A brand guide is simply a set of parameters for what your brand looks like and sounds like. If you were online dating, the brand guide would be the profile that gives all the dets about your look, personality, style and habits. Having a brand guide places boundaries on how partners, employees and even you yourself talk about your start-up or small business. Having a brand guide for your business is immensely helpful, because even an owner or leader tends to communicate in a personal way. The idea of a branding guide is to set a standard that delineates the words and look of your company so that, as your digital presence grows, you are increasingly recognizable.
What is a Brand Guide?
A brand guide should, first and foremost, be something everyone in your team agrees on. Second, it should include vital elements such as the graphics, language and marketing ideologies you intend to follow. Third, it may include additional elements that extend to your mission, vision or values. These three components loosely form the basis for a meaningful brand guide. Whatever you create should be relevant and compelling enough that it is the first thing you give to a new hire to tell them who you are.
Every major company in the world has a brand guide (and every small company should). Here are some examples of recognizable brands and the way they set forth guidelines around who they are, what they look like and what they sound like:
These are obviously all externally-focused, aimed at helping the public understand how they may use branded material. Your brand guide will have similar ideas but be aimed at company employees and your internal team.
What is in a Brand Guide?
Your brand guide is the visible manifest that articulates your shared vision for who your company is in the marketplace. This means that the ideas represented in it are fairly stable and have full agreement among stakeholders. Everyone involved in portraying or representing your company will be fully familiar with it. There are numerous elements that should be included in a brand guide:
- Company logo: what is it and why does it look that way?
- Colors: the colors both in your logo and that are approved for use in digital and print collateral.
- Fonts: all of the fonts that are approved for website and print use (be sure to choose a web font).
- Buzzwords and terms: list the words that describe your company and the terms or phrases you want people to use when they talk about your business.
- Company personality: describe your personality, whether it is staunchly professional, defiantly laid back or warm and personable.
- Company voice: describe the voice that will be used to communicate, both the tone and the grammatical style.
- Mission, vision, values: you may wish to include your vision statement and core values.
The goal of a brand guide is to be timeless, so it should not include temporal things like goals, numbers or dates. It is important that the brand guide briefly and generally describe the full scope of your company, so there shouldn't be separate guides for departments (although there may be additional style guides if you have very specific graphic or copy creation guidelines).
Why Use a Brand Guide?
Branding is a vital step to a new company and re-branding is a common practice for companies that have been around for a while. I often find that small businesses that have been around for multiple generations and are under new management, either in the family or outside, find themselves in need of an updated look and feel. This is simply a function of the fact that a style changes or can be the result of being a small business that never had these conversations or made these style decisions. Honestly, I've even worked in larger businesses where nobody had access to an original file of the logo. It happens.
So, here are a few reasons you may look into creating a brand guide:
- You are a brand new company and need to establish your style and brand guidelines.
- You never made one and realize that your team is using any font, any color and your lingo is all over the place.
- You are hiring freelancers or contract workers and have nothing to show them as they start working on graphics or copy.
- Your family business never thought of a brand guide back in the day and it's time to standardize and streamline your brand presence.
- You are re-branding an existing company with a new look and feel.
Because we are freelancers, we have worked with numerous brands. Some of these brands are large and well-established and some of them are small. Somehow, this doesn't seem to matter much, as there is still a wide variety of ways people approach and standardize branding. There may be large companies with scattered branding and tiny companies with meticulous branding.
Let us just say: if you do this well, you will avoid a lot of confusion and will ensure that your digital presence, online presence, print materials and more are cohesive and professional. This is worth putting the time into as it will save you time in the future. The exercises alone are valuable for your team, as you are forced to put pen to paper (as it were) and articulate a shared vision and culture.