Brand Style Guide: Why You Need It (and How to Create One)
We hear it all the time.
“For your brand to stand out from the crowd, brand consistency is key.”
Well, I couldn’t agree more. After all, you need to tell a cohesive brand story if you want your branded assets and content to be top-of-mind and resonate among your target market. If a blog post says one thing and a promotional flyer says another, your consumer base will find it difficult to commit your products and services to memory, much less trust you with their hard-earned money.
But let’s address the elephant in the room: This brand consistency thing? It’s hard.
Not only do you need to provide a consistent brand experience internally (within your organization and its different departments), but you also need to pull it off externally (partners, affiliates, and customers). Worse, it’s usually difficult for developers, creatives, and marketers to see eye to eye on how to stay on-brand. Because, well, we live in a world of multiple platforms, devices, channels, geographies… and who knows what else?
If you want to nail this brand consistency thing once and for all, you need brand guidelines. Some call it the “brand book.” In this post, we’ll just refer to it as the brand style guide.
Brand style guide: What is it?
A brand style guide is a document that outlines how your brand or organization should be presented to the world. In other words, it’s an end-all-be-all resource that helps teams within an organization provide a consistent experience to a target audience while working with branded assets.
Your brand style guide has multiple elements, which can be divided into two sections:
- Your brand story (mission, vision, core values, and brand voice)
- Your visual identity (logo, color palette, typography, imagery)
If you want your branding strategy to bear fruit, all these elements must be aligned and support one another.
You ready to create a brand style guide that will help your teams find their North Star? Great! But first….
Discover your brand story: What is your “why”?
The goal of your brand style guide is to project a unified brand identity and presence. That can’t be done when there’s no overarching goal or purpose to base it on.
It all starts with the organization’s brand story. You need to ask the following:
- What is your brand’s backstory?
- What is the brand’s purpose?
- What does the brand stand for?
- What values does the brand represent?
- What changes does the brand wish to make in the world?
Your brand story is your own, and therefore unique. Add a pinch of authenticity here, a pinch of social responsibility there, and then throw in a garnish of pathological intent to serve your audience, and you have the whole enchilada. Translation: your brand is all set to differentiate itself from the competition.
Mission and vision statements:
When everything you do is guided by clear goals and a sense of purpose, everything just falls into place, not to mention that it makes your work satisfying.
Have you ever wondered why the most recognizable brands have mission and vision statements? Tesla, for instance, is popular not just because their electric cars are convenient, but also because of their vocal intent to work towards a “sustainable energy future.” A company who wants to save the world is something everyone can get behind.
Most people tend to confuse mission and vision. Let’s fix that now.
A mission statement is a short statement on the organization’s goals. It focused on the present, answering questions such as:
- What does your brand do?
- Whom are you serving?
- And how do you serve them?
A vision statement, on the other hand, has a more aspirational bent to it, and look towards the future. It answers questions like:
- What does your brand want to achieve 10 years from now?
- What does your brand stand for?
- How will your brand change the world for the better?
As you can tell, a vision statement makes you feel that your company is not just out for profit, but it also makes you feel that you’re working to build something bigger than yourself.
How about some examples to give you ideas?. Let’s take a look at Amazon’s mission and vision statements:
Mission: We strive to offer our customers the lowest possible prices, the best available selection, and the utmost convenience.
Vision: To be Earth’s most customer-centric company, where customers can find and discover anything they might want to buy online.
Some companies choose to blend their mission and vision statements. Some of my favorites are:
Facebook: Facebook’s mission is to give people the power to share and make the world more open and connected.
Patagonia: Build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis.
Warby Parker: To offer designer eyewear at a revolutionary price, while leading the way for socially conscious businesses.
Your brand’s core values are the principles that guide your company towards achieving its short and long-term goals. Taken together, these values represent an idealized version of your organization. In addition, your brand’s core values encapsulate the experience you want to create—both within your organization and among your partners, affiliates, and target audience.
Apple’s former CEO, the late Steve Jobs, had an elegant way of putting it:
“Marketing is about values. It’s a complicated and noisy world, and we’re not going to get a chance to get people to remember much about us. No company is. So we have to be really clear about what we want them to know about us.”
Here are the seven core values that made Apple one of the most recognizable and valuable brands over the years:
- We believe that we’re on the face of the Earth to make great products.
- We believe in the simple, not the complex.
- We believe that we need to own and control the primary technologies behind the products we make.
- We participate only in markets where we can make a significant contribution.
- We believe in saying no to thousands of projects so that we can really focus on the few that are truly important and meaningful to us.
- We believe in deep collaboration and cross-pollination of our groups, which allow us to innovate in a way that others cannot.
- We don’t settle for anything less than excellence in every group in the company, and we have the self-honesty to admit when we’re wrong and the courage to change.
A word of caution: You don’t create your core values; you identify them. For those values to stick, they need to be based on your personal values, your company’s backstory, and your brand’s purpose.
What are the values that have held the company together? What are the principles that can serve as pillars upon which your company is built on? Do you value integrity, exceptional customer service, and innovation? Or do you place more emphasis on reliability, security, and efficiency? Put them in your brand style guide!
And this is important: You need to tailor your brand’s core values so that they serve your customers in the best way possible. After all, your goal is to attract people who share and identify with your brand values.
If presented with clarity and carried out consistently, your brand values can create a positive company culture. This brings about a unified front, helping your teams create branded content that resonate with and create a positive experience for your customer base.
A well-written blog post full of actionable tips or a persuasive ad copy is a powerful tool for communicating a brand’s message to its consumers. However, pretty words can only take you so far.
If you want your organization’s message to create resonance and build trust among your audience, you need to adopt a brand voice and use it consistently.
Now would be a good time to go back to your organization’s mission (and vision) statement and core values. If you were to embody all these, how would you speak (e.g., friendly, professional, witty, intelligent)? What are the words and phrases you’re likely to use? What’s the tone you want to achieve? Put them all in your brand style guide. That way, every written content you put out, be it a blog post, an ad copy, an email newsletter, will sound like it’s written by the same person—no matter who has written them.
Protip: For your brand voice to be consistent, your writers also need to follow the same grammar and usage rules. Is it the AP Stylebook or The Chicago Manual of Style? Take your pick and specify it in the guide.
Need help on how to create a content style guide for your organization? Inkbot Editing’s editorial style guide template should set you on the right track.
Creating a visual identity guide
Good visuals can evoke powerful emotions among your audience, influencing them to react to your branded material in a positive way. Provide them with a consistent visual experience and you’ll win them over for life.
A brand’s visual identity consists of the following components:
- Color palette
Your brand logo is an indispensable part of your brand’s visual identity. After all, your brand logo is the face your company is showing to the world.
When you think Facebook, what is the first image you see in your mind’s eye? Exactly.
So, why is the Facebook logo so memorable? You guessed it: because its visual elements are presented consistently everywhere.
These visual elements include:
- The amount of space around the logo
- Color variations (different color variations prevent your brand logo from getting lost in different backgrounds)
- Minimum size and proportions
Protip: It’s a good idea to include a list of do’s and don’ts in your guide. Laying down a few ground rules will remind creatives not to take creative liberties that might compromise consistency.
Want an example? Facebook has been kind enough to make their logo guidelines available to the public.
For your brand’s visual identity to have a certain “look and feel,” decide on a color palette and stick with it. With the right context, colors can elicit moods and emotions, making them a powerful tool for creating experiences. If done consistently, they can turn satisfied customers into loyal brand advocates.
To ensure that your color palette is consistent across the board, include in your brand style guide the necessary hex codes for web use as well as the Pantone colors and CMYK color codes for printed material.
Want an example to serve as an inspiration? Check out Nice.org’s brand guidelines on color palette usage.
Protip: Adding and sending your brand’s colors to your design team is as frustrating as it is time-consuming. You can save time by using Brandfolder’s Workbench to go along with Adobe Photoshop to download your brand’s color palette.
Typography is the term used to describe the appearance of printed text. And no, it’s not interchangeable with “font.” Font (or typeface), however, serves a utilitarian function for typography, which is to convey written text in a way that’s legible, readable, and appealing.
Your brand typography involves visual elements that go beyond the appearance of the written text. These elements are kerning (the space between letters and words), leading (the space between lines of text), and tracking (the amount of spacing throughout an entire word).
Your messaging is enhanced and becomes clearer when all these elements (fonts, kerning, tracking, and leading) are used in the appropriate context. When used in conjunction with each other, they can signal the importance of each section on a page, making it easier to scan and read.
Here are considerations you need to make when developing your brand’s typography:
- What emotions or mood do you want the text, and the material for that matter, to evoke?
- Are the texts distinct from the rest of the page?
- Does the text complement the other visual elements on the page?
- Is it legible?
- Can you tell one section from another?
- Does your typographic hierarchy signal order of importance?
Once you’ve chosen the fonts you want to use for your brand’s written content, include them in the guide and provide a short explanation on where and how to use them. That’s something Atlassian did pretty well in their typography guide.
A powerful image can distill your brand’s essence and message in ways even words can’t. Whether it’s an Instagram photo, a billboard ad, or an image for a blog post, brand imagery can communicate mood, emotions, and feelings in one big cocktail, shaping how customers think and feel about your organization.
Powerful imagery has that something that most people can’t put into words; You need to see it to get it.
The desired effect becomes even more pronounced when your images consistently reflect your brand story and convey a consistent tone and set of emotions.
For your designers and photographers to be on the same page, your brand guidelines need to outline the rules that will help them represent your organization consistently through images.
Nike is a perfect example of a brand who uses the power of brand imagery to great effect and consistency. If you pick one Nike ad and remove its logo, there’s still no mistaking which company was behind it all.
Why is this? Because every Nike advertisement screams “Just Do It.” They convey determination, grit, and that unmistakable “make no excuses” attitude.
Your brand style guide’s section on brand imagery need not be long. Just explain how your brand must be presented to the world and you’re off to the races. Designers and photographers are visual people, so provide them with examples or a mood board to get their creative juices flowing.
Here’s how Nike did it:
See Nike’s full brand guide here.
Creating your brand style guide is just the first step. To maximize its use, make sure that you put it in a place where everyone can easily access and see it. With that done, your teams will be able to create content that your customers will easily recognize as belonging to your brand, earning their trust and loyalty.