Everything You Need To Know About Brand Guidelines

by Mike Jansen

Entrepreneurs and business owners invest a significant amount of time and money into developing the perfect logo, website, typography, and varied marketing materials. Over time, businesses become inconsistent, as far as their brand identity is concerned, due to the lack of brand guidelines.

As a business owner, you always try to find newer ways to connect with your audience. You may have also created a sophisticated marketing team that can create amazing ads to take your brand to newer heights. However, having a great marketing team is not enough. Unless you have proper brand guidelines in place, everything will be in vain.

What are brand guidelines?

Brand guidelines or brand identity guidelines are a set of documents that help one understand how they can use your brand elements. Designers, content creators, marketers, and everyone within the company can refer to these guidelines to build and grow your brand.

In simple words, documents containing the rules and standards on how the company should be represented to the world are referred to as the brand guidelines.

Apart from communicating what your brand stands for, the brand guidelines bring consistency. The document precisely describes how the different elements of your brand work in harmony to create your brand identity.

Here is an interesting video on the importance of brand guidelines.

What is the purpose of brand guidelines?

The purpose behind creating brand guidelines is to ensure that your brand is represented perfectly everywhere and every time. Internally, the management and employees can use brand guidelines to ensure that all the elements of brand identity are followed to the tee. Externally, brand guidelines allow customers and potential buyers to see a consistent face of your brand.

While it is true that brand guidelines are used by designers and content creators to ensure that they use the right color palette, fonts, and logo, the real purpose of brand guidelines goes beyond these factors. Brand guidelines are a valuable resource for any company that wishes to establish a strong brand identity.

Everyone in your organization should have more than a cursory knowledge of your brand. From your sales and marketing department to your customer service team, everyone communicates with your customers and potential buyers daily, which is why they must have a deeper understanding of what truly makes your business unique. Brand guidelines help everyone in your organization have a deeper understanding of your brand.

What is the difference between brand books and brand guidelines?

The terms brand books, brand guidelines, brand manual, and brand standards guide are often used interchangeably. However, they by and large remain open to interpretations. Some brand experts believe that these terms focus on the same things; hence, they can be treated synonymously. But, some brand gurus believe that they are separate resources.

While brand gurus may be divided on their opinion about what each of these terms means, the issue here is one of semantics. These terms point towards the same idea. Simply put, brand guidelines are the rules and standards of how your company is to be represented, whereas a brand book is the document of the brand guidelines in a physical or digital form.

While these terms roughly talk about the same idea, you should research the tiniest differences to create unique marketing strategies to establish brand identity.

Fun fact: UK-based brands refer to the idea of a brand rule book as brand guidelines, whereas Europeans tend to call it the brand book. Americans often  use the term brand manual to signify the same idea.

Related: The ultimate guide to creating an effective brand book

Who should create your brand guidelines?

Just like your company logo and website, brand guidelines play an important role in fostering brand identity. Your branding agency knows exactly what they created, which is why they are the best people to design the brand guidelines.

Generally, they create the brand guideline document by the end of your branding or rebranding assignment.

As a business owner, your focus should not only be on creating an amazing-looking logo or website; you should also consider how your brand will appear in the future. Any miscommunication could be a costly affair for your brand.

Your branding agency will share all the important documents and assets at the end of your branding project, explaining their usage.

Why do you need brand guidelines?

Big or small, whatever the size of your business, brand guidelines are necessary to keep your brand in a healthy condition. Without proper brand guidelines in place, you are always at a risk of changing crucial elements that make your brand unique. The following reasons show why you need brand guidelines:

Brand consistency

A brand is more efficient and effective when it is consistent. Brand guidelines ensure consistency by setting rules and standards for how the brand should appear. For example, if you change the way your logo looks so that it fits into a marketing campaign, it would mislead and confuse the audience. Brand guidelines ensure consistency by outlining the dos and don’ts of logo usage. This all-important document ensures professional and effective usage of various brand elements.

Clears doubts

It is only natural that you would know everything about your brand since you created it. However, you cannot expect everyone to know the various elements of your brand like you do. Brand guidelines bring everyone in your organization together by revealing everything about your business. Apart from keeping your brand consistent, brand guidelines help in avoiding the confusion of individuals who wish to use the various elements of your brand.

Sets clear rules

Apart from including the specifics about the company logo and the color palette, the brand guidelines include rules and instructions about how these elements are to be used.

In addition to the instructions about variations of the logo, color schemes, and typography, the brand identity guidelines also mention how the various elements of the brand are not to be used.

Provides tools

While brand guidelines are about setting rules and instruction, it has another purpose. Brand identity guidelines provide the necessary tools to anyone within your organization sending out messages or creating marketing communications. The elements that work together to make your brand unique are the tools one needs to create messages and branding ideas.

What should brand guidelines include?

Let me begin by pointing out an interesting fact: there are no set rules on how big or small your brand guidelines should be. Apart from the obvious, like the logo and the typography, you could include various other things, such as the company mission, vision, and values.

Let us take a quick tour of what you could include in your brand guidelines:

Brand, mission, vision, and values

The foundation for all activities of a brand depends on its mission, vision, and values. The mission statement explains the company’s uniqueness, whereas the vision states where it sees itself in the future. The company values are your principles and philosophies: the reason your company exists. The brand mission, vision, and values should be included in the opening section of the brand guidelines document.

Logo

After the brand introduction section, you should begin by presenting your logo. The logo section may be further divided into subsections.

  • Logo design: In this section, you should focus on your main logo.
  • Logo variations: This section is about the other variations of the main logo. You should clearly state when and where these logo variations can be used.
  • Responsive logos: In this section, you should mention how your logo should appear on smaller screens like a mobile phone or a tablet.
  • Logo spacing: Apart from clearing doubts about how your logo should be used, you should also clearly instruct how the logo should not be used. In this section, you set the rules about logo spacing, along with examples of how the company emblem should not be used.

Color palette

The colors you use for your brand set you apart from the crowd, which is why you should clearly mention the individual color codes and how they are to be used. You can divide the color section into four broad categories: primary, secondary, web, and CMYK.

The primary and secondary colors are used in your brand logo, banners, and signage. RGB or web colors are those found on your website and other digital formats. The last one is generally for prints.  

Typography

The fonts you use should be well documented, leaving no place for errors. Just like the colors and the logo, brand typography helps you establish brand identity.

The brand guidelines should mention the fonts to be used in the following:

  • Logo
  • Headings
  • Sub-headings
  • Paragraphs

Tone and grammar

The tone of voice is responsible for how your brand communicates with the audience. It is an extremely important aspect of your brand since it fosters brand identity. The tone of your voice should match the visual elements of your brand. Using second-person pronouns, like “you,” can make your company look friendly and warm. You can use third-person pronouns, such as her or they, along with complex phrasing if you want to appear more formal. The brand identity guidelines should clearly instruct about company tone of voice and grammar.

Design elements and imagery

Brand imagery is the accumulation of all the visual elements that represent your brand. From various social media platforms to print ads and billboards, the brand imagery has various avatars. Your brand guidelines must contain how different images, photos, and icons should be used.

Brand guideline one-sheet

One sheet brand guidelines is an emerging trend and is followed by various businesses to quickly guide the audience about the various elements of the brand. A more comprehensive brand guideline may work for those who want to layout every aspect of their business. However, one sheet brand guidelines work best for those pressed for time.

Social media assets

Well, sharing and setting social media norms shouldn’t come to you as a surprise since everything today is driven by technology. Apart from sharing how you appear on different social media platforms, you should clearly specify the kind of content your team should post. Being consistent is the key to success in the noisy social networking platforms.

Audience persona

If you want to create more comprehensive brand guidelines, you could include the audience persona. You could start with creating fictional profiles of your customers. The practice of creating varied fictional profiles will enable everyone in your organization to understand the kind of consumers you are trying to engage. Discussing audience persona also helps the marketing team create appealing ad campaigns. 

Brand positioning

The process through which brands place themselves in the customer’s mind is referred to as brand positioning. You can only enter the brand positioning statement in your brand guidelines as opposed to mentioning something detailed.

What are the benefits of digital brand guidelines?

Marketing and branding are evolving at an accelerated speed, which is why you must keep up by adapting to digital guidelines to make life easier. Gone are the days when PDFs were the norm. PDFs are quickly being replaced by digital brand guidelines because they are accessible and faster.

Following are some of the advantages of using digital brand guidelines:

  • Easy access
  • Can be updated quickly
  • Embed visual elements
  • Can be shared easily

Bonus: 5 best examples of brand guidelines

Now that we know what should be included in brand guidelines, it’s time we explored the best examples of brand guidelines. 

Let’s dive in:

  1. Netflix
Brand guidelines of Netflix

Netflix has one of the simplest brand guidelines in place. The brand guidelines include instructions on how to use various visual elements such as logos and colors. The brand guidelines also layout what must be avoided.

  1. YouTube
Brand guidelines of YouTube

YouTube’s brand guidelines may not be as comprehensive as other platforms, but it has all the information anyone would need. The single-page brand guidelines are simple and effective.

  1. Starbucks
Brand guidelines of Starbucks

While there are brands that like to keep their brand guidelines simple, there are those that opt for more comprehensive brand identity guidelines. The latest trend with brands is to create microsites with extensive details of their brand guidelines—Starbucks is one such brand. From the logo usage to illustrations to photography, the Starbucks microsite has it all.

  1. Audi
Brand guidelines of Audi

The Audi microsite is well designed, encyclopedic, and relevant.

The microsite is divided into two broad sections: fundamentals and guidelines. Both these sections contain all the information anyone would ever need!

  1. Slack
Brand guidelines of Slack

Slack has a media kit page on its website with its brand guidelines embedded. The page is divided into three sections with all the guidelines in place. From defining their brand to laying out all the fundamentals regarding various brand elements, the Slack media kit page is innovative and to the point.

The bottom line

It does not matter how big or small your business is: what matters is your vision. If you want your dreams to turn into reality, you must be consistent. And consistency in business can be achieved by creating brand guidelines. Brand guidelines will not only guide your team to perform better, but they will also pilot your attention towards your vision from time to time.

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