Building great brands is not a fortunate accident but thoughtful curation of experiences and meaningful connections with people. They stand out from the crowd, are easy to remember, and are resilient in their efforts. How do they do it?
Simply put, they establish a strong brand guideline as a foundation. Also referred to as a brand style guide, brand guidelines are a detailed set of mandates governing consistency in color, font, aesthetics, style, and compliance on how a brand is exposed to its stakeholder.
This covers visual, written, and auditory communication through explicit instructions around design, feel, and tonality for the brand.
Think of any top brand and related aspects like logo, font, or color palettes. You’d realize that a lot goes behind the scenes in developing and maintaining consistency to penetrate consumers’ subconscious and make a mark. This is where a comprehensive set of brand guidelines differentiates the best from the lot.
Purpose of brand guidelines
We live in a time of abundance, where consumers have a surplus of choices on the one hand and yet a scarcity of time to choose on the other. In such a setting, brand guidelines make the best enterprises and institutions stand out. They align all visual and communication elements with the brand's core values, vision, and mission, facilitating consumers' easy identification and recollection of the brand.
Though it’s easy to evaluate and analyze more prominent brands like McD or Coca-Cola regarding their consistency, it is hard to quote similar examples for smaller brands. Yet, young and new brands follow the same principles in unlocking a deeper connection with their audience.
Brand values imbibe many emotions like trust, confidence, and safety. Effective brand guidelines are pivotal to developing a solid brand value and are crucial for an organization of any size and industry.
- Ensure brand consistency and compliance, no matter in what setting the brand shows up, making it effortless for internal stakeholders to generate brand content. Per industry standards, consistency can contribute up to 23% of average revenue.
- Improves brand loyalty and recall by ensuring that every time a customer interacts with the brand in any way, they take away a feel of what the brand stands for. The consistency in brand guidelines ensures a deep recall value within the audience.
- Streamline decision-making by allowing only set rules, structures, frameworks, and processes to guide the end customer's overall brand style and appearance.
Breaking down components of brand guidelines
Consumers remember things using a combination of sensory, cognitive, and emotional processing.
Sensory processing captures elements we can grasp through our senses, such as sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch; cognitive processing involves things we can interpret and understand, like attention, perception, learning, and memory. Lastly, emotional processing is responsible for salient experiences.
Brands that evoke these senses through colors, messaging, imagery, or audio win over.
Given that every brand differs in terms of business context, the first step is to understand the context of what your company stands for, both in terms of offerings and values. (Mental notes to ponder this include sophistication, or cool & funky, safety, or even sheer fun).
This sets the building blocks for guiding the usage of one or many of the following components:
- Logo usage and placement: To create a strong visual identity, a logo, perhaps is amongst the most critical and visible brand elements. All successful brands go to the utmost detail of defining the correct logo usage and its relative placement with other elements, specifying every angle, pixel, and color tone.
For example, the red and white Coca-Cola logo remains recognizable across the world.
- Brand color palette and usage: Brands spend enormous amounts of time and resources to understand the subtle effect that colors have on consumers when it comes to brand recognition and consumer behavior. In this context, the specification of the correct color codes, combinations, and permissible usage is necessary.
- Typography and font usage: Even before a customer starts reading out the content of your communication, perception is already framed in their mind!! Yes, that’s true, and you and I have been a witness to this alike.
This is due to the effect of fonts and typography on our eyes (and minds). Ever wondered why even simple text appears so up-class and classy on Apple’s website? It’s typography at play with your inner art enthusiast.
- Voice and tone guidelines: Not all brands have the guts or the intent to do it like Twitter is responding to most media queries these days - with a poop emoji. Brands must carefully ensure that any & every communication representing the company maintains a specific tonality and conveys certain attributes.
This could vary on the spectrum of assertiveness, seriousness, and details, but it has to be mindful of how customers expect and perceive a brand to behave. For instance, Apple's tone of voice is simple and elegant, reflected in its minimalist packaging design and website layout.
- Imagery and photography guidelines: From general messaging to cast, lighting, colors, and locations, detailed photography guidelines ensure that your brand and products are always visualized in the right settings.
Rihanna’s Fenty has gone to great lengths in defining color pallets, lighting, and even the composition of shots. As we talk about how exhaustive this guide is, one can only ensure excellent results from it, the team and vendors alike.
- Brand values and mission statement: The heaviest lift of all, brand value and mission statement shed a clear light on what the brand stands for and how consumers can associate with it.
Netflix’s mission statement, ‘To entertain the world, ’ bodes just well with how the brand portrays itself, with showmanship in abundance - red hot, and confident.
Much more goes into what defines brand assets and their optimal management; we have already covered it here.
How to create a brand guideline for your brand?
Creating brand guidelines for your brand is more of a journey than an end state since it needs continuous effort and involvement. However, to help you with a starting point around drafting a mental model for executing this, we enlist the key aspects you need to cover while conceptualizing your brand guidelines.
- Define the brand: Every company intends its brand value to stand for a certain set of attributes and values. As a starting point, it needs to be decided what your brand will stand for, the general perception you want to create in consumers' minds, and how you want them to think of your brand.
This is the most important step since it is pivotal to all the succeeding steps. A serious and professional brand may choose a different brand identity than a fun and cool one.
- Create a visual identity and corresponding paraphernalia: Coming to more tangible aspects, draft the branding material in coherence with brand identity while ensuring detailed documentation around technicalities like logo specifications (dimensions, placement, colors), color palettes, fonts, typography, and other tangible aspects of branding.
Remember, the more time you spend detailing the specifications, the better the stakeholder compliance rate will be.
3. Develop messaging guidelines (tone and voice): A more intangible aspect, define how your brand communicates with stakeholders. Again, take the liberty of specifying both dos and don'ts, like being confident yet not arrogant, being prompt but not at the cost of being inaccurate, and so forth.
4. Create and maintain a design style guide: All the above steps need to be minutely drafted as a brand design style guide for reference. Specify the whats, whys, and hows to ensure users understand the underlying thought process. Maintain an open feedback loop until brand maturity to incorporate any new learnings within this guide. Read more on this here.
5. Stakeholder feedback: Employees, customers, vendors, and teams - are all vital participants in creating brand guidelines. Getting alignment and feedback is critical to ensure that the playbook meets the needs of those who interact with the brand.
This feedback can identify areas of improvement, create a sense of ownership and investment from the start, and make the process holistic.
Brand guideline examples
Under this section, we handpick a few brands that have excelled in terms of drafting astute brand guidelines. We also take a sneak peek into different brand guideline components across these brands to add a lot of context to what we have discussed so far.
- Visa: Logo Usage
Visa’s brand guidelines capture the essence of a global brand, expressing in detail why brand integrity needs to stand out across boundaries. As a financial service company, Visa is subject to various regulations and standards in different countries, and its brand guideline complements a global persona regardless of the local regulatory environment.
2. Wix’s simple and aesthetic font style
Wix’s mission is to empower people to create a business online, thus emphasizing the importance of online presence through a distinct and unique identity - this can be easily observed in their brand style, which is more empathetic, human, and conversational.
This humility and professionalism build trust with users who seek professional solutions to succeed.
3. Spotify neon green
The black and neon green is a vibe; it’s almost a statement on the internet by artists. The brand’s rock-solid visual style is a testimony to creating young brands for the audience - vibrant, niche, and chic.
Their guide speaks in detail about how its collaborators can use the logo and blend in the style of what the brand is trying to create. In Spotify’s words, these guidelines have been developed to ensure that all Spotify users receive the same delightful user experience - no matter which platform they listen on.
4. Monday.com and its fantastic color palette
Consider this as a shoutout for Monday.com, a young brand that came out of nowhere and took over social media through its quirky design style. Like you, we first observed Monday.com on YouTube ads and slowly began recognizing its logo on the search and other social media channels.
We love Monday.com because its choice of colors makes the brand easy to recognize amongst a sea of mentions in the digital space and helps create a unique association through its visual identity.
5. Starbucks’s brand guidelines
It’s impossible to talk about great brands that have built consistency in style, become iconic over the years, and overlook Starbucks. You can walk into any Starbucks worldwide and order your regular cuppa - it will look the same, feel the same, and taste the same.
Now that’s a strong brand that checks off all sensory, emotional, and cognitive principles. “Our green is iconic. Visible for blocks. It’s our most identifiable asset, from the color of our aprons to our logo.” says Starbucks.
Brand Guidelines and the new digital era
With more than 4.9 billion people now having access to the internet, we live in a world where everything from furniture to cars is being sold online. That said, to say that we’re now in a digital-first world is not an overstatement by any standard, and all brands, conventional and new age alike, are becoming conscious of this reality.
While the success of best brands lies in the first principles we covered thus far, there are certain additional challenges that brands must tackle in a digital-first era. Consumer interaction is more dynamic, with endless channels, branding material, and possible touchpoints.
What is applicable on websites may not befit mobile apps or tablets, and in this globalized setup, what works in the USA may not work in the Philippines. Brands need to up their game in terms of evolving their guidelines to ensure consistency across all of these aspects.
Brand asset management services like ImageKit help businesses of all scales draft and administer the most effective brand strategies, with multiple options to customize the offerings based on your specific needs.
Brand asset management is a new-age tool to empower global brands and teams to access, share, curate, edit, store, and manage all their assets in one click. One of the biggest challenges of creating brand guidelines for the new digital era is the need to be flexible and adaptable; brand asset management is the solution.
With 24*7 accessibility, the ability to store feedback, sort and put things in order, and manage critical access on a need basis - brand management tools can update, adapt, and accommodate the unique challenges and opportunities presented by digital platforms, teams, and systems.
In a world without a brand guideline, no two assets from a brand would look alike, their logos would not be consistent, the brand recall would be very low, and customers would be utterly confused.
On the contrary, having a brand guideline would empower brands to be consistent, generate recall, establish a bond with customers, be easily identifiable, highly agile with decision-making, have robust frameworks, and have a strong brand identity.
A brand guide is essential for any business to establish a strong, consistent, and recognizable brand identity. It provides a framework for how the brand should be represented, ensuring that all communications are aligned with the company's values, mission, and objectives.
We understand the processes as mentioned above may seem like an information overload, and you may be telling yourself - well woah, that’s a daunting task, but trust us, it’s worth the effort. Creating a brand guideline is an investment and a building block in your brand’s long-term success.
If you haven’t made yours, start today.
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