Creating an Effective Brand Style Guide
If you see the image of an apple with a bite missing, you think of Apple right away. Many others associate the color blue plus a white inscription with Nivea cream. Anyone who reads “Just Do It” immediately knows that reference is Nike.
We connect certain logos, colors and expressions with a corresponding brand. The companies behind such brands have succeeded in gaining instant recognition because of their uniform brand presence. A well-conceived concept usually lies behind all this and can be collated in a brand style guide.
Why do you need a brand style guide?
Consistent branding across all channels not only ensures a high degree of recognition, it also influences authenticity, credibility and reliability. It makes a brand unmistakable and gives it a clear profile. If, on the other hand, a brand is constantly presented differently, no clear picture emerges and consumers are confused.
A brand style guide sets the standards for the appearance of a brand and helps to implement a consistent corporate identity. Such a document includes, among other things, the logo, the colors to be used, and details about how these features are to be communicated. The existence of guidelines ensures that it’s possible to convey a coherent picture across all channels.
Therefore, style guides ensure company stability – so even if the employees change, the brand’s uniform appearance remains.
Who benefits from a brand style guide?
A brand style guide provides guidance for everyone who creates content – from sales presentations to marketing brochures, and social media posts to customer emails. It is just as important for a marketing employee as for the community manager or for customer service personnel. It ensures that all the content and visual elements of a brand present a coherent appearance.
These seven areas of business should be used in creating your brand style guide.
In order to create a successful brand style guide, you must know your own brand inside out. Brand style guides mainly focus on design aspects, but often they also include passages about communication. It’s recommended that you build your brand style guide as follows:
1. Brand History
You should recount your brand history in the first chapter of your style guide. Before anything else, it should answer the following questions:
When was the brand founded, and by whom?
What does the brand stand for?
What is special about the brand? Which key themes are characteristic of your brand?
In order to express your brand personality, can you identify the most important features of your brand in 3-5 adjectives? For example, in its brand style guide, St. Cloud State University defines its brand characteristics as follows:
Be sure to include your vision, mission and brand values in your brand style guide.
Mission: A few brief statements about what the brand already does and how it makes life easier for its customers. For example, Skype defines its mission as:
Vision: What are your long-term goals? Where does your brand want to go?
Values: What are your brand values?
You can also capture and define your service and target group in a brand promise. This should link your brand with every kind of customer experience.
In addition, information about your target group is also useful. If you have already created Personas, you should include your Top Personas as examples in your brand style guide.
Nothing else anchors and consolidates a brand like its logo. It serves as a figurehead and should be as memorable as possible. Therefore, you should define the following:
What should your logo look like?
What size should its smallest version be?
What are the acceptable variants?
Where is the logo usually positioned (e.g. top right)?
What should the background look like? What color should it be? (For example, black or white depending on whether the background is light or dark)
Is there a motto or slogan that must always appear with the logo? (e.g. Nike)
In addition to the instructions for the placement of your logo, Do’s and Don’ts are very helpful to illustrate your requirements. Here are some examples from the Textbroker brand style guide, showing how the logo may not be used:
3. Color Palette
Whether it’s Coca-Cola Red or Telekom-Magenta: Colors are important elements of brand recognition.
Your brand style guide should identify which main colors may be used to present your logo. It is advisable to determine at least one light, one dark, and one neutral color.
Your style guide should also include a list of the corresponding color codes. Specify the RGB colors and their Hex values with a hash symbol for digital use. The CMYK color model applies to the print domain, so you should also include the CMYK color codes for printed material. Color converters can be used to allow easy conversion between these different color models.
A uniform brand image also includes the use of certain fonts, and you will usually need more than one main font. However, you can also specify just one font and use its different variants, such as semi-bold, bold, and italic. However, you should also specify another font to be used in cases of doubt or as a substitute. Most companies rely on 2-3 fonts. Be sure to specify:
Which font is to be used for headlines?
Which one is to be used for body text?
What distance should there be between the letters?
Should there be different fonts for print and web use?
What is your default text alignment (e.g. centered, left-aligned)?
5. Photos and Graphics
How should your brand appear in the world of images? What qualities should be reflected in the photos used? For example, should the language of your imagery be more emotional or more factual?
You should also specify whether there should be a preference for certain motifs, such as people or sports. And likewise, it is helpful to include sample pictures and photos in the style guide that already convey your brand message.
If necessary, you could provide further information on graphic elements such as icons and illustrations.
6. Branding and Communication
To create a uniform picture, both the design and the brand content must be authentic and recognizable. Therefore, be careful not to underestimate the influence of your text. In this respect, you should give some thought to the following:
How can you put your brand into words?
How will your brand communicate with its target group?
How is your brand name written? (For example, always in uppercase letters, or with a small first letter)
In order for your brand message to be conveyed consistently, your style guide must include information about language and tonality. Should the language used be formal or casual? Are slang expressions allowed? Should the target group be addressed with formal titles (Dear Mr …) or more friendly and informally (Hi Ruth …)?
Your brand personality should be reflected in the tonality, in other words the mood that resonates between the lines – e.g. humorous, direct, supportive. Are there certain words that should always (or never) be used? List those as well. The sum total of all this data forms the character of your brand.
7. Practical Examples
Finally, you can add some examples your employees can use to orient themselves and create something similar. What does your email signature look like on your business cards and presentations? How are your brand’s typical ads designed? You could also throw in things like photos of your last trade showor exhibition, or some examples of social media best practices.
Keep faith with your brand image
A consistent appearance is the key to successful branding. It is not enough just to have a design that fits the brand; the text that appears on all channels must also be tailored to the brand with the same care.
A brand style guide helps to maintain your brand identity. It supports all the parties involved in shaping a uniform brand image together. However, such guides do not last forever. It is hardly possible to anticipate every eventuality from the outset. Perhaps new channels will need to be added, or the brand look may need to be refreshed. It is important that a brand style guide be continuously updated, refined and developed.
It makes sense to store the document centrally so it’s easily accessible to everyone involved. A template for the creation of a brand style guide can be found here. Despite its many requirements, a brand style guide should never restrict anyone’s creativity. It should simply be a resource that helps everyone remain faithful to the brand.
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