Brand Guidelines: What they are and why they’re important for your brand

Picture of Megan Bradbury

Megan Bradbury

Your brand guidelines are a set of instructions that dictate what your brand stands for, and how it should be portrayed through all visual, written and verbal communications. They are the identity of your brand, and are how your consumers will recognise you and separate you from your competitors.

They help to keep your brand consistent which is key for building trust between you and your audience. They outline exactly what it is that your consumers can expect from you whenever they interact with your brand, which will help them to be confident with their decision of being a customer, and will be the defining factor of their loyalty to you as opposed to another brand with a similar or the same offering.

By developing strong brand guidelines, you can ensure a consistent approach to all your marketing and communications, which will build brand loyalty, and help you to stand out against the competition to secure customers and increase revenue.

These standards outlined within your brand guidelines should be rolled out across all channels of communication with your audience, whether that is on social media, a television advertisement or a face-to-face conversation in store. They are the set framework that will ultimately put your brand in the position to successfully grow.

You should be considering the colours and fonts that will be associated with your brand, how you will apply your logo to your assets, the tone of voice you will be using, how you’ll use images and graphics to support your brand and the values that your brand will stand for.

While this may feel like you’re setting limitations for yourself, you are actually setting a strong foundation that will fuel all creative decisions so all your marketing efforts can work together to promote a brand that is confident, consistent, trustworthy and attractive to your consumers.

What should your brand guidelines include?

Within your brand guidelines you should be looking to include;

  • An overview of your brand story: your mission statement, the vision for your brand, your values and purpose
  • Guidance on where and how to use your logo
  • Rules for all written copy such as your tone of voice and grammar
  • Typography styles: fonts, type size, spacing etc
  • Visual representation: illustrations, icons, photographic style
  • Colour palettes with a guide to where and how they should be used
  • Rules for white space and grid templates

Make sure it is clear who your brand is, what your brand does and how your brand does it. By documenting these things you can ensure that your brand is protected from misinterpretation or misunderstanding and you will clarify a consistent and trusted experience that is seamless across all touchpoints.

Remember that those instantly recognisable and iconic brands such as Nike, Coca-Cola, McDonald’s and Apple (to name a few) did not achieve their credibility and long-standing loyal customer base by chance. They are the product of a dedicated team who has invested time, energy and patience into creating a confident and assured brand that perfectly reflects their values and positioning within their respective industries.

That is not to say that these brands have existed without change or adaptation. Your brand guidelines should be treated as a living and breathing part of your business that is subject to growth as your business adapts to meet new demands.

As you reach new audiences and expand your product or service offering you should be revisiting your guidelines to make sure that they are the truest and most accurate representation of your brand. The secret is being able to justify these changes so that your customers will grow with you.

Creating your brand guidelines

It doesn’t matter whether you are creating brand guidelines for a new organisation or for an existing organisation, you need to start with having a clear understanding of what your brand stands for and the message you want to convey to your audience.

If you are creating brand guidelines for a new business then you have a blank slate to work with and can start with each step from scratch. If you are looking to establish guidelines for an existing business then you should be looking to either refresh and structure your current standards, or look at implementing a brand redesign.

Updating an existing brand comes with challenges because it is already out there in the world, so you will need to revise all the existing touchpoints to comply with the new guidelines. Fortunately, creating detailed brand guidelines will help you to distinguish what should be updated and how.

The first things you need to establish are the 5 key components of your brand;

  • Mission
  • Vision
  • Target market/audience
  • Core values
  • Brand personality

The point of these key components is to ascertain what your brand stands for and share it with the world. The rest of your guidelines will focus on tangible elements that help to communicate your key components through design.

These 6 elements are;

  • Brand story
  • Logo
  • Voice
  • Typography
  • Colour palette
  • Imagery

Brand Story

Your brand story is the overview of what you are trying to achieve with your company and why. This is often made up of the key components that we’ve already highlighted; mission, vision, audience, values and personality.

You don’t have to have every section in your brand guidelines, you could choose a selection, for example your mission, vision and values. The main idea is to clarify what you stand for and show some understanding of why that matters to you, and why it should matter to your consumers.

Let’s have a look at The Coca-Cola Company’s brand story;

Logo

Your logo is usually one of the most recognisable elements of your brand as it will appear on everything you produce, all of your written communications, and all your social media platforms. This means that you need to consider not only how it looks, but how it should be treated.

This section of your brand guidelines will ensure that your logo is used and presented correctly and will prevent any manipulation such as stretching, altering, distorting and realigning so that you will be recognisable across all assets.

Make sure you include all approved versions of your logo, with clear instructions outlining where each should be used. Think about the size of your logo, including its minimum size and proper proportions. If your logo requires a certain amount of white space around it, make sure this is detailed. Show which colours can be used and where to use them. Provide some examples of what not to do with your logo to make these guidelines clear.

Let’s have a look at McDonald’s rules for their McDelivery logo;

Voice

The way you communicate will strongly influence how your audience feels about you, and will demonstrate the sort of message you want your brand to convey. Do you want to make people laugh? Do you want to inspire people? Do you want to evoke trust? Are you quirky? Are you professional?

These are the sorts of questions you need to be asking yourself when defining the identity of your brand. You can include examples of how you should and shouldn’t say things so that your team can be clear on how to communicate both written and verbally e.g. We are friendly, we are not informal.

Earlier we talked about the personality of your brand, which ties in perfectly with your brand voice as it gives an understanding of the type of language affiliated with your brand.

Let’s look at Nike as an example, their voice is inspiring and motivating which perfectly suits their audience of sports and fitness enthusiasts;

Typography

Your font selection plays another big role in your brand identity. You may have just one font, or you may require a selection to meet your brand needs, either way you should be instructing which fonts to use and where you should be using them in your brand guidelines, for consistency.

Introduce each of your fonts and give clear instructions of its purpose. Is it for headlines? Captions? Body text? Your typefaces should be different from your logo (if your logo uses a font) so that your logo remains easily distinguishable. You should include other instructions such as how you want your written content to be aligned (right, left or centre) as well as outlining acceptable sizes and spacing.

Let’s look at Absolut’s typography guidelines;

Colour Palette

In order to create a consistent look and feel across your brand you should take time to define a colour palette. Your colour palette should take inspiration from your logo, and feature a few different colours with various accepted hues to be used across your visual assets.

You need to have a colour for text and backgrounds, as well as some variations of hues to be able to create different designs without limiting the creative team too much. It is a good idea to have a dark colour, a light colour, a neutral colour and one that stands out against the rest.

Make sure you accurately list the colours so that they can be replicated easily wherever your brand message goes.

  • Colour match: PANTONE name and colour
  • Print colour: CMYK
  • Digital colour: RGB and HEX codes

Let’s have a look at an example from Heineken’s brand guidelines;

Imagery

The imagery section in your brand guidelines will help to give the creative team an idea of how you want your brand to look through visual elements, and will help to speed up the approval process as it clearly demonstrates how your brand should be portrayed.

Include some examples of imagery that has worked well in the past for your brand and marketing strategies. Think about the main mediums you use to share your imagery to make sure the dimensions and limitations are taken into account.

You can create a mood board of images that convey the feelings you are looking to portray when your audience interacts with your brand as inspiration.

If you find another brand that is successful in using imagery then you can include examples of their efforts to guide the creative team and give them something to aspire to.

Let’s have a look at Fanta’s new imagery for their brand refresh;

The importance of having strong brand guidelines

Now that we’ve discussed what brand guidelines are, we can explore how important they are for your brand, how they relate to your audience, as well as how they will help you to grow your business and increase your revenue.

Consumers love consistency

Ensuring your branding is consistent across every piece of your collateral – from social media channels to product packaging to your website designs – can help you see an increase in revenue by up to 23% (Forbes).

These results are massively powered by brand recognition, which is ultimately driven by having a consistent brand identity. Every time consumers see your brand it increases their brand recognition which helps to instil trust within your audience, encouraging them to purchase from you as opposed to your competitors.

Think of your brand identity as a person, imagine that every time you see that person they have a different style and different values and opinions, you won’t know who they really are, and chances are you will not trust them.

If you want to attract customers, you need to have a strong identity that embodies your core values, and reiterates these same values across all touchpoints, to avoid confusion and build brand recognition and trust.

Gives your team direction

Having well-structured and clear brand guidelines can help to streamline your creative team’s design and marketing efforts. Rather than having to start from scratch, they can use your colours, tone and imagery as a framework to build upon, which will steer their efforts in the right direction for your company.

Once discussions begin you’ll be able to use your standards outlined within the guidelines to quickly decipher which ideas should be scrapped and which ones should be developed further.

This will also keep your team working together to encapsulate the essence of your brand’s identity, rather than having too many different opinions that could lead to debates and hostility within the workforce.

Makes your brand more tangible

Your brand is who you are, so your brand is what you want to be remembered for. If you don’t have a strong brand identity then you could end up being defined by a product or service that you offer, which won’t leave a lasting impression on your consumers.

Your overall brand is where your company mission, vision and values live, which are the parts of you that have the power to forge a deeper emotional connection between you and your consumers. By creating a strong identity you can ensure that your consumers are visualising the whole picture of who you are and what you stand for when they hear your brand name, rather than just a product you sell.

Stand out against competitors

We spend a lot of our time online, browsing the internet and flicking through social media platforms absentmindedly. As we scroll, our feeds are littered with constant content marketing from different brands, all trying to push their calls to action and maximise engagement with audiences.

After a while it seems that they all begin to blend together, you may have even tried to retrace your scrolling journey once or twice to find a product you recall seeing, only to realise that you can’t for the life of you remember who posted it, so you carry on with your day and eventually forget all about it.

This is where it is important to keep your branding consistent across all touchpoints, so that your brand is one that begins to stand out from the rest of the feed. Whether you take a humorous approach, a sassier brand personality, or aim to inspire your audience, maintaining a consistent look and feel will boost your brand awareness.

Not only will your audience recognise you from your competitors, it could be that they begin to look forward to your posts and eagerly wait to hear what you have to say.

Boost brand loyalty

Your branding plays a huge role in securing loyal customers who will come to you time and time again. This loyalty is usually rewarded for more than just a product or service that you offer, it is because your customers value and place their trust in your brand.

Let’s have a look at some companies that offer the same or very similar products or services; Uber vs. Lyft, Coca-Cola vs. Pepsi, Adidas vs. Nike, McDonald’s vs. Burger King. The difference between their product or service may only differ slightly, and yet customers often have strong opinions of their preference.

This is because consumers connect on a deeper emotional level with companies that they believe share their core values. Your brand guidelines are important because they outline what these core values are, and dictate how they will be conveyed to your audience.

Once you have secured a loyal customer they will return to you again and again, and will often spend more money than new buyers will.

Plan for the future

As we mentioned earlier, while your brand guidelines are important and should be respected, they are not set in stone for the rest of eternity. Your company will grow and adapt over time, and your brand guidelines will grow and adapt alongside it.

The best way to ensure your brand is evolving successfully is to hire a competent marketing manager and team, or external marketing agency, who are dedicated and eager to make sure your brand continues to grow in the best possible way. They will know which of your assets to focus on, and when, to ensure a seamless and consistent transition.

This can be a fragile process, if you are too abrupt with your changes you could risk breaking the trust between your brand and your consumers. We would always recommend seeking an expert who knows how to implement changes to benefit your brand, rather than hinder it.

How we can help

Here at Browndog, we are a fully-integrated agency with insight, brand strategy, design, creative and photography, digital, copywriting, PR and social media under one roof. We deal in effective, multi-channel communications between you and your customers through a seamless combination of strategy, marketing, and design, both online and offline.

We know that in the end, it’s about results. We have been creating great work, reaching new audiences and raising value for our clients for over 20 years.

We have worked on a number of branding projects with clients from varying sectors. These projects have included initial designs for start-ups, helping with brand refreshes for existing brands, as well as complete brand relaunches.

 

If you would like to find out how we can help you to create or establish your brand guidelines, then get in touch with a member of our team.

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