Let’s talk about what brand guidelines are and why every successful brand has them. A brand guideline is exactly that: a guideline for your brand. It’s also referred to as a brand manual or style guide and can be in a form of a book, vertical PDF, or simply a standard sized sheet. The purpose is so that it hosts all of the usage rules and styles that you must follow in order to implement a consistent brand look.
Brand consistency is arguably the most important part of developing a brand that is memorable and successful. The reason why consistency is such a key component to brands that stick, or as Jeremey Miller calls them, “Sticky Brands,” is because constantly showing up with the same look will make your audience feel more familiar to you and therefore will form a relationship with your brand. There is more psychology involved in this, but that’ll be for another post. Sign up for my newsletter to get notified when new posts are published!
Therefore, the brand guideline will help you and anybody that “touches” your brand provide consistency. A person that “touches” your brand is anybody that creates collateral or content for your brand which in turn supplements your brand experience. That includes the person you collaborate with that want to produce a graphic to announce your collab, your social media manager, your copywriter, your graphic designer, your web designer, your photographer, and so on.
Yes, even copywriters and photographers need to see your brand guidelines and I’ll explain why later in this post. The people that need your guidelines the most are those that you are introducing to your brand. So, instead of you laying out the rules of your brand style to each person, you can just email them the link to your brand guidelines. All you have to do afterward is oversee that the guidelines are implemented correctly.
Therefore, your brand guidelines have a purpose and need to serve it. This post is for you to affirm your guidelines aren’t missing any holes by sharing my list of the 6 key sections your brand guidelines should contain. And if you don’t have a clear brand or brand guidelines yet, you can download my free roadmap below to get started!
I will also go over supplemental sections you can add to your guidelines that will guide your brand experience even further. So with that said, here are the absolute essentials your brand guidelines should have.
The Big Three
1. Logo + Branding
Too obvious? Your logo will be included in the beginning section of your guidelines. In addition, variations of your logo need to be displayed, like your alternate logo, your brand marks, favicon, etc.
List out all of the logos your brand will be using. In a short paragraph, explain the reasoning behind the design as well as when and where each variation should be used. What are the max or minimum sizes each logo should be used at? How much space should you allocate around the logo parameter? When would you prefer to use your alternate logo vs your primary logo?
Also, include the inner workings of your brand, known as your branding, like your brand values, your mission statement, your target audience, etc. Show brand keywords and the locations you serve. Think of what information is going to be helpful for anyone you are introducing to your brand as you grow your team.
Action Step: Gather all of the variations of your logo and list out the usage for each. Write out the core elements of who your brand is and what its mission is.
2. Color Palette
The second section you want to state in your guidelines is your color palette. Explain how much of each color from your palette you want to use and on what elements you will use it.
Less is more because less is more memorable. People will have a much easier time remembering your brand if they have fewer colors to remember. Stick to a maximum of three colors that you want your audience to correlate with your business. For example, If someone is going to think about my brand, I want them to remember it as purple because that’s my primary color. Establish hierarchy and organization with accent and supplemental colors.
For example, Wander Design Co,’s color palette is purple, blue, and gold, and is accompanied by a secondary palette consisting of lighter shades of blue and gray. As I said, my primary color is purple, therefore I use it the most. I use gold as my accent color for when I need to emphasize a link or a piece of information. As for my brand aesthetic, I use the blue and lighter colors for my backgrounds and graphic elements, and only introduce the gold to highlight a call to action or special message.
The only way your color palette can do its job of creating hierarchy, organization, and visual aesthetic is by being consistent with how often and when you utilize certain colors.
Action Step: List out what your colors are and when and how often each should be used.
The third important section you want in your guide is typography, typefaces, fonts, or whatever you want to call it. A lot of brands don’t use the same font from their logo as they do on their website or printed materials.
The reason for this is because your logo is more of an artistic element and it might not be legible enough to be used to communicate in other forms. Moreover, using the font for your logo exclusively makes your logo more special. If you really want to make the logo stand out then utilize the power of exclusivity. It’s like a Thanksgiving meal: you eat the iconic holiday meal on Thanksgiving rather than any other time of the year because the meal keeps its special appeal.
If you don’t have any fonts chosen for your brand, I recommend sticking from 1-3, three being the absolute maximum. Sans-serif fonts, like Arial or Helvetica, are easiest to read on screens so utilize them for paragraphs. You can choose harder to read fonts for headers. Use especially hard to read fonts like script fonts for emphasis or more artistic effect.
Action Step: List out the fonts your brand uses and when each font is used. Create examples of headers and body copy to help the reader visualize the guidelines.
The Supplemental 3
The following 3 categories are often used to supplement brand guidelines because they further outline the brand experience. They are especially useful when working with copywriters, photographers, virtual assistants, marketers, and social media managers.
1. Patterns + Iconography
One of my favorite supplements I like to provide my clients with is pattern design or iconography. The reason for this is to achieve a signature look for their brands that nobody else could possibly use and therefore can only be related to your brand.
There’s only so much you can do with shapes or trends (like chevron or watercolors) to make it your own, so having custom patterns or icons will help you establish a signature look.
For Wander Design Co. I have an oak leaf I custom illustrated. I use it as a pattern as well as an icon that establishes any design as my own. It’s unique to my business and so I use it as a “brand stamp.” I use my custom leaf as an accent design or as a subtle pattern in the background.
The more you use your “brand stamp,” the more recognized it will become as yours. For example, I implement my leaf pattern throughout my website, my marketing materials, my Instagram feed, and my blog pins. Therefore, those who are familiar with my brand will recognize my Pinterest pins before they even see my brand name because they see my oak leaf pattern in the background.
Action Steps: Showcase your patterns and iconography and explain the usage rules. Moreover, show examples of their application in materials such as your website, promotional graphic, letterhead, business card, and more. This will be great inspiration for future team members to create their own branded work for your business!
Another category that is very popular to include is photography. We’re talking about the style and mood of photography that carries the values and mission statement you stated earlier in your guidelines.
Think about how often you will be using photography for your business. It’s going to be in your website, your marketing collateral, in any content marketing you’re producing, like your blog or Pinterest or social media.
Do you prefer not to show faces, or have the faces look straight at the camera? Do you prefer more stock-like photos, or more candid ones? How are the photos edited, and do you filter them with warm yellows or cool blues? Do you want to show a lot of families, or more business-types?
Action Steps: Create a collage of the images that you want to correlate with your brand. Write a short paragraph of what style you’re trying to achieve and what brand values you want to illustrate.
3. Brand Voice
And the final category I want to talk about is your brand voice. In the introduction, I mentioned copywriters and social media managers needing to see your brand guidelines. Well, if you are including your brand voice, it is especially important to share this document.
What kind of brand are you? Are you funny, serious, friendly, sassy? How do you answer an email? Is it by saying ‘hey’ or ‘Dear Mr.”? Decide what your brand personality is and how you will communicate your brand story with this personality.
Action Steps: Write a short description of what your brand personality is. Include keywords and values. Then provide examples on how you write a social media caption or ad. Give an example of what you say in certain sections of your website to carve out your personality.
The ultimate goal for a memorable, or sticky, brand is consistency. Your game plan to achieve consistency is a complete brand guideline.
Anybody that is creating a piece of your business, whether its copy, web, digital or print elements, photography, social media captions, will greatly benefit from using your brand guidelines. This is especially true if you want your brand to have a more high-end feel, as outlined in my post: 5 Inexpensive Ways to Upscale Your Brand.
Moreover, this guide is a living document. That means that it’s going to grow as your business grows. Perhaps a certain color didn’t fit well with the direction of your brand. Scrap it and update the guidelines. Perhaps you got really big on social media, so add a section on how you act, what hashtags you use, what type of content you share, etc.
Unless you have a creative director, you are the regulator of your brand experience, therefore it’s up to you to keep your brand guidelines up to date. Don’t neglect your guidelines and you will have a smooth ride with brand consistency.
Let me know how you like this post and what else you’d like to learn about. Send me a message on Instagram here. Good luck!