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May 18, 2021 (Updated: February 12, 2023)
A brand is one or more features that an organization uses to distinguish its products and services from all others. These features include names, colors, symbols, designs, and images.
Branding is as old as human civilization. Early humans used to brand cattle to distinguish the cattle based on their owners. Some evidence of this can be found in Stone Age and Early Bronze Age cave paintings from South-Western Europe.
Egyptian funerary monuments whose history goes as far back as 4,000 years also have images of branded cattle.
In this day and age, however, distinguishing your products and services is much harder. But it is necessary in a world where 65% of consumers form emotional brand connections.
For that reason, you need a battle plan to help you create a memorable brand. And that plan comes in the form of brand guidelines.
Brand guidelines are sometimes referred to as a brand style guide. This set of rules and regulations will enable you to determine how your organization’s brand comes across to your audience in terms of what they see, hear, and feel.
Brand guidelines will help you in the creation of your brand identity. This includes your business’ personality, colors, messaging, and imagery. The style guide affects the use of your brand elements.
Some brand guidelines can be summarized in a page or two. But others make up an entire novel-length book. Each organization has its way of doing things when creating brand standards.
But you need to bear in mind that not every brand standards guide is effective. Effective guides are:
Most organizations don’t formalize their brands.
Studies show that out of the 95% of organizations that have branding guidelines, only one in every four has taken the time to formalize these standards. So, ensure that your brand style guide has a formal structure that makes sense.
Around 21% of companies don’t write down their brand guidelines.
Instead, these companies communicate these guidelines verbally. Avoid making this kind of mistake, as it leads to inaccurate communication of brand guidelines in the long-term.
Your brand elements will be used inconsistently to represent your products and services. And your customers will end up getting confusing messages from you.
People need to follow rules. But many businesses don’t bother enforcing brand style guides. As a result, some of those working on branding for these organizations tend to veer off course. Then they end up creating off-brand content.
So, enforce your brand guidelines strictly.
Look through existing brand book examples when creating your own. When you do, you will notice that most of the style guide examples have several components in common. These components will help your employees and freelancers understand your company’s branding goals better.
Below are some of the components that you must include in your brand style guide:
A mission statement is a summarized statement that states what your organization is all about. It shows what your aims and values are.
It can state your company’s line of business and the purpose it intends to fulfill. The statement is usually short and concise. It can also include your strategies for achieving your goals.
Here is a good example of a mission statement that belongs to Google:
“Our mission is to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.”
A vision statement, on the other hand, is a summary of what an organization intends to achieve long-term. It tends to be idealistic and inspirational. Vision statements can range from one sentence to a small paragraph.
Below is an example of a vision statement that belongs to LinkedIn.
LinkedIn’s vision is to:
“Create economic opportunity for every member of the global workforce.”
You should research many brand guidelines examples to see how other companies have used their mission and vision statements to inspire their branding efforts. Try to understand how they achieve that.
These statements are essentially a foundation for your brand. They provide the reason for your business’ existence. They determine how your company portrays itself to its employees, customers, suppliers, business partners, and even the media.
An ideal buyer persona is a description of someone that represents your target customer. This fictional person should have the characteristics of your best potential clients.
An ideal buyer persona includes details such as the name, gender, age or age range, and marital status of your ideal customer. It also includes behavioral traits, financial status, and career positions. The pain points, needs, wants, and goals of this target customer are also worth including.
According to one report by Marketing Insider Group, 93% of companies that segment their database by buyer persona end up exceeding their lead and revenue goals.
It’s safe to assume that without defining your customer persona, you cannot market to your customer successfully. That’s because it’s necessary to first understand who you are targeting and what their preferences are before you can appeal to their needs and wants. You can also determine the best communication channels to use to reach out to them.
The kind of products that you create, as well as the customer experience that your business offers, will also depend on your buyer persona. So, if you get it wrong, then your entire brand style guide will not be worth much.
Did you know that color improves consumers’ ability to recognize brands by up to 80%? That’s how important color is. Therefore, your brand style guide should include a defined color palette that your organization can be identified with.
A color palette, in this case, refers to the colors that you will use in all your branding tasks to ensure consistent messaging. It could be one color, a combination of two or more colors, or various shades of one color.
But you cannot use all the colors on the color wheel just because they are available.
When choosing your color palette, think about your company’s mission and vision statements. Also, consider your ideal buyer persona and what they like.
Learn about color psychology. Individual colors have different meanings. For example, red represents danger and excitement, while blue represents competence and loyalty.
Remember, each color evokes different emotions in people. The palette that you decide on must represent your organization’s brand accurately while appealing to your target audience.
One thing you will notice when you look through brand guide examples is that most companies specify color codes such as the HEX and RGB color codes. These codes ensure that anyone that deals with your brand color can get the exact shade that your organization has decided on without making mistakes.
Your company values consist of all the principles and belief systems that guide the way you do business.
These values will differentiate your business from the competition. They influence the direction that you take when creating a brand and maintaining its value. Additionally, company values determine the brand messaging. They include your commitment to clients, trustworthiness, integrity, honesty, etc.
When creating brand guidelines, identify these values. If you don’t know what they are, then sit down and think of them based on what you think your organization is all about. You should involve your employees in coming up with the company values if you need help.
For your brand to grow, your employees must first embrace these values and own them.
Company values can influence everyone, including freelancers, who are hired to help build your brand. So, make them clear.
Every company needs a personality, which is a set of human attributes. If you don’t know what your company’s personality is, then define it. It determines how people feel about your brand, products, and services when they interact with them.
The personality that you develop for your organization needs to elicit the emotions that you want to create in your customers. It must resonate with them. That’s one of the reasons why understanding the ideal buyer persona is very important.
Everyone in your company should help define what your company’s personality is and what it is not.
For example, you could say that your company is innovative, sophisticated, and outdoorsy. But these adjectives must suit the mission, vision, core values, and areas of expertise concerning your business. You can also analyze your sales and marketing materials to help you come up with the right words.
Be sure to get your brand personality right. It will determine the voice and tone of your company messaging. It also determines how well your target clientele receives your brand.
Most business buyers research and finalize their buying decisions using content as a trustworthy source of information. Therefore, an editorial style guide is an important aspect of your brand guidelines.
Editorial brand guidelines consist of a set of defined rules and guidelines that help content creators and editors come up with brand-related content. The guide usually has rules that guide grammar, spelling, punctuation, acceptable content that can be written, the use of images, etc.
An editorial style guide will help ensure the tone and voice of your brand-related content is consistent across the board. And it affects how content appears both online and offline.
The success of your brand message will depend on how well content creators understand your editorial style guidelines and implement them. If they embrace it, then your company personality will shine through. Your business content will elicit emotions that persuade your target audience to take the desired actions, and it’s likely to go viral.
Typography includes text-based aspects of your brand and its overall appearance. These include the letters, symbols, numbers, and fonts. Their size, weight, spacing, and style matter. Also, think about how your typography will look on different surfaces, devices, and in different sizes.
Your company’s typography will influence how your target audience views your brand. And that will affect your ability to persuade them. You may want to define each typeface and also specify the hierarchy so that people can know what to use and when to enhance consistency.
Therefore, your graphic designers, content creators, web developers, and marketers will all have to know how to arrange brand-related text to achieve the desired results. And while there is nothing wrong with having more than one typeface to represent your brand, try to limit the number to prevent a mental overload.
Research shows that when people hear information that is paired up with an image, three days later they are likely to remember 65% of it. Compare this to the 10% they would remember if there was no image.
Such is the power of images.
There is no doubt that imagery is an important branding tool. This includes images such as charts, illustrations, photographs, and infographics.
So, you need to know how to use images effectively. For that reason, your brand style guide needs to include the imagery guidelines that people will use to build brand value for your organization.
Your business imagery guidelines should first define what your organization considers as acceptable images. Are all images acceptable? Do you care about hurting political or religious sentiments?
You also need to define the imagery sizes, concepts, compositions, and styles that can be used in different situations. Also include instructions on the background color, shadows, and level of detail.
The goal is to ensure that every brand image that is used, regardless of when and where it is used, is cohesive and recognizable to your target consumers. All brand-related images must convey your company’s personality at all times.
A logo is any symbol or design that is used by organizations to enable people to identify and recognize it.
Chances are that you can easily identify most of the world’s most valuable brands, such as Google, Microsoft, Apple, and Amazon, simply by their logos alone. Their symbols or designs are famous.
Around 78% of consumers believe that logos are works of art. And one in every two people is likely to use a company whose logo they recognize.
So, no matter what your organization does, you need to have a logo to create a valuable brand. A logo style guide is, therefore, a necessary component of every effective brand style guide.
A logo style guide must be comprehensive. Some of the information it should have includes:
Your logo style guide will determine how creative designers can be in their branding efforts without compromising how recognizable and valuable your organization’s brand is.
Here is why brand guidelines are important:
Are you aware that 73% of consumers will make decisions concerning brands and where their loyalties lie based on the kind of customer service that they receive?
Well, part of your branding activities will include the way you deal with customers. And your brand standards will outline and explain the kind of company messaging that you want to put out there when communicating with your customers.
Therefore, a brand style guide is essential to ensuring that you provide a consistent customer experience across all the channels your organization uses. It sets down the rules on how employees can communicate with each other and the customers.
They will use it to guide interactions with existing and potential customers so that they all provide a unified message no matter who is doing the communicating, which channel they are communicating on, or when they are communicating.
The kind of marketing materials that your company uses, as well as the product packaging, must be instantly recognizable to your target customer base.
A brand’s memorability depends on a lot of things. When consumers are shopping around for something that they want, 93% of them focus on the visual appearance of the product. And, color plays a huge role in the identification of a brand.
The more consistent your branding efforts are, the more likely consumers are to remember your products and services.
Consistency is not something that one person in the organization is responsible for. It requires the combined effort of marketers, designers, web developers, and copywriters among others. When all these people work together to put out a consistent message, it will eventually stick in people’s minds.
But achieving that kind of teamwork requires people to be on the same page. And, a brand style guide is what will put everyone who works on the branding on that page.
What do you think will happen when customers continue to receive conflicting messages from your company brand?
Perhaps one day your customer service reps are friendly and the next day they are hostile. Or it could be that your products bear one kind of logo today and a completely different one tomorrow.
What would happen to your clients every time they go shopping and they cannot quickly pinpoint your products? What if they recommend what you offer but you changed your packaging and it ends up being difficult to find?
Research shows that companies that maintain consistent brand representation experience an average of 33% increase in revenue. So, you need to ensure that you don’t confuse and end up alienating your customers.
Branding guidelines will help you with that if you enforce them. Every branding task will be geared toward repeating the same brand message. This then increases customer awareness and brand memorability.
Every member of the organization at all levels and in all departments will use your brand standards to ensure that your brand is consistent across the board.
Since a consistent brand has been shown to improve revenues, everyone must do their part to raise the company’s bottom line. That includes anyone to whom you outsource a branding task. That way, when your business partners, employees, or customers see your brand anywhere, they can instantly connect it to your organization.
Examples of members of your organization that will need to refer to your brand guidelines from time to time include:
Brand guidelines should be used by anyone that intends to perform tasks meant to build the value of your organization’s brand. Some of the real-world scenarios during which you can refer to your branding guidelines include the following:
Content marketing is one of the most important ways to build your brand. It generates three times as many leads as other outbound marketing efforts, but at less than half the cost. And the best thing about it is that it’s subtle. You can bypass people’s resistance to advertisements through content.
But the key to effective branding is creating relevant content. And not everyone can do that.
If content creators need to write marketing content for your organization, then they should read through the editorial guidelines, which should be part of your brand style guide.
These will help them determine how to frame the content to appeal to your target audience without losing the distinctive company voice that you want to portray.
It doesn’t matter whether the content being written is a case study, white paper, LinkedIn thought-leadership article, or blog. The message that comes through must remain consistent throughout.
The way your business website is designed will determine whether or not you keep the attention of potential customers. The first design impression matters a lot. It will determine if your website visitors continue to use your site.
Some of the things that influence how internet users view you include:
Internet users will likely stop interacting with your website if it’s unattractive or takes too long to load. So, you must design it to provide an excellent user experience that is consistent with your brand. Brand guidelines will help you maintain that consistency.
Website developers and designers will create your business site bearing in mind the company policies. The colors, typography, images, company logo, and even the content structure will depend on your brand guidelines. A cohesive website is the end goal. It should be one that the target audience will easily associate with your brand.
Each year, American businesses lose about $1.6 trillion due to poor customer service. You don’t want your business to be among them. For that reason, you must ensure that your customer service representatives provide a consistent and positive customer experience. And this must be done across all channels.
Business organizations must, therefore, have employees who own the customer experience. How they interact with each other and the customers will influence the way the brand is perceived. The value of the brand will be increased or diminished based on the customers’ perceptions of the brand.
If your organization’s personality is that of a friendly expert, then no matter who is manning the phone lines or returning email messages, that person must communicate this all the time.
Your organization cannot afford to have a knowledgeable and friendly customer rep one minute and then an inexperienced and unfriendly rep the next. Not only will this cause customer confusion, but it will likely disappoint them. Then they will move on to your competition.
To ensure everyone is on the same page, you must offer people your brand style book. There should be clear instructions on dealing with customers. For example, if corporate uniforms are part of your customer service rep’s branding, then everyone should wear those uniforms. It will ensure that customers know where to go for help and what to expect from your representatives.
Marketing is one of the ways through which brands build their value. Some of the marketing materials businesses develop include infographics, illustrations, flyers, catalogs, photographs, and product packaging.
Whenever you hire graphic designers to create marketing materials, they need instructions. Your brand guidelines will help them creatively represent your brand without losing the message that you want to communicate consistently.
The colors, typography, and images that these designers use will depend on the rules within the brand style guidebook. And when customers shop for your products or services, they should still be able to recognize your brand quickly and easily.
Every organization needs a brand style guide. And that includes yours. But do you have any idea of how to go about creating one?
Here’s how to go about doing just that:
The first order of business is for you to understand what your brand is about.
What are your mission and vision? What are your values? What kind of pain points do your products and services address? What kind of strategic direction do you want your business to take? How would you like your business partners, employees, and customers to view your organization?
Take the time to research your company and how people feel about it. Use surveys and engage your target audience on social media to get a feel for what they think about your brand. Also, let your employees take part in discussions that will enable you to define your brand.
You also need to think about other unique aspects of your business while getting to understand your brand.
For example, is your business digital or do you have a brick-and-mortar store too? What kind of communication channel do you like to use most? Is it your website or social media channels? What your customers like to do and where they like to hang out will determine your preferred communication channels.
If you have a brick-and-mortar store, you also need to think about how your brand will translate to print. How will it look on your business cards, catalogs, product packaging, and letterheads?
You can only proceed with creating brand guidelines if you understand your brand fully. And that means paying attention to detail.
Once you have defined what your brand is about, then you need to start researching. You should try to find inspiration everywhere. Go through your previous marketing materials to come up with better branding ideas for the future. Concentrate on what worked best previously because it means you hit the mark.
Also, find inspiration from your competition and other businesses that created successful branding campaigns. You can use Pinterest to collect all your inspirational samples. Sometimes, you may like an image on one sample and the typography of another. Collect them all and then discuss them with your team later.
You can also take notes or use a vision board that you keep in your office. Collecting physical samples of branded materials works just as well. Do what works for you so long as it inspires your branding efforts.
It also helps to listen to feedback from both your employees and customers. You would be amazed at the wonderful ideas you can get if you are open-minded.
A brand story is a narrative that weaves together every aspect of your business to elicit the desired emotions from your customers. It includes your company values, the reason why you formed your organization, your vision for the future, and how your business helps people solve their problems. Brand stories are idealistic, inspirational, and meant to touch the heart.
Every organization has a brand story. It’s just that some have to dig deeper than others to find it.
Coming up with a brand story is a team effort. You may need to involve some or all of your employees. Start by distilling the brand message you want to convey into three to five statements. Then use them to develop your story. These should be memorable. You want people to easily remember it.
Your brand story influences the way your company communication is conveyed. But it is by no means the only element that you should include as part of your brand guidelines.
You need to ensure all the other components of your brand style guide, such as the mission and vision statements as well as the core values, are outlined and fully described in the brand style book you are creating.
Then, based on the knowledge and inspiration that your team has acquired, start laying out the other sections of your brand standards guide. Define the color palette — both the primary and secondary colors.
Go ahead and show the kind of typography, logo, imagery, and editorial content you want your brand to be defined by. Ensure each section is organized and clear.
Leave no room for confusion when someone refers to your brand guidelines. So, where necessary, insert images that show what you want or don’t want. When in doubt, err on the side of excessive detail rather than vague outlines.
Below are examples of how you could include those details:
Your brand outlines must be scalable. As things evolve with time, some of your brand elements may have to change. Therefore, your guidelines must allow for that change without compromising the brand value.
So, take time to outline the extent to which changes can be made as well as the boundaries that must not be exceeded. You can also review your brand guidelines periodically to make approved changes to them.
Once you create and build an organized brand style guide, you should publish it. You can publish it on your business website, in the form of a downloadable PDF file, or print physical copies of it.
It depends on what you want to do. The goal is to ensure it is readily available to anyone that will be involved in the process of building your brand when they need it.
Below are some brand standards examples of existing brands that you can check out and get inspiration from.
Skype has a readily available downloadable brand style guide on its site that’s worth checking out.
Skype uses fun and simple cartoons to tell their brand story while sharing their vision and mission. It shows the words that they like and those that they don’t similarly. The company sticks to its use of cartoon features to describe its ideal buyer personas.
The Skype logo comes in two main formats — one for print and the other for the digital space. And the brand style guide lays out its specific color codes not just by naming them but also by sharing the color codes and showing what the colors look like.
The logo guidelines lay out the rules that should be followed in different environments. And the brand guidelines also go on to show the acceptable and unacceptable.
If you want to share your brand guidelines in a fun way, then Skype is a great example.
If there is a brand that defines evolution, then it’s Coke’s Coca-Cola, which is one of the most recognizable brands in the world. The company has been in existence since 1892, and despite many changes to the overall appearance of the brand, the feel is still the same.
You can find the Coca-Cola brand book online and download it if you want to. It’s quite short and straight to the point.
Red is Coca-Cola’s primary color. It’s actually known as Coke. It has been used within the typography as well. It also features in the background of the logo and within the entire brand style guide.
Coca-Cola’s primary typographical asset is the Spencerian Script. You would probably recognize it anywhere. Coke’s branding is that good.
Other assets include the dynamic Ribbon device, the contour bottle, and the Arden Square within which the logo features are printed.
Coca-Cola lays out its vision, mission, and company values in a way that makes the logo and product stand out. While red is the primary color, white and black are the main secondary colors.
If you want a brand that lasts through the ages, Coca-Cola is a great reference point.
Samsung is also a globally renowned brand. And it also offers its brand style guidebook online for the mobile market on its website and for download. The guide is broken down into several parts. One of them is for the typography only.
If you want a study on typography and how it can be incorporated into your brand, then Samsung’s brand guidebook offers you a great chance to learn what to do.
Samsung has invested in the creation of a unique typeface known as SamsungOne. It helps created a unified brand message across all channels and products bearing the Samsung name. And it represents all the core values of the company.
It is quite detailed and lays out the hierarchy, style, how the typeface can be used across multiple languages, and meanings. It even goes on to show you how the font can be written down as text, numbers, or special characters. The typography is applicable in multiple languages too.
While Samsung’s primary color is blue. It has an extensive secondary color palette and accent colors. These include magenta, purple, shades of grey, lime, etc.
Samsung has also extensively outlined the target personality types and iconography guidelines as well as the photography do’s and don’ts. The editorial guidelines determine the way content should be written, including the voice, format, product references, etc.
There is also a right and wrong way to present Samsung products. And that is clearly laid out in the brand style guide.
There is no room for error and inconsistent messaging. Such is the level of detail within the Samsung brand guidelines.
Without branding, an organization won’t have an identity. You can get that brand identity by creating and following brand guidelines to the letter whenever you perform branding tasks. That means understanding what those guidelines are and the role they play in your branding efforts. Then you can implement them in your visual and editorial content. After that, you should distribute them to everyone that will play a role in building your brand value, including freelancers.