source.
The easiest way to do this is to sum up your company’s tone of voice as if it were a human being by assigning it some key qualities. Is your brand friendly, personable and dependable, or is it principled, knowledgeable and proactive?
Providing examples of how to write and importantly, how not to write, in a company’s tone of voice is also helpful here.
A company’s logo is the cornerstone of its brand and, therefore, one of its most valuable assets. Brand guidelines should fully illustrate a brand’s logo and provide examples of preferred usage, providing options for use in full colour, black and white and reverse black and white. It should provide specific information about how much space to leave around a logo to ensure that it is not visually obstructed (this is called the exclusion area) and provide examples of common misuses to avoid including stretching, tilting and distorting. These may seem like obvious pitfalls to us marketing professionals, but to those outside of that field of expertise, knowledge of marketing processes cannot and should not be assumed.
This section should provide specific information with regards to the colour palette(s) used by the brand, giving CMYK, RGB, HEX and pantone codes where possible. This will ensure that your brand’s colours appear accurately in all formats including print and digital.
Typeface is a key element of communicating a unified brand personality. By specifying the fonts used by a brand and the scenarios in which they should be used (for example, many brands will have different type faces for their logo, headlines and general text) and by setting size ratios, greater brand consistency will be achieved.
Application for Print and Digital Platforms
Whether producing a printed poster or a website, considerations need to be made about how to apply a brand’s visual system to its various communications platforms. Are you using the correct colours and font size to be legible for your medium? Does your photography help tell your story?
By providing guidelines for communicating the brand across relevant platforms, it is possible to ensure consistency across print, web and social media.
What are the advantages of having brand guidelines?
Brand guidelines are crucial to creating consistency across each of a company’s marketing channels, and consistency is key to creating a relationship between the brand and the customer. Without consistency, customers may become confused and begin to lose trust in a brand. Creating consistency helps to increase brand awareness and loyalty amongst its customers and to create brand value.
Not only do brand guidelines help us to build relationships with our customers, they can also go a long way to creating effective working relationships within organisations as well as with external partners. By providing a clear and concise toolkit for employees and partners, they have more freedom to go out and utilise the company’s brand with greater confidence and freedom, safe in the knowledge that they are promoting the brand appropriately and therefore enhancing relationships with existing and potential customers.
Consistency across all marketing channels also helps to build professional brand recognition and reputation amongst peers within the industry. By developing a charismatic brand, competitors are less able to step in and take its place and it can be seen to be industry-leading, which generates greater brand awareness and loyalty in the process.
By using brand guidelines, companies are more able to deliver on customer expectations right down to the smallest detail. Having trust in a brand and knowing what to expect means customers are willing to pay more for their products or services, increasing sales and margins.
Brand guidelines are beneficial to a business in many ways, so it is surprising that so many companies neglect to use them. They are integral to the success of a marketing strategy and part of a foundation of tools to aid long-term growth.