We've talked before about what a brand is —that it's the sum total of all the impressions your customers have of you, everything from your logo to your customer service to your product quality. As such, it's important that you control all of those touchpoints. Everything you're doing sends a message, and it's your job, as brand manager, to guide and direct what message is being sent. Related: Brand consistency—the competitive advantage and how to achieve it.
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A brand style guide takes the heart and soul of your brand—your mission, vision and values—and translates it into design. It also tells everyone exactly how to communicate your brand.
Using a brand book ensures that your brand looks and feels the same, even when you have different people working on customer service, marketing, design and sales.
Imagine a co-worker who always wears a dress shirt tucked into slacks, with his hair cut neatly short. Now imagine if that same person walked into work one day unshaven, wearing cutoff jeans and sporting a new tattoo of a tiger riding a motorcycle through flames. The same logic applies to brands: inconsistency will confuse and alienate your customers. A style guide is important because it helps your business communicate in a consistent way across all teams and channels.
Before you create a style guide, you need to know your brand. Together, these are the most important things needed to establish your brand identity because they tell the world what you stand for.
Mission and vision: Write a mission statement about why your company exists and a vision statement about where you want your brand to go. Target audience: Describe who your customers are and why they need you i. Personality: Make a list of adjectives that describe your brand.
This will set the tone for both design and writing. Are you sophisticated or quirky? Classic or trendy? Ask your team for input and perspective. Tip: It can also be helpful to list adjectives that your brand is not.
Values: Determine the guiding principles for company decisions and actions. Memorable values will make it easy for your team to stay on-brand.
Prep for your brand style guide by saving reference points that feel on-brand. This is a great exercise that gets multiple people at a company involved and helps to create buy-in. You may end up using some of these materials in the imagery or brand voice sections of your guide. Brand design is a process of discovery, and your designer will be your partner in that process.
There are six essential elements that need to go in every brand style guide. These should be the first things you prioritize with your designer.
Some of this may already be created like your logo. A designer will help you take those moods, feelings and images and turn them into tangible brand elements. Introduce your brand to the world. A simple summary will give people insight into the heart and soul of your company, which will help them understand how to represent your brand.
Or you may choose to only share some of that publicly. Gauge what to include by what would be most useful as a reference point. Everything else in your brand guidelines should hold true to these fundamental components. This section of your brand style guide ensures your logo is used in the way you intended.
It also prevents mistakes—like stretching, altering, condensing or re-aligning—that could send the wrong message. Include all approved versions of your logo, describe when to use each one, and show visual examples to make it really clear.
Need a reference point? Speaking of colors, defining a brand palette will go a long way towards creating a consistent look and feel. Heineken follows this rule of thumb to a tee. In your style guide, show swatches of your brand colors.
Make sure to include the information needed to reproduce those color accurately, wherever your brand message goes. Here are some handy online tools to help you choose a color scheme or convert digital color into other values. Another big part of identity design is font selection.
Your brand needs will dictate whether one typeface family will meet all your needs or if you want to define multiple brand fonts. A good rule of thumb is to use a different font than the one in your logo, since the contrast will help it stand out. A seasoned designer can guide you through this process. You can approach this in a few different ways. You might even use some of the inspiration points you gathered to prep for your style guide!
While almost every organization is going to need to include the six essential elements in a brand style guide, some will need to go deeper. A brand style guide should fit the organization it belongs to. Start by making a list of any additional elements that you will need to cover in your guide. Take your 6 essential elements, mix them with any business-specific needs and wants, and build yourself an outline! This will help determine the structure of our guide.
Once you have your outline, decide if you want your guide to live as a digital PDF, be available online, be printed, etc.
You and your designer should connect on any specs landscape vs. Remember this should be a working document. Your brand style guide is a living, breathing document. You will end up learning what works as you use it, and you can always add to it or adjust the information. The most important thing is to set a solid foundation by creating one. Designate one place to keep ideas as they come up new decisions made, new examples you like, etc.
Then calendar time to review and revisit and refresh your style guide. You can do this one month, a quarter, or a year after finalizing the guidelines. Your company is more than just the products or services you sell. A strong brand tells the world why they should choose you over all the other options on the market.
A brand style guide tells your team how to stay true to that brand. While some style guides are as thick as a novel, others are a simple one-page reference. It all depends on your business needs. The important thing is that it lists all your basic brand elements and can act as the singular point of reference for any future design project.
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