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Brand guidelines: why you need them & how to implement them.

Steph Farrow | 07/11/2019

Otherwise known as brand standards, style guide or brand book, company bible, the brand guidelines are essentially a set of rules that explain exactly how your brand represents itself visually and through language choices. Some brands choose to include information on their history, mission, vision and values too which can really help to put your business in context for those that may be unfamiliar. This document is imperative for use internally as well as by external agencies or suppliers as it guarantees consistency, which is key to company success and communication with your audience.

So, now you understand what they are, next up you’re probably thinking where you start when you want to create or revamp your own….

Design wise, you can be really experimental and creative with the layout of your guidelines document if it suits your brand persona, you could even create a website for them so that your colleagues aren’t endlessly searching for where they have saved them. A great example is this site created by Spotify for use by their developers. Alternatively, if you aren’t sure what to include to begin with just stick with a standard A4 portrait template, you can make it fancy once you’ve nailed the content.

All guidelines tend to begin with an index or table of contents which allows users to locate the exact information they need more easily than flicking through the entire document.

Moving on from that, the content should include whatever you feel is relevant from the following; Mission, Vision & Values, Audience, Tone of Voice, Logo, Icons, Colour Palette, Typography, Imagery and Applications (mock ups of business cards, stationery, email signature & roller banners, for example). So, you see, there’s quite a lot to cover, and it’s important to get it right. Constantly circulating ‘updated versions’ only increases the chances of someone using the wrong colour font or logo in the wrong context, and someone somewhere will notice that minor mistake, trust us on that!

Mission, Vision & Values

The collation of this section can be a collaborative effort across the business, it’s worth investing the time in this. It can be a great activity to strengthen the engagement of staff and encourage team building. Get them involved, suggest a couple of hours where they can all have an input. Consider what sort of business you want to be, what are your aims for the future and why you’re offering the product, solution or service that you are? If it’s not feasible for lots of people to feed into this then senior management should collectively compile this.

Audience

You may have different audiences for different products or services you offer, or you may find the demographics you target across different channels vary. All of these considerations need to be noted. Think about whether this is a section you want to be public or only available internally, it really depends on your business and industry.

Tone of Voice

If you consider the brands you respect, Coca Cola, Virgin, First Direct, Google and the BBC, for example, they all have a recognisable, clear and distinctive voice. It’s not as easy as just saying ‘we want to sound friendly’, (everyone sets out with this statement) there is serious development required to achieve this. (Side note; if you need a hand with this give us a shout!). Depending on the resource you have available, as well as what you want to spend, there are multiple factors to finding your voice. You need to clearly understand your company and values, the employees, the location in which you’re based, your services and products, the market you’re in and your customers.

Marketing automation giant Pardot completed research which showed that 80% of consumers say the ‘authenticity of content’ is the most influential factor in their decision to become a follower of the brand. So, you can understand why this section is often the chunkiest of the brand guidelines!

To ensure any member of staff, or external supplier, can confidently communicate on behalf of your brand the tone of voice chapter needs to cover the language you do and don’t want to be using, the viewpoint or voice that you write from and any theories you follow, such as Plain English. As you would with visuals a good way of demonstrating rules is to show examples, so a sentence that wouldn’t ever be used, with an explanation of why, and then another sentence that is perfectly ‘on brand’. Mail Chimp do this brilliantly, for example ‘fun but not silly, expert but not bossy’ etc.

Logo

Show the logo’s proportions as well as dissuading readers from manipulating it in anyway. Show the different colour or layout variants as well as the rules on when and where each of them should be used, for example on a certain colour background, or always top left corner on specific items of merchandise.  It’s also essential to make any differentiations throughout about print and digital use, as there will most likely be different file formats and sizes.

Icons

Similarly, to the logo, you should demonstrate where and how you would like your icons used. Are there perhaps a few that are product, service or sector specific? If so, explain in depth where these can be used, the size and colours they are permitted to be. As we mentioned in the Tone of Voice section, it is extremely beneficial for people to see that if you visually show what is the incorrect and correct usage instead of trying to explain in text form.

Colour Palette

Some businesses choose a limited palette of say three core colours and everything appears in one of them, text, logo’s…the lot. However, your company might have a secondary and tertiary palette for different arms of the business or perhaps for different situations. Explain how those colours represent your brand and visually how to apply them.

Typography

You may only have one font that you use throughout the company in various sizes or maybe all headings are always shown in bold, for example. You might also have numerous different fonts; in which case you need to tell the user about the hierarchy of those. This section is hugely relevant for everyone from your sales team busily creating pitch presentations through to your marketing team building emails, as you may have certain rules on sub-headings, bullet points or surrounding the use of punctuation.

Imagery

If your company uses imagery, consider what you want it to add to your branding. Some of our clients like to stick to using photos that show authentic, on site work featuring their staff. Alternatively, on other projects imagery is supplied to us that we might then apply an effect to, such as picking out objects or items and manipulating to include relevant colour palettes. You might not want to include people at all, but really consider how these choices will compliment your logo and icons, tone of voice and how best to identify with your audience.

Applications

This section is completely optional but is particularly useful if you work with numerous agencies, partners and suppliers. It’s an effective method to show how to use your brand when placed alongside other branding and in ‘real-world’ situations. In addition, you could showcase what specific elements of your marketing will look like, for example stationery, website on desktop and mobile versions, vehicle signage or uniform.

So, there you have it, a whistle stop guide to brand guidelines. Hopefully you appreciate now not only why you need them but also how to implement your own version.

We would love to help you create a brand document, drill down your tone of voice or refresh your logo and imagery. Get in touch and we can talk about how we can help you level up your marketing.

Otherwise known as brand standards, style guide or brand book, company bible, the brand guidelines are essentially a set of rules that explain exactly how your brand represents itself visually and through language choices. Some brands choose to include information on their history, mission, vision and values too which can really help to put your business in context for those that may be unfamiliar. This document is imperative for use internally as well as by external agencies or suppliers as it guarantees consistency, which is key to company success and communication with your audience.

So, now you understand what they are, next up you’re probably thinking where you start when you want to create or revamp your own….

Design wise, you can be really experimental and creative with the layout of your guidelines document if it suits your brand persona, you could even create a website for them so that your colleagues aren’t endlessly searching for where they have saved them. A great example is this site created by Spotify for use by their developers. Alternatively, if you aren’t sure what to include to begin with just stick with a standard A4 portrait template, you can make it fancy once you’ve nailed the content.

All guidelines tend to begin with an index or table of contents which allows users to locate the exact information they need more easily than flicking through the entire document.

Moving on from that, the content should include whatever you feel is relevant from the following; Mission, Vision & Values, Audience, Tone of Voice, Logo, Icons, Colour Palette, Typography, Imagery and Applications (mock ups of business cards, stationery, email signature & roller banners, for example). So, you see, there’s quite a lot to cover, and it’s important to get it right. Constantly circulating ‘updated versions’ only increases the chances of someone using the wrong colour font or logo in the wrong context, and someone somewhere will notice that minor mistake, trust us on that!

Mission, Vision & Values

The collation of this section can be a collaborative effort across the business, it’s worth investing the time in this. It can be a great activity to strengthen the engagement of staff and encourage team building. Get them involved, suggest a couple of hours where they can all have an input. Consider what sort of business you want to be, what are your aims for the future and why you’re offering the product, solution or service that you are? If it’s not feasible for lots of people to feed into this then senior management should collectively compile this.

Audience

You may have different audiences for different products or services you offer, or you may find the demographics you target across different channels vary. All of these considerations need to be noted. Think about whether this is a section you want to be public or only available internally, it really depends on your business and industry.

Tone of Voice

If you consider the brands you respect, Coca Cola, Virgin, First Direct, Google and the BBC, for example, they all have a recognisable, clear and distinctive voice. It’s not as easy as just saying ‘we want to sound friendly’, (everyone sets out with this statement) there is serious development required to achieve this. (Side note; if you need a hand with this give us a shout!). Depending on the resource you have available, as well as what you want to spend, there are multiple factors to finding your voice. You need to clearly understand your company and values, the employees, the location in which you’re based, your services and products, the market you’re in and your customers.

Marketing automation giant Pardot completed research which showed that 80% of consumers say the ‘authenticity of content’ is the most influential factor in their decision to become a follower of the brand. So, you can understand why this section is often the chunkiest of the brand guidelines!

To ensure any member of staff, or external supplier, can confidently communicate on behalf of your brand the tone of voice chapter needs to cover the language you do and don’t want to be using, the viewpoint or voice that you write from and any theories you follow, such as Plain English. As you would with visuals a good way of demonstrating rules is to show examples, so a sentence that wouldn’t ever be used, with an explanation of why, and then another sentence that is perfectly ‘on brand’. Mail Chimp do this brilliantly, for example ‘fun but not silly, expert but not bossy’ etc.

Logo

Show the logo’s proportions as well as dissuading readers from manipulating it in anyway. Show the different colour or layout variants as well as the rules on when and where each of them should be used, for example on a certain colour background, or always top left corner on specific items of merchandise.  It’s also essential to make any differentiations throughout about print and digital use, as there will most likely be different file formats and sizes.

Icons

Similarly, to the logo, you should demonstrate where and how you would like your icons used. Are there perhaps a few that are product, service or sector specific? If so, explain in depth where these can be used, the size and colours they are permitted to be. As we mentioned in the Tone of Voice section, it is extremely beneficial for people to see that if you visually show what is the incorrect and correct usage instead of trying to explain in text form.

Colour Palette

Some businesses choose a limited palette of say three core colours and everything appears in one of them, text, logo’s…the lot. However, your company might have a secondary and tertiary palette for different arms of the business or perhaps for different situations. Explain how those colours represent your brand and visually how to apply them.

Typography

You may only have one font that you use throughout the company in various sizes or maybe all headings are always shown in bold, for example. You might also have numerous different fonts; in which case you need to tell the user about the hierarchy of those. This section is hugely relevant for everyone from your sales team busily creating pitch presentations through to your marketing team building emails, as you may have certain rules on sub-headings, bullet points or surrounding the use of punctuation.

Imagery

If your company uses imagery, consider what you want it to add to your branding. Some of our clients like to stick to using photos that show authentic, on site work featuring their staff. Alternatively, on other projects imagery is supplied to us that we might then apply an effect to, such as picking out objects or items and manipulating to include relevant colour palettes. You might not want to include people at all, but really consider how these choices will compliment your logo and icons, tone of voice and how best to identify with your audience.

Applications

This section is completely optional but is particularly useful if you work with numerous agencies, partners and suppliers. It’s an effective method to show how to use your brand when placed alongside other branding and in ‘real-world’ situations. In addition, you could showcase what specific elements of your marketing will look like, for example stationery, website on desktop and mobile versions, vehicle signage or uniform.

So, there you have it, a whistle stop guide to brand guidelines. Hopefully you appreciate now not only why you need them but also how to implement your own version.

We would love to help you create a brand document, drill down your tone of voice or refresh your logo and imagery. Get in touch and we can talk about how we can help you level up your marketing.