Behind every successful brand lies a strong brand identity and its consistent presentation to the public. Consistency cultivates a feeling of familiarity and brand recognition and is thereby essential to branding.
But as a brand starts to grow, expanding its team and customer base, consistency becomes harder to maintain. This is when businesses find themselves in need of a set of pre-defined brand guidelines to coordinate their brands’ portrayal.
Does this situation sound familiar to you? If so, then a brand style guide is the solution you’re looking for. This blog post will guide you through the process of understanding and creating a brand style guide with detailed steps and real-life examples.
Here’s what’s on the agenda:
- What is a Brand Style Guide?
- How to Create a Brand Style Guide
- Style Guide Examples From Successful Companies
What is a Brand Style Guide?
A brand style guide is a unified document of guidelines that determine how a brand presents itself to the world. It comprises all the assets — visual, textual, or otherwise — that are responsible for the way a brand looks, sounds, and feels.
The term is frequently interchanged with branding kit (or brand kit). However, the latter only concerns a brand’s visual identity, while a brand style guide covers a broader scope, including the brand’s mission, core values, tone of voice, etc.
So, we know what a brand style guide is but why use it? As hinted earlier, brand guidelines are needed to assure consistency across all front lines and communication channels. A style guide should be accessible to the company’s entire team — from the web development to the customer care department.
A brand guide helps to harmonize all departments within a company and make sure that whatever those teams produce is coherent with the overall brand personality. The obvious benefit of upholding brand integrity is that it makes the brand easily identifiable — whether it’s by its unique product design, color palette, or caption style on Instagram.
Lastly, a consistent appearance from a brand shows the latter’s reliability and commitment to its promise, winning the customers’ trust as a result.
How to Create a Brand Style Guide
Now, if you’re ready, let’s walk through the 8-step process of building a brand style guide, making a pit stop at every vital brand element that should be incorporated into your guide. Your guidebook can be an online document, downloadable PDF, slideshow presentation, or printed manual — the choice is entirely yours.
Keep in mind that it’s best to address both the do’s and don’ts for each point. Once you know what your brand stands for, it’s equally important to determine what you don’t represent to avoid miscommunication.
Start With Brand Story
Nothing expresses your uniqueness better than your brand story. It can be a brief summary of your background, mission, and vision. Write a clear mission statement that reveals the ‘why’ behind what you do. As to the vision, the question it answers is “Where to?”
Add your core values to your brand story, and you have the foundation of your brand. Any other asset your company produces should spring from this foundation to create a solid brand. Have your mission, vision, and values at the forefront of your style guide to make sure that your employees and customers alike get to see the bigger picture of your company.
Visualize Your Ideal Customer
Who is the ideal client for your business? Your target audience is just as integral to your brand as your team, products, and brand assets; hence it needs its rightful place in your style guide. Sculpt a fictional buyer persona that represents your audience so your employees better understand who to target and how to do so efficiently.
A well-rounded buyer persona profile includes demographic and psychographic data about an audience. Demographics cover gender, age, location, employment, income, and other statistical data. Meanwhile, psychographic info refers to personality traits, attitudes, beliefs, aspirations, interests, etc.
Define Logo Guidelines
Your logo is the most direct representation of your brand and, as such, should be treated with special attention. To regulate the use of your logo and ensure its consistent and proper presentation, you need to be very clear about your logo guidelines.
If you have more than one version of your logo (e.g., with and without the brand name, in color vs. black and white, etc.), include them all in your style guide. List the different backgrounds that are appropriate to pair with your brand mark, specify the logo size and how it can be scaled, mention how much white space to leave around it, and so on.
A great approach is to show the do’s and don’ts with visual examples, similar to what Twitter has done. If your logo is used by your customers as well, make your guidelines accessible to them on your website or other communication channels.
Set a Color Palette
Chances are, you have different people working on the design of your website, social media graphics, printables, and other materials. If each designer were given endless creative freedom and no guidelines, you’d end up with a loud mix of different signatures, styles, and colors.
The first step to preventing this chaos and creating a harmonious visual style is to have your designers follow a set brand color palette. Your color palette will likely combine primary and secondary colors and even their specific combinations.
Besides having swatches of your brand colors in your style guide, also specify the hex codes, RGB values, and CMYK color codes. Consistent color schemes are key to maintaining brand identity, so don’t skip this step!
Below is a cheat sheet of our brand colors; take a look:
Choose Typography With Care
Typography is yet another visual tool that shapes the perception of a brand. Type choice can elevate a design as much as it can degrade it, which is something novice brand designers often underestimate.
The significance of typography treatment reaches beyond the font of a wordmark logo; it applies to the website or blog, visuals published on social networks, tagline, print materials like flyers and business cards, and so much more.
Think about whether you want to stick to one font or pick a few for headings, subheadings, and body text. An easy way out is to remain within the same font family and utilize different weights and styles of the same font. But if you decide to commit to more than one typeface, be careful about choosing a combination that works.
Here’s what Medium did:
Source: Medium Brand Development on Behance
Your brand guidelines should clarify where to use each font variation, text hierarchy and alignment, the size and weight of letters, kerning (i.e., the spacing between characters), how text appears in print vs. digitally, etc.
Describe Your Brand Voice
Similar to how we judge a person’s character based on the way they speak, customers do the same for brands. Once you identify what message you want your company to share, the next step is to figure out the best way to communicate it. The way you talk to your audience molds your brand voice and becomes a constituent element of your brand personality.
What does your brand sound like — friendly or authoritative, casual or formal, optimistic or neutral, bold or reserved? Don’t be afraid to describe it in detail in your brand style guide. It can be useful to address the language you use and don’t use. Here’s a brilliant example by Skype:
Your brand voice should be reflected in your tagline, slogans, emails, social media posts and ads, blog articles and long-form content, etc. You can use AI-powered tone-detecting tools to check the sentiment of your text before you publish it.
Commit to an Editorial Style
The content you create is certainly affected by your brand voice, but there’s a lot more that goes into securing content consistency. Some companies have separate content style guides that lay out all the rules and best practices for content creators, copywriters, and editors.
Choose an editorial stylebook as your base (e.g., AP, Chicago, MLA, NY Times), provide guidelines for formatting and phrasing, specify the topics you cover, explain when and how to use calls to action. It’s even better if your guidebook includes examples that demonstrate your points.
Here’s a sneak peek of our content style guide:
Harmonize Visual Media
It seems needless to say that imagery accounts for a huge part of a brand’s image. If you’ve been creating visuals at random with no pattern or plan, it’s time to reconsider your approach. Systemizing the creation and distribution of visual media will give your company a recognizable visual identity.
Your brand guidelines should incorporate all the types of visual media you produce — from photography and videography all the way to illustrations and icons. Shed light on concept development, layout design, specific stylistic choices, and anything else that makes a visual evidently yours.
Source: Slack Brand Guidelines
Once you successfully incorporate all the above-mentioned elements in your brand style guide, you should have a solid framework to continue building and creating and not worry about losing track of your brand integrity in the process.
Revisit your brand guidelines periodically and amend them if necessary. Your brand will inevitably keep shifting and growing, and your guidebook should follow suit to preserve its relevance.
Style Guide Examples From Successful Companies
It can be helpful to have a reference point while making your brand style guide, especially if it’s your first time doing so. We’ve selected a few public brand style guides by well-established companies to inspire you on your own journey. Let’s explore!
Presented through simple, easily skimmable slides, Apple Brand Guidelines explain how to promote and link to the Apple website, use the Apple logo and product photos, and display Apple banners. What stands out in this guidebook is the use of pictures to showcase example scenarios.
Source: Apple Brand and Photography Guidelines
Instagram’s public brand guidelines are less extensive and focus on visual assets — namely, brand icons and screenshots. It goes over when to use their signature symbols such as the glyph or IGTV icons, as well as how to display Instagram profiles.
Source: Instagram Brand Resources
Google Brand Element Guidelines demonstrate how to treat the company’s logo, product names, icons, and colors with clear illustrations. Each point comes with precisely defined do’s and don’ts that won’t leave any user confused about the style guides. The “Evolving the Google Identity” manual presents Google’s brand identity elements in further detail.
Source: Google Brand Element Guidelines
A brand style guide is a documented collection of brand guidelines that help to sustain a congruous identity for the company. It becomes more challenging to observe brand consistency when you have multiple people or teams developing and employing brand assets.
Brand guidelines revolve around the most prominent brand elements such as mission statement, logo, brand voice, color palette, imagery, etc. A style guide ensures these elements work cohesively to project the brand’s true essence in an organized and consistent manner.
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