How to Create a Brand Guide – With Examples
It doesn't matter whether you're just starting a business or if you've been running one for years.
What is certain is that the way you approach branding will have an immense effect on the level of success your venture stands to achieve.
But regardless of the impression you want your company to leave on prospective customers, the only way for your brand's identity to come to life is to follow a cohesive set of rules.
These rules, which will help you enforce and maintain your chosen identity, are called a brand guide.
What Is a Brand Guide?
In essence, a brand guide is a document ranging anywhere between 5 and 500 pages.
Its purpose is to provide rules and instructions on how you should portray and represent your business.
It is a document that you will use in all your communications with customers.
Moreover, it will direct how you approach your advertising efforts and your content creation and distribution process.
Why Do You Need a Brand Guide?
There are three leading benefits to using a well-developed brand guide:
Having a set of stylistic and visual rules to follow and regularly implementing them in all brand communication leads to a consistent image of the company being presented to the public.
And while visual and stylistic uniformity makes for the most obvious benefit of practising consistency in all company dealings, it's not, in fact, the gain that gets you the most.
According to a 2019 report by Lucidpress, The State of Brand Consistency, uniformity in branding leads to revenue increases between 10% and 20%.
Moreover, having a brand guide also makes significant savings in time spent creating branded content.
Another plus of using a brand guide is that it ensures a high quality of content and communication coming from your team.
In addition to preventing the publishing of content that goes against the brand's mission and values, it also helps designers and marketers produce consistently high-grade materials, which will help your company thrive and appeal to new audiences.
Finally, another good reason to invest time and money into developing a brand guide is that a consistent, high-level customer experience inevitably leads to customer loyalty and higher customer lifetime value.
This is especially important if you consider that marketing to existing customers vastly exceeds investments into customer acquisition.
So, now that you're aware of the reasons for creating a brand guide, as well as the benefits of using one, it's time to start the process of putting together the guidelines. The following are the steps you will have to follow.
Define Your Brand's Story & Identity
The very first step towards creating a comprehensive brand guide is going to be the research phase.
Do you understand how branding works?
If you do, you'll know that the story and identity behind your company are just as important as the price and quality of your products.
Moreover, they play a huge role in determining the success of your marketing campaigns and the overall longevity of your business.
For this reason, your brand guide must start with a page that clearly defines your brand's identity. This should include the following four key components:
- Your brand's mission – These are your brand's purpose, goals, and methods for delivering relevant solutions to customer problems.
- Your company's values – These are the guiding beliefs that determine how you will run your business. They will apply to your internal and external communications and be reflected in your marketing materials. Your company's values will help your target audience determine whether your company is the right fit for their wants and needs.
- Your brand personality – Just like a person, your brand should have a set of characteristics that determine its personality. M&M's, for example, is a brand that defines its character as humourous, party-loving, and colourful, as you can see from its newsletter sign-up form shown below.
- Your buyer persona – Finally, to create a brand guide that is to work, you have to have a strong understanding of your buyer persona and the messages, visuals, and values that will resonate with them (and lead them to buy from your brand). For example, a company such as Homestead Supplier understands that its target audience wants to live a simple, self-sufficient lifestyle which is why its logo, visuals, and even social media posts all reflect a strong commitment to nature.
Create Rules for Using Your Logo
You have spent time and money crafting the perfect logo for your business.
Ideally, you'll have arrived at a solution you love (and that is in line with your brand's identity).
So, you'll want to keep this visual signifier of your company the way it is, whatever platform it is being used on.
After all, it is the symbol of your company and its most recognisable asset. Therefore, consistency is essential.
In your brand guide, you should clearly show how the logo is to be used, including acceptable and unacceptable alterations and correct logo placement.
You may find that you need a few variations, in which case you should spell out the circumstances in which you should use each one.
Here are some points to consider:
Does your logo come in one colour or several?
- Do you have one variation for light backgrounds and another for dark backgrounds?
- Is there a monochrome alternative in the case of fabric labels or low-budget printing?
Have you thought out margins and placement?
- The space left around the edges of your logo will impact the way your customers perceive it. Ideally, you will want to find a solution that ensures maximum visibility without creating too much separation between your visual signifier and the rest of the content on your website.
What is the ideal size for your logo in printed and digital content?
- Set rules for the minimum and maximum sizes at which it should be displayed.
- Prepare ready-made files for uses such as social media posts so that your content marketing team doesn't have to manually adjust logo size (or placement) every time they create a new post.
- Understand the different ways file-formats respond to size changes and make sure that your brand guide includes vector logo files that your team can access whenever they need to make size adjustments.
How shouldn't the logo be used?
- Make sure that your brand guide clearly states the unacceptable uses and alterations to your logo. Provide examples of bad practices.
For example, the eCommerce brand Shopify provides clear rules about its logo usage.
The image below shows its two primary variations: the main logo and the inverted logo.
Shopify also provides a range of examples, showing how you should not use the logo. These include instances in which the graphic is stacked, stretched, or used on a busy background.
This clarifies to any external designers what the parameters are and avoids any questions about what is and isn't acceptable usage.
Create a Colour Palette to Drive Brand Recognition
The third step towards creating a comprehensive brand guide for your staff pertains to using colour in your content and communication.
The thing is, unless you've decided on a monochrome look for your brand, you will have to use at least one or two colours in your branding.
And knowing how to make those colours effectively work together takes skill, experience, and some general guidelines.
The first thing you will have to do will, of course, be to decide on a colour palette for your brand.
Ideally, you will follow the rules of good design and use a colour scheme designer tool that will ensure you get a cohesive, visually pleasing palette to work with.
Additionally, it's not a bad idea to consider the psychological meaning of each of the colours, as it might play a role in how your target audience perceives your brand.
Aim to get four complementary colours that you can use for backgrounds, text, CTAs, etc.
For each of your choices, you will want to provide detailed information about the:
- Pantone name and number
- Print CMYK values
- RGB codes
It's also not a bad idea to include any instructions on using each of the colours.
For example, if you check out the Instagram account of a brand such as Preset Love, you will quickly see that the content production team follows a strict rule, exclusively using a shade of red to depict the brand's logo on each of the posts.
Moreover, a closer inspection will reveal that the logo is used in the same position on each post, contributing to an overall cohesive impression left by the brand's visual content.
Of course, creating a colour palette is not the only thing you will have to do.
Once you've decided on the hues to use on your website, in your digital content, and printed materials, you will also have to define the rules for following your brand guide.
You see, the most significant benefit of having a well-defined colour palette is that it drives brand recognition.
So, it's not a bad idea to consider whether there are any tricks you can implement to make it easier for consumers to memorise and recognise your brand.
This can be anything from making sure that all your blog posts use consistent background and headline colours – like in the case of Skillcrush – to adding a coloured frame to your social media posts.
Choose Images & Graphics That Reflect Your Identity
As the owner of your company, you probably have a good idea of what photos and graphics are ideally suited to supporting your brand identity.
But not everyone working on your branding will have this same knowledge. Therefore you must include some guidance in your brand style guide.
One of the easiest ways to do this will, of course, be to create a mood board your team can use as inspiration.
Include photos and graphics that you feel reflect your brand's identity. Moreover, don't be afraid to detail the visuals you want to be used in your branded content.
Another thing you can do is to showcase the times when imagery was used to significant effect in your branding and explain what you would like to see more of.
You can also include examples of other brands with a similar theme.
This mood board should help to give your design team a clear idea of the style they should aim for, as well as the feeling you want your brand to convey.
This will also be relevant to how your brand communicates. For example, you might choose different imagery for a brochure than you would for an Instagram post.
For an excellent example of how you can create a visual style guide, check out this example from Barnes & Noble.
For one, it explains that all photography must embody a bright and welcoming atmosphere.
Secondly, it states that all images need to engage viewers and make them feel part of the photograph.
Finally, the guide points out that visuals should focus on relaxing activities such as reading, music and food. In doing so, Barnes & Noble promotes an image of calm and serenity.
Another thing to consider when instructing your staff on how to utilise images and graphics that are cohesive with your brand's identity is to provide them with resources.
This will, of course, be much easier if you have an in-house visual design team who can produce images as needed.
For example, if you check out the Mixam website, you'll see that every product photo uses the same background.
Thanks to the simple solution, every visual used on the brand's website look like it belongs.
But even if you can't afford to produce your visual content and have to rely on stock photography or user-generated content, there are great solutions that you can apply.
For example, something as simple as having an experienced designer create visual templates and filter presets your team can apply to stock images will go a long way in ensuring the cohesive look of your social media profiles.
The results you can expect are similar to Masterclass‘ Instagram feed, which comprises posts consisting of a headshot and some text advertising a course.
Practice Consistency With Typography
You may decide to use one typeface or several complementary ones.
However, you have to make sure that they reflect the personality of your brand, as well as that they're effective at conveying your message to your target audience.
Think about it: there are very few things that can undermine your branding efforts as quickly as choosing the wrong font. (Particularly if that font happens to be Comic Sans).
Of course, naming a font is not enough if you want to create a comprehensive brand guide.
You will have to provide your team with detailed instructions on all things typography-related, including:
- How each font is to be used (headlines, body text, image captions, etc.)
- Preferred font size and formatting
- Spacing information for custom-made graphics
- Alternatives in case the intended font cannot be used
Check out the Ikea UK Instagram page as an example of a brand that achieves super-effective branding with typography.
You'll see that it consistently utilises the same font when referring to the names of its product lines.
Then, it goes with a slightly less attention-grabbing typeface for additional information regarding designers or marketing messages, ensuring that what stays centre-stage is its products.
Alternatively, you can check out this image guide by Bosphorous.
The Bosphorus brand has three text variations: a light sans-serif, a bold sans-serif and a medium serif.
Labels and instructions clarify when it is appropriate to use each one.
And, thanks to the typefaces being displayed, along with their uses, it's easy for anyone to stay true to the brand's visual identity.
Define Your Brand Voice & Tone
When creating a brand guide for your company, you have to understand that consistency isn't only achieved by visual appearances.
The way you write or speak will also impact the way your brand is perceived.
Naturally, you want your business to be presented in the absolute best possible light. For this reason, it's essential that you include brand voice and tone in your brand guide.
First and foremost, decide on how you want to address your audience.
Are you on first-person terms? Or do you need to employ a more formal tone? Can you use industry-specific jargon? Or do your values rest on inclusivity, meaning that you need to ensure that everyone can understand your messages?
Secondly, think about what your brand voice communicates about your company.
Naturally, if you're a law firm, you will want to use a more authoritative, trust-inspiring voice.
But, if you've created a brand identity around selling unnecessary stuff and roasting your Twitter followers, then keeping your language formal on product pages won't strictly come off as true-to-character, will they?
To better illustrate the impact of voice on branding, check out how Uber addresses its B2B audience.
As a company built its name on everyday convenience, Uber knows that its clients expect simple solutions to their needs. So, it has decided to employ a friendly tone on its website.
It doesn't go into detail about how meticulously each delivery is handled. It chooses to only focus on the basics: it delivers packages under 50 pounds and provides same-day local delivery.
As you work to include voice in your brand guide, consider the practical tips you can give to your writers and customer care specialists on how to represent your company better:
- Perhaps there's a phrase that you want them to use at the end of each blog post or email.
- Give examples of wording that reflects your brand's character and encourage them to find similar solutions.
- List any words or terms you want your team to avoid. For example, note how Thinx never refers to its customers as women but always as “menstruating individuals” to achieve a higher sense of inclusivity.
For a better idea of what your voice guide can look like, check out the example below.
In Channel 4's brand guidelines, they have explained the personality that justifies the tone of voice – “innovative, independent and irreverent” – and gone on to give examples of headlines from some of their most successful campaigns.
Make Your Brand Guide Easy-To-Use
Lastly, as you venture to create a brand guide for your business, understand that this is a resource that will be used time and again.
The people who will consult the brand guide most often will be employees needing a quick reference or a time-saving trick.
Moreover, the stylebook will be utilised by new hires who are still uncertain about the best way to represent your company through visuals or writing.
For this reason, it is crucial that the brand guide is simple, to the point, and contains practical tips along with any necessary resources.
To gain a better sense of what a brand guide can look like, check out this page by Spotify. It covers everything a new employee or designer could need help with: attribution, linking rules, logo use, colour palettes, fonts, and more.
Remember, your company as a whole is far more than just the products it sells.
Your brand is you.
It is why your customers should choose your company over someone else's.
Moreover, the point of having cohesive branding guidelines is to make sure that whoever is responsible for your communications manages to stick within the given visual and written style and ensure your branding is consistent.
Do it once, and you will save considerable time briefing new agencies and freelancers in the future.