You work hard on your marketing. You try to keep everything consistent across your website, your digital marketing, your print collateral and even the signage in your office. However, it can be difficult to keep all the various details of your brand straight, especially if you don’t currently have set brand guidelines in place. This can become even more of a challenge when collaborating with partners or third-party vendors, such as an agency or freelancers.
Looking for a way to reduce the chaos? Investing the time to create clear brand guidelines is sure to help. Read on to find out what you need to know about the purpose of brand guidelines, what to include and how to roll them out effectively for your company.
The Higher Purpose of Brand Guidelines
Like any other procedure or process document, effective brand guidelines provide a clear road map of how to handle questions or processes in a specific area, reducing inefficiency and improving consistency. The purpose of brand guidelines is to do this for, specifically, your brand — including messaging, content, visuals and any other marketing piece.
Brand awareness hinges largely on the ability to offer a consistent representation of your brand. Your brand guidelines essentially serve as gospel for how you wish to convey your marketing to your audience.
What Should Brand Guidelines Include?
In order to make sure your brand guidelines are as effective as possible, there are several things they absolutely need to include. Use this guide to develop content that meets the needs of your brand.
The Basics: Mission, Vision and Values
Every decision you make about your brand is to help articulate these core items. The purpose of brand guidelines is to help serve your company’s mission, vision and values, and ensure that they’re consistently represented across every channel.
In addition to these core statements, you may opt to include additional contextual storytelling information. This could be a brief history of the company, leadership bios or a letter from the founder. Having this foundational information helps set the stage for creating great marketing materials and bringing the brand to life consistently.
This section of your brand guidelines is critical for defining how you speak about your brand, products, services and team. This is information that can be used on your website that’s specific to the value you offer customers, the company culture you aim to create and your vision for growth. This gives your internal team an idea of how to craft external messages in a way that’s accurate to your brand’s vision and values.
This is a good area to include a SWOT analysis, brand differentiators, product-specific information and an abbreviated competitor analysis. This lets anyone who is writing about your brand speak accurately to what you’re able to offer employees. If there are any topics that are not meant to be mentioned in your messaging, include those too!
Voice & Tone
If your messaging section defines what you’re saying about your brand, then your voice and tone section defines how you’re saying it. Include adjectives to describe how your brand’s personality should come through in writing. Are you authoritative and assertive? Or are you more friendly and approachable? Should your writers be playful and witty, or focus more on facts and explanations? Include this direction in this section.
You should also include a few short samples of your brand voice done well in headlines, subheadlines and body content to give anyone writing for your brand a clear idea of how you things should flow.
If you subscribe to a particular grammatical style, this is the place to mention it. Within your brand guidelines, it’s generally a good idea to include grammatical guides to ensure that things are written consistently. This includes addresses, phone numbers, dates and quotes.
You should also include rules for how to write and capitalize your brand name, product names and any specific quirks about your writing style. Do you allow abbreviations or nicknames for certain things? Prefer the word “guests’” over “customers”? Is it “e-commerce,” or is it “eCommerce” or is it “ecommerce”? Are your headings in title case or sentence case? This is the place to include that kind of information.
Your logo should be the single most recognizable feature of your brand. Dedicate a section of your brand guidelines specific to your logo, including the clear space that’s required around it, how it should be presented and any alternate colors. Also, be sure to include allowed lockups and icon versions; if you have a horizontal version, vertical version, square version, or mark-only version, those should all be mentioned in this section, as well.
Be sure to also include what not to do — many companies see teams, vendors or employees who tend to “go rogue” with resizing or recoloring logos. If a policy against this isn’t published, there’s no easy way to enforce that this is not acceptable and they shouldn’t be doing so.
This section includes all graphic elements related to your brand other than your logo. Colors, fonts and visual treatment items all go here. Be sure to include color numbers for various systems including HTML, CMYK and PMS to ensure that graphic designers and printers are able to consistently produce your colors, wherever they may be.
You should also include guidelines for photography, illustrations and iconography. If you use stock photography within your marketing, include sources and examples. If you have a proprietary illustration or icon treatment, include examples and where to find the appropriate files.
Channel-Specific & Collateral Guidelines
If your content strategy includes social media, video, blogging or other outlets, you should include any specific information about how to create this content. This is a place to include example social media posts, video graphics or display ads.
In addition to digital items, there’s a pretty good chance that you’ll also need guidelines for printed items. Branded collateral, such as letterhead, business cards, tee shirts, signage and anything else with your logo on, needs to be accounted for. Be sure to include where to find print-resolution and vector logo files for printed items.
Where to Get Help
There’s no way to account for 100% of questions related to your brand, and that isn’t the purpose of brand guidelines. In closing and throughout, include contact information for your marketing department and how to submit a request or question. You should set up a general email address rather than use a specific individual’s contact information so that your brand guidelines remain relevant in the event of employee turnover.
Rolling Out Brand Guidelines
Like most other standard operating procedures, brand guidelines are only effective if everyone follows them. Communicating the intent behind your company’s brand guidelines will be critical to gaining buy-in from your team — the purpose of the guidelines is to make their lives easier and reduce questions about how to represent the brand. The intent isn’t to create extra work or upset the status quo.
As you begin creating your brand guidelines, be sure to get a pulse from key members of the team about anything to include that may be helpful for their specific needs or role. If you have buy-in and excitement from your key players, they’re likely to pass along that attitude to the rest of the company.
Your brand guidelines should not be set in stone but should instead function as a living document. It’s important to regularly audit your brand guidelines, like any other marketing piece. Every year or so, flip through and ensure that no updates need to be made and that everything included is still timely and relevant.