What’s in a brand guideline?

September 27, 2017 | Feature
In order for a brand to be successful, it must commit to it’s brand guideline. Commitment breeds trust. Trust breeds brand love. Brand love equals business success. But what is a brand guideline, and what’s in it that makes it such an important document?

A brand guideline is something that should be handed to any employee or contract worker. It should also be shared with any outside agency or consultant who is tasked with communicating for the brand to it’s audience. Some company’s brand guidelines are extensive, and some are very brief. Regardless of which category you fall into, your brand guidelines need to include the following items in order to be a useful roadmap for anyone attempting to use it to advance a brand.

VISION

The first section of your brand guideline has nothing to do at all with what your brand looks like. It’s about the overall vision of your business. But that means more than simply a vision statement. Expanding on the vision section of your brand guideline means including:

  • A Mission Statement: What is your company’s purpose? What are its goals? Its philosophy? What do you want your business to mean to your customers, to your employees, and even to the community?
  • A Vision Statement: A vision statement looks to the future. What are your company’s aspirations? Where do you see the company 5, 10, or 15 years from now?
  • A Set of Values: Every business should take some time to identify its core values. What sets you apart from others in your field? What makes up your business principles, your standards, your business DNA?

Take the time to identify the three items above, and spell all that out in your brand guideline.

VOICE

It’s important to be consistent in the way you communicate, both internally and externally. This includes, but is not limited to:

  • Social media posts
  • Customer service interactions and/or calls
  • Marketing material copy
  • Presentations
  • Intra-office communications
  • Emails
  • Newsletters
  • Blog posts
  • Video
  • Client or intra-office meetings

So how do you define that voice? Below is one of my favorite tools. Using the chart, place a dot on each line closest to the word that describes your business’ personality best. While in some cases you may find that you fall somewhere in the middle, take care to not fall in the middle on all the lines. That only means you do not have a clear voice, and you are trying to be all things to all people. Where did your dots fall? Is your voice personable or corporate? Fun or serious? Accessible or luxurious?

Download a Voice Exercise PDF

Clearly defining your voice will help create a company culture of writing, speaking, and marketing in a consistent branded tone.

VISUALS

The most obvious ingredient to a useful brand guideline is the visuals. Make sure it’s clear how your brand should look and be presented visually at all times. There should be both do’s and don’ts included in some sections. The best brand guideline will leave none of the visuals up for question. Visual guidelines can include some or all of the following:

  • Logo: the allowed logo lock-ups, color variation possibilities (i.e. how it looks in full color, 1 color, or black and white) and how it can and cannot be displayed
  • Color Palette: Can include multiple palettes (such as a primary and secondary color palette) but must include color breakdowns (Pantone colors, CMYK, RGB, and Hex code breakdowns)
  • Fonts: Which fonts are used in the brand, where these fonts can be found or purchased, and how and when they are used.
  • Image Style: What is the photographic and/or illustrative style of the brand? In some cases, what are the icons used throughout the brand.
  • Templates/Layout Styles: Showing examples of as few or as many executions of the brand. For instance, a brand guideline may include what business cards, letterhead, and one or two other layouts look like. Or it may go as in depth to also show website layouts, signage, presentations, graph style, posters, brochures, advertisements, PowerPoint templates, social posts, video style, and so on. In some cases, you may also include items such as the standard company boilerplate.

If you haven’t identified your brand guidelines yet, now is as good a time as any to sit down and do the work. Plan a company or executive retreat to discuss and determine your mission, vision and values if you haven’t already done so. If possible, work with a branding firm (like Katy Dwyer Design) to help identify and build your visual and voice guidelines. But most importantly, once you have that guideline established, be ready to commit to it!