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The Do’s and Don’ts of Brand Guidelines

Brand guidelines - what you should and shouldn't do

A brand is how your business presents itself to the world. That means your brand is the face your business shows not only to customers but also to important figures in your industry and even the general public. Think of all the people you could either impress or confuse, depending on whether or not your branding is on point.

Creating guidelines for your brand will help support consistency and ensure that everyone you hire in marketing, sales, and management is on the same page. Take a look at our do’s and don’ts to easily grasp what makes a good list of brand guidelines.

Do: Be Specific With Design

Image via Flickr by jonas.lowgren

Imagine you saw an ad for Netflix, and for some reason, instead of the usual red, black, and white color scheme, it used a pastel blue and green mix instead. You can probably agree that such a sight would be incredibly confusing, assuming you even noticed the ad. After all, when a brand abandons the elements that people associate with it, sometimes it turns them practically invisible to their most interested potential customers.

This is why all of the design aspects of your brand should have specific guidelines. What fonts should be used, typeface and spacing, colors, symbols, imagery styles, the position and size of your logo, and so much more should be outlined with actual, numerical precision in your brand guidelines. Trust us, your customers will find it easier to notice you, and your graphic designers will thank you for it.

Don’t: Make Universal Rules

Every brand is going to approach customers a little differently depending on the context and medium. For instance, Instagram is a great home for pictures of a certain ratio and size, but branded content made for that site probably won’t be ideal for sites like Twitter. Similarly, emailing leads is not the same as convincing organic traffic on your website, so the two tasks should be approached differently. Have your guidelines divided into rules for specific contexts.

As an example, imagine a brand has a guideline to always feature its logo in everything it creates and sends to its audience. However, they might discover, with split testing, that emails without their logo get more clicks and responses. Test everything you aren’t sure about, and make more specific, medium-based rules when you know what works best.

In addition, you should test the times and days of the week that content and advertisements do best, and make rules based on that information. Your social posts might do best when posted on Saturday, and managers who know that can work to get them done by that day.

Do: Update and Refresh the Guidelines

Considering the point above about not making universal rules, hopefully you see how important it is to test every guideline you make. When you find new insights about what works better, update the guidelines. Even if you are at a more advanced level and don’t need to test what works quite as much, the online world is always changing. Social media sites, for instance, tend to redesign themselves every couple of years, leading to new ideal image sizes, post lengths, etc. Consider your guidelines a fluid list of current standards, not a volume of fixed rules.

Don’t: Ignore Your Brand’s Story

Even highly specific guidelines can be hard to follow or understand if there isn’t a clear purpose and narrative behind their application. Most great brand guidelines start with an “about us” or “our story” section detailing the brand’s history, values, and purpose. This section should also outline the brand’s target audience and how following the guidelines will help the brand get this audience’s attention and appeal to them.

The brand story section doesn’t have to be very long or complicated, but it should serve as a core that unites all the disparate rules. If a landscaping business’s mission is to make customers envision the best possible yard they could have, designers who read this will better understand why the design elements are based on order, cleanliness, and perfectionism. It makes a real difference when writers, designers, and other creatives are on the same page in this regard.

Do: Include Communication and Writing Rules

Whether for written content such as blogs or spoken dialogue in scripted commercials, a business needs to establish the words and communication guidelines that are most effective on their audience. Typically, this breaks down into rules about readability, tone, and other general concepts. A business with a more friendly and approachable brand might emphasize short paragraphs and a reading level of ninth grade, while a serious business made to help entrepreneurs could insist upon using college-level language.

The other important concept for writing rules is the specific editorial guidelines. If the rest of the rules are at the broad, macro level, think of these as the micro level. Here are some examples:

  • What editorial style should your brand use (AP, Chicago)?
  • What grammar constructions are okay or not okay? For a casual brand, perhaps run-on sentences could be okay, but short sentences with only one clause could be too blunt and serious.
  • How should numbers and other things with multiple ways of typing be used? One hundred or 100? Mr. or Mister? Five o’clock or 5:00? It’s not necessarily that choosing one over others will please your audience more, since the details are small. The key is demanding consistency. Otherwise, savvy readers will notice you using both, which is not professional.
  • Include lists of words that should be used and others that should never be used, based on audience understanding. One great example is that “died” might be too blunt for a life insurance company’s written content, and they might insist on “passed away” or something similar.

When managing a content marketing or advertising campaign online, it can take a lot of time and energy to communicate what you need through conference calls or emails. Having an up-to-date set of guidelines that teaches people what your brand is all about will make things far easier and less complicated. Just send it to every employee and hired contractor, and you can let management handle the rest.

About the author

Shane Hall