Creating a brand style guide is the best way to establish a clear, effective marketing strategy. As we’ve discussed before on this blog, a clear brand identity quickly communicates what your business is about and helps customers determine whether they want to do business with you.
But if you have multiple team members working on your products, it’s easy to stray from your brand. Each person has a tendency to default to their own preferences.
This is where a brand style guide comes in. A style guide outlines the text, colors, and images that are associated with your company. When these ideas are written down, they become clearer to you and your employees. It provides a resource people can look to when working on your content, and it can help new employees adopt the principles of your brand more quickly. And if you ever need to revamp your brand, having a style guide makes it easy to assess what you want to keep and what needs a refresh.
What Should A Brand Style Guide Include?
Some style guides don’t include this, but having the mission statement visible ensures your employees know 1) what the mission is and 2) that it’s important. If your mission statement never appears anywhere and no one ever references it, that sends the message that it doesn’t matter all that much. In contrast, presenting the mission statement at the beginning of the style guide shows how every choice in the guide reflects your company’s mission.
HubSpot encourages companies to include a buyer persona in their style guides. A buyer persona is a description of your ideal customer. Who are you creating your product or service for? Who would be most interested in or benefit most from your company?
Knowing who you are creating for helps you make decisions that will work for your customers. Because creating for a specific market is so important, including this in your style guide reminds everyone that you are not creating for yourselves, but for a specific demographic. Decisions you make have to benefit your customers in measurable ways and fit with those customers’ values.
A strong logo should be distinctive from logos of other businesses in your industry or those of mega-brands that are well-known outside of their industry (such as McDonald’s or Nike). It needs to be easily identifiable and memorable, as well as easily replicated on a variety of mediums like websites, social media, t-shirts, and business cards.
Once you’ve chosen a logo, it’s a good idea to establish guidelines for where and how the company logo should be used. It’s also important to establish the size and aspect ratio of your logo so that if it needs to be enlarged or shrunk, it will not become distorted. You can also determine whether it requires a certain amount of white space on the edges and whether there are any acceptable variations in the logo (such as a black and white version). If there are acceptable variations, those need to be specific so that everything looks consistent enough that your customers won’t become confused.
Your brand’s color palette goes hand-in-hand with your logo. Every company should have between two and four colors that they associate with their brand, and usually, those colors are reflected in the logo. Remember, consistency and repetition are important for establishing your brand.
Choose distinctive, but coordinating colors. The colors you use need to be pleasing if customers are going to respond to them positively, and they need to be appropriate for your target market. The bright colors you might choose for a daycare center won’t be as effective for decorating a coffee shop or spa. 99Designs suggests choosing “one light color for backgrounds, a darker color for text, a neutral hue and also one that pops.”
Beyond establishing brand colors, be clear about the shade of colors you use. Simply saying your company uses “blue” isn’t specific enough. After all, each of the colors below is technically “blue,” but they look very different. You can establish very specific colors by using a Pantone name and number or an HTML code for the exact shade you want. 99Designs suggests RGB.to as a tool for converting your hex color code to other formats like CSS, but here at TracSoft we also like HTMLcolorcodes.com as a resource when you first start considering colors and shades.
The next step for most companies is to establish typography rules that govern which font styles and sizes your brand will use. Readability is the most important feature of a font, so make sure you select one that can be read easily and does not have multiple letters that look too similar or could be mistaken for one another. Also consider the spacing between individual letters and words. Remember that your font may be used on small printed materials like business cards as well as larger materials like banners or signs, so it needs to be legible when scaled-up or scaled-down.
Like your logo and color palette, it’s important to choose a font that sets the appropriate tone for your business. A futuristic, blocky font won’t go over well for a business in the wedding industry, and the dainty cursive script that suits that wedding business will be odd for a gym serving bodybuilders. Likewise, that cursive scrip from the wedding business may be difficult to read for the older customers at an assisted living facility. Fonts must meet the expectations and practical needs of your customers.
Another consideration is whether you want to license the font or use a font that is free for commercial use. You do run the risk that other businesses will end up using the same popular, free font, however, if you’re a small or medium-sized business, using free fonts can save you some money — just be sure your free font really is free. DesignRoast.org has compiled a great list of websites that offer free commercial use fonts, and Google Fonts offers 999 free licensed fonts to get you started.
Once you know how your business’ words should look, it’s time to figure out how they should sound. Every writer has a voice, which is made up of the kinds of words the writer uses as well as their tone. Details like whether your business communications use contractions, short or more complex words, industry jargon or everyday language all matter. Think about your intended audience and how they communicate, as well as what’s authentic for your business.
You may find it helpful to look at examples of popular style guides, especially if you want to establish grammar rules for your business (maybe you’re sticking with the Oxford comma, or maybe you’re nixing it, for instance). One of the most widely-used style guides was developed by the Associated Press, and since it’s popular, many of your employees may already be familiar with it. There’s also the Chicago Style, which is similar. The Balance actually has a pretty nice run-down of style guides with advice on how to choose the right style guide for your industry. However, if you’re in a more creative industry like marketing, you may find it more beneficial to check out brand style guides from companies with high brand-recognition.
Some businesses find it beneficial to establish guidelines for images they use. If you’re working will illustrations, these guidelines might clarify the style of the illustrations as well as the color palette they use, the medium they are created in, and the subject matter they represent, as well as how and where they are used.
For photographs, you should consider details like size and aspect ratio, lighting, and filters that are acceptable. You may want to spell out what kind of image retouching is or is not allowed for your company’s images, and again, like with illustrations, what subject matter your photographs should capture.
Since social media is such an important element of marketing and customer outreach, it’s really important to set up rules for the kinds of posts that are or are not acceptable for your company. Consider things like the voice used in social media posts, image guidelines, rules for resharing content like memes, the correct protocol for responding to positive or negative comments, as well as how edgy or mainstream you want your posts to be. Again, much of what is acceptable depends on your customer base and industry. If you’re a comedy club that’s known for acts that push boundaries, you can get away with posts that might be considered disrespectful or distasteful for a funeral home. Similarly, that same funeral home’s posts might be considered syrupy or maudlin coming from your comedy club.
How Should I Format My Brand Style Guide?
When I say “style guide,” those words might conjure up nightmares of formatting research papers back in high school. You might picture a stale handbook full of tedious details. However, lots of companies are using technology to create more engaging brand guides.
Venngage has created a fun infographic template for brand style guides that utilizes color and images to make the content more engaging. This would be a great tool to blow up and hang in an office or to print and laminate for employees to keep at their desks.
Another option is to create a PowerPoint or slide deck where each slide is dedicated to one aspect of your brand: logo and its appropriate uses, colors, or fonts, for instance. Including a table of contents on the second slide makes it easy for users to “flip” to the slide they need.
While brand identity is important, it doesn’t have to be boring. Getting your employees involved in creating your brand style guide can be a fun way to get them on board with using the guide. And when you have everyone on the same page, that’s going to make your brand identity that much more cohesive.
Does your company need a brand overhaul? Are you worried your brand isn’t clear enough? TracSoft works with companies to establish an effective brand as part of our digital marketing services. We can help you create an effective ad campaign that communicates who you are as a company, and engages your customers in exciting new ways. Contact TracSoft today and find out how we can help your business go farther.
Your website is the heart of your brand. It’s the place where your brand identity is most fully expressed. If your website isn’t communicating who you are, contact TracSoft to find out how we can help you redesign your website (or create a new one) that gets to the core of who your business is. Don’t let poor web design hold you back. Work with the experts at TracSoft and discover your company’s true potential!