How to create brand guidelines
As your small business grows bigger, so do the opportunities for people to discover you for the first time. From accepting your business card at an event to visiting your website for more information, it's crucial that every experience people have with your business is consistent.
Because your brand is not merely a logo and colour scheme.
It’s the experience people expect from your business and the words they use when recommending you to someone else.
So, what are brand guidelines?
Your brand guidelines make sure your print and digital marketing is coordinated and represent your business accurately and professionally. And it makes good business sense too. According to the Brand Consistency Benchmark report, “The average revenue increase attributed to always presenting the brand consistently is 23%”.
Detailed brand guidelines also help you show new employees how you talk about the business, and your products and services.
What you’ll learn in this article:
- What to include in your brand guidelines
- How to design a consistent look and feel for your business
- Why it's essential to appear consistent wherever people find you—online or off
1. Start with “why”
Your brand mission or vision statement an action-oriented declaration of how your business serves your customers.
But beyond defining what you do, your brand mission shares the purpose of your work and the effect you intend to have on the world around you. It states what you do for others and the approach you follow as you aim to achieve the goals you’ve set for yourself and your business.
It makes sense to include your mission statement in your brand guidelines because they:
- establish the kind of customers you’re trying to reach
- set the tone for how you present your brand
- share what you and your business stand for
To demonstrate what a brand guide looks like, the following steps feature a fictitious adventure tours company called NOMAD.
NOMAD’s brand mission might sound something like:
Adventure tours that benefit local communities
2. Identify your unique selling proposition
When writing your mission statement, you may have identified your unique selling proposition (USP). This communicates how your business differs from the competition
NOMAD’s USP might be:
NOMAD: Create opportunities for local communities through low environmental impact adventure tours
This is another piece of the brand puzzle that needs a place in your brand guidelines. Your USP speaks directly to your target market — in their language, about their problems, beliefs, or concerns. So, including your USP in a consistent way across print and digital means you’re building credibility and ingraining your brand in your audience’s mind. Branding is all about recognition, and your USP plays a big part in convincing people why they should choose you over your competitors.
And while your brand mission, values, and USP are not necessarily tangible marketing assets, they are at the core of every interaction with your business. They direct the tone, aesthetic, channel, and platform, making them necessary for any comprehensive brand style guide.
3. Define how to use your logo
Your logo is the visual representation of your business and makes it easy for people to recognise your brand. Including your logo, along with an explanation of what it represents, is a good idea. Brand guidelines are meant to be an educational and actionable resource for your internal and external partners, so explanations are always helpful. Leave no room for interpretation when it comes to your brand; this is not the place where you want people to take creative liberties.
Beyond your logo’s meaning, your brand guidelines should show approved and unapproved use cases for your logo. For example, providing specific dimension ratios, colour inversions, and black and white only logo specs will help keep consistency across your marketing materials. Feel free to have as many variations of your logo as you want in your style guide. This is your catch-all, so be as robust or lean as you’d like.
In short, the logo page makes it easy for anyone to digest how to use the logo in a brand-approved away. It’s a simple layout that holds a ton of information.
Now, with your logo parameters clearly defined in your guidelines, your brand will stay intact regardless of whether your logo features on a folded leaflet, branded clothing, or a social media profile page.
4. Specify your colour palette
Outside of your logo, you’ll want to define (ideally one to three) colours in the colour palette. Add those colours to your brand style guide, including the colour names (if available), a colour swatch, and hex codes (the HTML version of colour names).
Much like your logo, using the same colours across your marketing materials, signage, website, and social media accounts is necessary for building a reputable and recognisable brand. Having your approved colours and relevant information in your guidelines means there’s less room for errors.
NOMAD’s colour palette represents the outdoors. Sky blue, dark sky blue and lime green all conjure up images of adventure in exotic places.
But that’s not all.
People often associate blue with competence and trustworthiness, while green is commonly used to communicate nature and environmental responsibility.
It takes time to find the perfect suite of colours, so be sure to research popular associations with colours during the process. Once you’ve narrowed them down, use your guideline as a home for your colour palette. You’ll save time in the long run by having your specific colours in one place, and your online and offline brand presence will be cohesive.
5. Select typography
Just like your brand colours, you need to use the same suite of fonts to build a trustworthy and consistent brand. Whether it was while designing your business card or website, you chose one or two fonts that felt right for your brand; these are your approved set of fonts.
If you can’t remember the font names, don’t worry. Go back to your website builder or marketing material design project and look up the names of your primary and secondary fonts. Google offers a handy extension called What Font, which can help you identify your fonts.
Once you have their names and preferred font sizes, add them to your guide. Showing examples of use cases is vital as it helps avoid confusion and, again, limits room for interpretation.
As you can see in the NOMAD example, the font names, styles, and use cases (headline and body text) are all noted and easy to reference. This is a simple but effective way to showcase your preferred typography in an understandable way.
6. Choose appropriate imagery
Including a set of approved images (preferably original images) and themes that fit within your brand are an effective way to communicate what your business does. Outlining appropriate niche areas also helps guide future image selection to ensure brand consistency.
Your inspiration pages are helpful as they offer at-a-glance clues that reflect the brand’s visual identity. These details are useful when you’re briefing a writer or designer about your brand style or onboarding a new member of staff.
And your brand words set the tone for the kind of adjectives you want people to use when they talk about your business.
In the Nomad example above, you can see the aesthetic they’re trying to cultivate, and it’s clear which types of images work for this brand. That’s the purpose of your imagery section. You don’t need 100s of images, but a few that capture your brand’s different focus areas and values help communicate who you are and what you do.
7. Define your voice
Voice is a brand’s personality, which is usually described in adjectives.
Tone is the emotional quality of the voice. It’s how a brand “speaks” in slightly different ways depending on the audience, circumstance, or subject matter.
Your brand has the same voice all the time, but the tone varies depending on each conversation.
Voice makes your writing more consistent, and tone makes it more empathetic.
NOMAD describes itself as:
Considering Nomad’s audience is active adventure seekers, the voice should reflect that and be packed with energy and enthusiasm. People reading the website should receive the same level of energy as those who are stepping out for a guided hike in the mountains.
And while your business voice is not a tangible material – like a logo – it remains an integral part of your brand identity. Your brand voice should sound the same across every interaction with your business, from flyers to your Facebook page.
Give as much direction as possible, so no matter who is writing for your business, the voice sounds consistent wherever people discover you.
8. Detail your writing style
ALL CAPS or Sentence case?
The way you write affects the tone of your message. Languages are flexible, and there are many ways to communicate the same words in a message.
Take this message, for example:
- Contact us for a quote
- CONTACT US FOR A QUOTE
They feel different, right?
The capitalised (or all caps) version looks a lot sterner. It’s almost like someone is shouting. The first example uses sentence case with no end punctuation. It makes the message more conversational and seems less like an order.
With that said, there are circumstances when all caps is appropriate.
For example, NOMAD uses capital letters for the business name. Since it’s an energetic outdoors tours company, this makes sense as the capitalisation captures the energy of the brand. The capital M even reflects the mountain peaks featured in some of the imagery within the brand guide
Detailing your writing style helps maintain consistency across all your written messaging.
9. Take advantage of online tools
Google Slides is ideal for creating a living brand guide, meaning you can update it regularly and share via email. Its familiar workflow makes it easy to achieve great results. And it’s free.
Frontify describes itself as “software for branding and simplifying the whole process of design.” They offer a free version for one brand, up to three users and you’ll get 1GB of storage for your web-based brand guide manual.
Brandbuilder.ai promises to “help you create a brand that is uniquely yours, and then help you use it across a variety of business materials.” You can get started for free, and the brand inspiration tool allows you to see existing examples of industry-specific brand guide examples.
Openbrand offers a “dynamic alternative to static PDF manuals no one ever reads: A unique set of features for work with logos, colour palettes, typography, pictures, and much more.” The basic plan is free and offers 1GB of storage for your brand guide.
We’d love to know how your brand guide turned out. Share your images using the hashtag #vistaprint.
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