Brand guidelines, sometimes referred to as brand identity guidelines, are a document that can be used to help build and identify your brand.
When your company works on a new branding project or undergoes a rebrand, you should be given brand guidelines on completion of the project.
This document can then be used both internally and externally to ensure consistency and continuity with your brand’s visual identity.
However, there is often more to it than that.
As well as documenting and referencing your brand identity, brand guidelines often include your strategy, brand story, and mission. As well as the language used to communicate your brand.
Your brand guidelines are a document that anyone could pick up, look through, and fully understand your brand.
Why are Brand Guidelines Important?
Brand guidelines are important, because your company will not always be dealing with it’s branding agency.
If you buy print advertising, or any other type of advertising, you’re buying space or real estate for your brand.
Sure, your branding agency can create the ad for you, but maybe you’ve decided to bring that in-house.
Your new graphic designer needs to be able to understand how the brand was setup.
Or, perhaps you’re buying TV advertising, and your branding agency don’t get involved in motion graphics.
You would need to take your brand guidelines to an agency that does that kind of work, and get them to create something based off the guidelines.
At Canny, we’ve done some work just like this.
Back in 2014, we worked with a company called Armit Wines. Their brand identity was already in place, but they were setting up a “Spanish Wine Fiesta.”
We were brought in to create a brand within their existing brand, and therefore had to carefully construct the sub-brand, consulting their brand guidelines along the way.
A well constructed brand guideline document should be completely functional, and allow anybody to understand your brand.
Who Should Create Your Brand Guidlines?
Your branding agency should create the brand guideline document at the end, or as they progress through, the branding or rebranding project.
It’s a job that should be specifically outlined in their proposal, so make sure it is before you sign on the dotted line.
You might think that your new company logo and business cards are the most important part of a branding or rebranding exercise, but I’d argue they’re the most minor part.
Your brand, and how it’s presented, how it should and shouldn’t communicate, and what it looks and feels like is what’s important. Not just the logo design.
At the end of your project, your branding agency should hand over all assets, as well as a PDF version of your new brand guidelines, clearly explaining how the assets should be put to use.
What Should Be Included in Your Brand Guidelines
So, what should be included in your brand guideline document?
Well, just like anything else, you can go for the basic outline, or the fully comprehensive approach.
Often, for smaller companies or startups, something basic and quick to read is the best route.
However, if you’re in charge of a company like Google, or Amazon, then you’ll need something more comprehensive.
Let’s explore both options:
What Should Be Included in a Basic Brand Guideline Document
A basic brand guideline document will often bypass the brand strategy, mission, and vision, side of things, and go straight to the visuals.
Whilst we don’t necessarily agree that that’s the best route forward, let’s take a look at this approach first:
The first thing that should be shown in your brand guidelines is your logo design.
This is the main form of the logo, and the design that you would expect to see 90% of the time.
Your logo variations are the other logo designs that your brand could use.
This always trips people up.
If your logo has a logo mark to the left, and the text to the right, it doesn’t always need to be used in that layout.
Make sure you also have a vertical version. A version without text. A version without the logo mark and so on.
Think about McDonald’s and how they use their logo:
- A big yellow M by the side of the road
- Yellow M and McDonald’s text on the building itself
- Full or reduced versions of the logo on their packaging
- Big white M painted on the drive-thru floor
It’s important that your logo design is fully flexible.
And all of these versions of your logo need represented within your brand guidelines.
Logo Reversed & Monochrome
This touches on what we’ve just talked about.
Sure, your logo should mainly exist in it’s primary colour palette. But then you need to show it in reverse, on a different colour background, and often in full black.
If your logo design is effective, your agency won’t have any problem presenting it in these different formats.
Your responsive logo is the version that might be used on smaller screens such as a tablet or mobile phone.
This section will instruct you how to use the logo across a range of devices, showing how the logo can change when it gets to a certain size to still make it recognisable.
The space around your logo is often as important as the logo itself.
If your logo is cramped into a tiny space, surrounded by conflicting elements, it won’t look professional at all.
Your logo should be displayed with “x-height” guides, showing how much clear space should be around the logo at all times.
There should also be an indication of how small you should take your logo at any given time.
This ties into the responsive logo mentioned above.
Usually, a minimum size in millimetres is given, and then the alternative responsive design would kick in and be used from there.
Your brand’s specific font or typography should be documented in full.
This should include, the font used within the logo, as well as;
The document should outline the fonts used, where you can get access to them, and the sizes they should be used at – relational to each other.
Your brand colours exist in two parts:
- Primary brand colours
- Secondary brand colours
The primary colours are often the colours found in your logo design, plus a version of black, or versions of black, used as your main text.
Secondary colours exist to add depth to a brand’s colour palette.
These might be used across other forms of advertising, such as leaflets, exhibition stands, or your website.
When you’re creating marketing materials, it’s important to have flexibility while remaining “on brand.”
Photography or illustration can be a play pivotal role in the identification of your brand.
It’s important that a consistent photographic or illustrative style is established from the outset.
This section of the guidelines will usually feature a selection of appropriate images, and a selection of inappropriate images.
This will focus mainly on light, composition, and subject matter.
Photographers and illustrators find this section particularly useful if they’re being brought in to help your brand.
Your brand stationery should also be documented within your guidelines.
This should include (at a minimum), your business cards and letterheads.
When you’re adding new staff members, and getting additional business cards printed, you can use the document created by your agency, to help create the new business cards.
Then, hand the document over to the printers, and explain they can find the relevant part of the document on Page X.
Some brands go as far as to note down paper stocks and finishes, so they can ensure consistency across all of their stationery.
For reference; that’s the right route forward!
Social Media Assets
The last thing typically included in the most basic of brand guidelines is social media assets.
What do your avatars look like? How about your header images? And even the content itself.
With so many varying degrees of social media content, it’s important to establish a base style and build up from there.
We recently worked on some Instagram content for a new fitness group.
We ensured their Instagram stories aligned to their Instagram feed squares, which aligned to their Twitter and Facebook posts.
Consistency helps get your brand recognised, especially in the noisy social media space.
Digital Marketing 101 dictates that you’re consistent in your approach, and your visual identity needs to be part of that consitent approach too.
A More Comprehensive Approach to Brand Guidelines
The above covered off the basics that should be included in all brand guideline documents.
More comprehensive brand guidelines include all of the above, and more.
Your brand mission is the “what” and the “how” of your company.
As we wrote in The Ultimate Small Business Branding Guide:
Sometimes called a mission statement, or company values, your brand’s mission is what defines you as a company.
Your brand mission should be included in any sort of in-depth brand guidelines.
Usually, we’d include this and your brand story together at the front of the style guide before you get into any brand identity or brand visuals.
Your brand story is the “why” of your company.
Why you’re setting out to change the world. Why your brand matters. And why you’re different.
Your brand story isn’t just what you tell people, it’s also what people think about your brand. So you need to have your ideal story developed, to work your brand strategy around communicating it properly.
Tone of Voice
The tone of voice of your brand is all to do with the language you use and how you communicate.
Are your emails signed off with; “Thanks, thank you, regards, kind regards, faithfully, yours sincereley…”
Do you greet people with; “Hi, hey, hello, howdy…”
The tone of voice your brand uses can help accentuate the brand you want to communicate.
If your company has a physical premises, signage would be a common find inside your brand guideline documents.
Are your signs flat, plastic vinyl?
Or are they built up and illuminated?
How do you use your brand identity within your signage?
These are all considerations that should be addresses within your new guideline document.
Full Library of Graphic Elements
Your full library of graphic elements from logos, to photography, type, icons, etc all form your full library of graphic elements.
Within your brand guidelines, these should all be clearly outlined.
On completion of reading through your brand guidelines, you should know exactly how your brand will communicate and how the assets should be used.
There’s something else to consider in terms of your brand guidelines. And that’s how your brand is represented online.
Website Style Tile or Web Style Guide
Your website design is an important part of your brand’s communication.
But how does this fit into a brand guideline?
Well, professional design agencies are now starting to create website style tiles. These tiles are then used to show the basics of a brand’s online presence.
They list out:
Fonts, colours, image types, how type interacts with imagery and more.
A brand website style tile can easily fit into your brand guidelines and give you an idea of how to use your brand identity online.
Conclusion: A Step-by-Step Guide to Creating Brand Guidelines
Your brand guidelines are the complete guide to your brand. Both strategy, identity, and sometimes, even website.
It’s important that your brand guidelines don’t live to collect dust. It’s a living, growing, breathing document.
They should be used when communicating with new suppliers or bringing people into the company.
They should also be added to and changed as your company grows and develops.
You run a new campaign and something works? Get it in the guidelines to use going forward.
If you change something, make sure your guidelines are brought up to date.
Your brand guidelines are the comprehensive guide to your brand and company. Use them as the tool they were intended to be.
What do you think? How important are your brand guidelines to the success of your operations? Let us know in the comments below.