When you’re diving into the complex task of trying to build a sustainable business, branding may sound like something that should be one of the least of your concerns. Not many people realize how much a strong brand identity helps build trust, and ultimately, your business in the long run.
Below is a brief discussion of what a brand guideline is, what it does, why you should create one, and how to go about it.
What it is a brand guideline?
A brand guideline can be referred to as a number of things—style guide, brand standards, brand book, brand guide, etc.
But in essence, it’s a document that serves as a tool for establishing your brand’s identity. It guides employees, designers, content creators, and marketers in communicating a consistent message.
Some things a brand guideline might include are:
- Logos (including color schemes and size)
- Color palette
- Tone of voice
- Stylistic guidelines
What’s the purpose of having a brand guide?
A brand guideline not only gives content creators and marketers a framework to work with; it also gives structure to the brand’s identity – one that sets it apart from the competition and gives the brand consistency and cohesion.
As pointed out by Forbes, the importance of cohesion is that it establishes a strong brand voice which would then resonate with the audience. This, in the end, is an essential part of building brand awareness. When committed to over a period of time, that same awareness and consistency would start establishing trust.
Part of that trust cultivation is in the way brand standards help maintain an image of professionalism. This goes beyond using a particular tone of voice. The consistency in color schemes and logo use across all platforms also emits professionalism, which easily circles back to trust.
How to Create a Brand Guideline
Identify your brand mission and values
Far too often, mission statements focus too much on stringing together words that merely result in empty jingoism and buzzwords.
These conceptual and vague statements do little to guide the company and its employees in having and maintaining a competitive edge, nor do they provide motivation and a daily mission to fuel their workdays.
Here’s what your mission statement should clearly establish:
- Your company’s purpose
- Your brand’s reason for existence
- The difference it strives to make in the world
As pointed out by Goalcast, identifying your mission statement not only creates strong brand differentiation and inspires consumer passion and engagement; it also immediately helps your employees figure out if they fit in.
Meanwhile, your vision statement should be able to point the company towards what it aspires to become, ensuring that you don’t lose sight of your end goal. Goalcast notes that your vision should also serve as an outcome that you can test decisions and opportunities against.
These include questions like:
- How big would you allow your company to be?
- How soon, if at all, would you want to branch out?
- Does a merger make sense for the company?
Your mission-vision statement is an integral starting and end point – helping you make strategic business decisions that will ultimately define your brand.
Build a likable brand personality
Brand personality has a huge impact on the voice and tone used in your communication channels. If you wing it and fail to establish a particular personality, it’s easy for customers to get mixed messages, thereby making it harder for them to connect and identify with your brand.
One cliché, albeit effective, approach is to ask yourself: If your brand was a person, what would it be like?
Maybe it’s witty, confident, creative, a doer—whatever collection of traits you decide upon, turn it into a statement, and let it guide you in your overall messaging.
Apple, for instance, has established itself as a brand that marries the elements of simplicity and innovation. Coca-cola, on the other hand, conveys sincerity and excitement with its advertisements (think of the “Share A Coke” campaign).
Here’s another example:
“Lucidpress surprises you with its intelligence, wit, and ability to get the job done.”
Determine your target audience
Equally important as the two steps above is identifying your target audience. You can’t be everything to everyone, so you’ll need to get specific. Simply saying you’re targeting women aged 18 to 24 won’t cut it.
You can instead focus on the following:
- Single moms working from home
- Digital marketing professionals working for startups
- Fresh IT graduates
Clearly determining your target helps you understand exactly what types of people you want to buy your products, visiting your website, consuming your content, and subscribing to your emails.
This exercise will also benefit the brand building process. It narrows your audience focus and ensures that your messages are always tailored, allowing it to come across as clear as can be.
Know your competition
The first step is identifying your direct competition – meaning brands that sell/market the same products are your business. To do this, you’ll need to have a thorough understanding of your product and what value it brings to your customers.
Here are some techniques you can use to identify competitors:
- Market research – Scan the market and see which products could potentially compete with yours. Your sales team should have good insight into this, drawing from their experiences during the sales process.
- Customer feedback – Simply asking what other brands your customers were considering before deciding on you goes a long way. Some brands that you didn’t even consider competition may come up – this will allow you to look at ways to further your efforts. Along with identifying competitors through customer feedback, you’ll get a better understanding of what it is your customers are looking for, and what their specific needs are.
- Online conversations – In today’s world, social media recommendations play a huge part in purchasing decisions. Outside of Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, you can also look at conversations in spaces like Quora and Reddit to get a better feel for who you’re competing against.
Once you identify your competitors, you can begin the process towards differentiating from them, thereby convincing your target to choose you over them.
6 Elements Your Brand Guide Needs
Brand story – It’s not the entire story, but a summary that not only introduces your brand to the world but gives people insight into why you do what you do.
Here’s how Apple nailed it:
“Apple’s 100,000 employees are dedicated to making the best products on earth, and to leaving the world better than we found it.”
Logo – It’s relatively easy to come up with a singular logo, but you need to ensure that you cover all the bases, especially with optimizing how it looks in different environments. This also includes all approved versions of your logo, and how and when they will be used. Other aspects include:
- What colors your logo should be placed over
- What directional orientation of the logo can be used
- Minimum size and proper proportions
- Colors and its variations
Color palette – Most brands stick to, at the most, four main colors (refer to image above). Sticking to these helps audiences identify your brand, and gives it a consistent look and feel. It’s advisable to pick one lighter color for backgrounds, a darker color for text, a neutral hue, and one that pops.
You also need to include specific info on how to reproduce these colors wherever branding collaterals may appear. This include:
- Color match (Pantone name and number)
- Print color (CMYK)
- Digital color (RGB and HEX codes)
Typography – Fonts are also a big part of having a consistent brand identity. Brands usually stick to two fonts (header and body fonts), with your header font being more stylized, while the body font is more legible and clean. Elements to specify include:
- Kerning limit
- Leading limit
- Font colors to be used and when
- Weights to be used and how
Imagery – Being a small business, you may not yet have a catalog of images that have worked well for you in the past. What you can do instead is look at images bigger brands use and collect examples of what you feel fits your branding. This should give you an idea of how you want your own imagery to eventually look.
Voice – Apart from the tone of voice in your copy, this is also important in how you communicate with your customers. For instance, a law firm or a higher education institute may have stricter rules about their use of tone of voice on social media when compared with a resort or clothing company. Identify which voice reflects your brand, and be consistent with it across all channels.
Managing a business can be a daunting task that could often be overwhelming. Setting up a brand guideline amidst the sea of tasks you need to accomplish may seem counterintuitive, but if you do it correctly, you’ll find that doing so guides a lot of the important decisions you’ll need to make in the future.
What are some of your favorite brands? What about their branding stands out for you? Sound off in the comments section below!
Guest Author: Aaron Chichioco
Aaron is a digital PR / business columnist. He has a vast experience in overseeing daily operations of several online businesses since 2011. He is currently employed with grit.ph. You can follow Aaron on twitter at @Aaron_Chichioco