Did you know that you could increase your revenue by 23% from consistent branding? That’s because your audience continuously receives content they can resonate with–and 64% of customers say that’s enough to trust a brand more.
But how do you ensure brand consistency throughout all your designs and deliverables? After all, you’re (probably) not always overlooking your brand’s content creation, and you certainly can’t expect others to read your mind.
The last thing you want is incoherent and messy posts infesting your marketing channels, leaving viewers confused, detached, and unimpressed. That is why it’s absolutely crucial to make an easy-to-follow blueprint for all your branding requirements–otherwise known as a branding style guide.
And in this 10-minute read, we’re going to make you an expert on brand style guides with a step-by-step process with branding guideline examples–so you can construct your own style guide and stay true to your brand identity.
What is a Brand Style Guide & Why is it Important?
Your own brand style guide is essentially an instruction manual and rule book on how to communicate your brand story. It can be a physical booklet or digital landing page filled with examples of to-dos and not-to-dos.
A proper brand guide will lay out all visual elements, including important notes on the company’s voice, tone, and messaging (brand values).
Brand guidelines are useful for three parties:
- You (designer or brand owner): a brand style guide transfers your thoughts onto paper–helping you organize and build a brand personality to better understand your own company and selling point.
- In-house or freelance content creators: creators need something to roll with. Otherwise, brands will experience tons of unnecessary and costly back-and-forth or put out inconsistent content. Brand guidelines ensure more quality control on content.
Your customers: inform your target audience on your core values, the company mission, and vision to build a connection with them from the get-go. The style guide may also act as a handbook for a way of life as customers use your product.
Step 1: Define Who You Are (Brand Identity)
Define who you are and what you’re in the business of as the first item on your brand style guide. Do it clearly, and do it concisely. After reading your summary, the reader should be able to state precisely what you do and have no ambiguity about the product or service you offer.
Chances are your brand isn’t widely known amongst millions like Starbucks or Uber–so a little introduction is necessary. You can go on to storytell how your business started (what inspired it?) and how you took it to a different level (outline your journey so far).
It’s always a good idea to provide more context because customers can develop a deeper connection and sympathy for your company, while creators may pull something from your history into a deliverable.
Step 2: Define Who They Are (Buyer Persona)
Strong brand loyalty comes from customers who resonate with your values. To connect with them properly, it’s a good idea to build out a buyer persona (a fictional representation of your ideal customer). That way, your creative professionals can create catered:
- Blog content.
- Ad copy.
- Visual media.
You can include details about the customer's age, gender, job title, and professional challenges. Your buyer persona is your target audience. And therefore, it stipulates for whom your brand publishes content.
For example, your writers shouldn’t use complex sentences or a formal tone when speaking to marketers in their 20s and 30s. It should be more conversational and friendly. However, if your brand is servicing dentists in their 40s and 50s, that first tone may be appropriate.
Step 3: Set & Worship a Philosophy (Example: Google)
Following a philosophy and defining who you are (step 1) is different. The latter is your personal history and, plain and simply, what you’re offering.
However, establishing a philosophy is your daily drive–it will act as a compass for your brand style guide–an outlook on your future. What’s your mission statement? Vision? An established goal ensures that every piece of content–a brand’s logo, copy, videos, and everything else ultimately ties back to a singular theme.
So, you need to keep it extraordinarily simple. Take Google, for instance.
That’s it. And guess what? Every update, every improvement, every search engine optimization (SEO) regulation is dedicated to facilitating that one mission of organizing accessible and useful information. Also, note the brand colors being used (which we’ll cover in a later section).
Step 4: Brand Attributes–How Will You Behave? (Example: Zendesk)
You know those icebreaker questions that give you anxiety when publicly answering, like: “What’s one word that would describe you?” Yeah, that’s basically what you’re doing in this section of your brand style guide.
Except, it’s not in front of live people, and you can provide brief explanations (takes the fun out of it, we know). This gives you time to think about your core values and how you want to fulfill your philosophy every day.
So, think of 4-5 words that best describe your brand personality. What do you want people to think of you as?
Take a look at Zendesk’s brand attributes. This is how they carry themselves as they provide customer service management to brands worldwide:
Step 5: Nail Your Messaging (Examples: Atlassian, Skype, & Zendesk)
Words are essential when it comes to your verbal identity–your voice, tone, and personality will be judged based on how you communicate with customers, speak about your company, describe your products, etc.
Therefore, ensure that your copywriting is consistent when writing your messaging deliverables like tagline, value proposition, and other pillars and differentiators.
Most brands choose a conversational tone with simple language. But others are more professional, and some satirical and witty. It partially depends on your industry, product/service, and audience. And remember the 4-5 adjectives you brainstormed to describe your brand in step 3? You can use those to style your language in a particular manner, too.
If you’re “distilled” like Zendesk, don’t over complicate your wording or try to make long-winded statements. Take some time to find the style that resonates with your audience and aligns with your brand personality the most.
Then, convey it in a way that you feel is most effective. If you’re like Atlassian (software company), then you may want to simply add a quick summary outlining your writing style like so:
But, if you’re like Skype, then you might want to be more visual and straightforward with it:
Of course, don’t be shy to give explicit instructions if you feel confident about your messaging. Zendesk, for example, has a ready-made tagline, value prop, company description, and even a company boilerplate for designers to use in different situations–which also have been outlined.
There’s definitely no limit to how you can convey your messaging. This guide should only be further proof that brands don’t follow any set of “standard” brand guidelines–they do what they want, following the best practices we outlined for you. After that, the playground is yours.
Step 6: Brand Mark & Logo (Example: Nike and Snapchat)
Your brand mark is an emotional image, shape, or graphic that sends an emotional cue to the viewer. A logo is a more detailed visual overview built with chosen colors, often your business name, and other graphics and shapes that make it easier for a brand to understand you.
For example, on the right, you see a brand mark (simple yet symbolic), and on the left, you see a logo (more detailed, leaving no ambiguity of what brand it represents).
When creating a brand style guide, you must differentiate both and highlight when to use either. There’s a certain stature with identifying a brand solely from a mere picture like the check symbol for Nike. We subconsciously acknowledge the specialty–which is why a brand mark is more emotionally provoking.
It may be best to start with a logo and later switch to a brand mark after building more awareness if you’re a newer brand. Either way, you want your representational image to be a sustainable part of your company’s identity, so carefully choose your symbols and designs. Ensure that they’re coherent and representative of your brand personality and colors.
Snapchat, for example, stamps itself boldly through the silhouette of a ghost. We reaffirm Snapchat’s affiliation through its color palette with the native yellow background, white fill, and black outline. But more on colors later.
All in all, a brand mark is a status symbol. It removes all letters, words, and names from your logo–yet still, it’s marked by you.
So, they can make a great stamp for your front page or on a product because of its subtlety and boldness–make sure your designers know all the right places to use it.
Step 7: Typography (Example: Alienware)
The typography page in your brand style guide specifies the font that a designer can use when creating a deliverable. Your font depends on your branding personality–it can also be differentiated with spacing, capitalization, and proper usage of type.
Just remember to demonstrate the fonts in the style guide by adding samples with copy written. In fact, take some short messaging pillars from step 4 and showcase them in your desired font to show it in action. That delivers a real sense of emotion when seeing a brand creative; it gives the designer a nice idea of what to create.
You can also ensure font accuracy and facilitate the font-acquiring process by providing a download link (for digital brand style guides) or mentioning where the designer can download it themselves.
Lastly, you should specify the purpose of each font in a typography hierarchy–if you have multiple. Brands may have a bolder primary font for their headers to capture the reader’s attention, while a thinner and more subtle font for their web text, for a less cluttered presentation.
Alienware is an American subsidiary of Dell, the computer designers, and manufacturers. Notice in their brand style guide that they leave no ambiguity for the font design and usage, and they use practical examples to showcase it.
Step 8: Brand Color (Example: Coke)
Color psychology is incredibly important to provoke emotion and feeling in the viewer. What color do you think of when you see the word “LOVE”? Probably red. So, seeing the word together with the color creates a heavier visual impact.
Your brand’s color palette will tell designers your primary brand color and secondary elements to incorporate into marketing collateral for your audience. It can be as simple or as complex as you like, but most brands will choose a maximum of four colors and design their logo with it too.
Specifically, your color palette is important because it guides the:
- Website design.
- Printed advertisements.
- Event collateral.
When using multiple colors in a palette, the colors are often dedicated to specific types of marketing content. For example, the first two colors of your color palette may govern your logo, but the next two may support the design of your website and blog. You might use another two or three colors for all your printed branding materials.
You’ll often find a lighter color for backgrounds and a darker one for text (so users can understand information clearly). Whatever it is, make sure to show the color swatches in your style guide for branding. If your brand message is to be reproduced accurately online or elsewhere, you’ll need to include the appropriate information necessary to reproduce the colors:
- Color match: PANTONE name and number
- Print color: CMYK
- Digital color: RGB and HEX codes
Getting the color right is extremely important because more repetition will strengthen and eventually crystallize brand awareness. When was the last time you saw a coke can that wasn’t rich red? Or a Facebook logo that wasn’t blue?
What Types of Brand Guidelines Are There?
Before we dive into how to create a brand style guide, let’s observe some visual examples of the different types of brand guidelines that you can use. Your choice to style guide a brand will depend on its size, design elements, content plan, and other factors.
One Page Brand Guidelines
There are times when you do not need a multi page brand guide to describe colors, fonts, or other aspects of your business. You can often distill this information into one page, such as in the examples of brand guidelines below.
One-page guidelines are bite-sized, actionable, and easy to share with your team to ensure consistent branding. Their very nature also makes them easily storable and accessible.
Another plus is that you don’t need to be a seasoned designer to create this style guide. Simply follow a template and use an intuitive online editor to get the job done.
Small Business Brand Guidelines
There’s nothing like a friendly neighborhood small business. Your needs will be different from a corporation or a nonprofit.
Besides reflecting the brand's mission or goals, your brand guideline should also highlight the differences between your brand and other small businesses in your niche.
Explain your choice of visuals, as well as the reasons why you selected them. You may only use some visual content for social media marketing, direct mail campaigns, or your blog.
People also enjoy reading about companies' origin stories, so tell your small business' story. You can also include some interesting facts about the founders who influenced your current brand.
Creative Brand Guidelines
Some brands are more creative than others with design. Some are miles apart. Either way, your creative talents should be showcased in your brand style guide. It would be pretty awkward if a brand of visionaries produced a rather bland, lifeless style guide.
These brand style guides leverage advanced visuals, beautiful color schemes, and witty use of art elements and fonts. But when you employ a design, be sure to explain your decision–where the inspiration came from–storytell everything.
Nailing your creative instructions matters a lot because every deliverable will be proof of your creative capabilities. But remember to stay true to your brand personality. Something may look incredibly cool, but that doesn’t mean you should post it.
Corporate Brand Guidelines
Your brand voice must be clear and universally understandable when your reach is international, with a large team and an even more significant customer base.
More than others, a corporate brand is more prone to inconsistent branding, risking its reputation to fall apart.
Nonprofit Brand Guidelines
The brand style guide for a nonprofit is arguably one of the most important. The executive team is not likely to be a team of creative professionals nor have an established sense of what looks good and “sells.”
Nevertheless, a consistent brand is a make or break to a non-profit because it can be contingent on fundraising and gaining the loyalty of new volunteers–two pillars for their survival.
Additionally, your volunteers may not know the importance of your branding to your mission. A comprehensive brand guide will inspire them to work harder towards a vision–leaving more of an impact which can also help the funding department.
So, ensure you outline your brand guidelines to avoid confusion.
Ready to Make Your Branding Style Guide?
You better be. Your company is more than your product or service. Despite hundreds of others selling the same thing as you, a strong brand identity tells customers why they should choose you over alternatives.
A strong brand, though, starts at home–with your content creators. You need to sprinkle more inspiration and guide them with the right brand style guide, so their deliverables stay true to the brand. Sending the wrong message can be devastating for your company’s image.
While some style guides are thicker than a novel, others, as you well know after reading this free guide, are one page. It comes down to your business needs and creative diversity. But now, you know exactly what to include in your brand style guide, like your philosophy, brand attributes, messaging, brand marks and logos, typography, and color palettes.