Brand guidelines – sometimes called a brand bible or a style guide – will help you to form a strong and consistent brand identity which will represent you to your customers.
A clear brand strategy will be informed by your overarching business plan, drawing on your mission statement and extending across visual style through to tone of voice in communications.
This identity will stretch across the digital – from your website and emails and social media channels – to analogue materials such as your business cards, leaflets and letterheads.
It is essential to have such a document in place. This will act as a reference point for you, your employees and any external agencies, allowing your business to develop a strong, memorable brand identity and giving you confidence in your business.
Some of the biggest brands in the world – like Apple and Google – have guidelines which define their identity. When you see an Apple advert, you know what to expect; this is because consistency has allowed their corporate identity to become widely recognisable.
To build a similarly strong profile, you should follow the same principle: set out your guidelines and follow them consistently.
Because brand guidelines are such comprehensive documents, it can be difficult to know where to start. But ultimately, the overall document is composed of three strands coming together:
- Who you are and what you do
- Your visual identity
- How you communicate
By thinking of your brand book in these terms, you can make it easier for yourself to compile a set of guidelines. Here’s how to approach it:
Who are you? What do you do?
This first strand will explain exactly who you are and what you do; it should incorporate your mission statement and brand values, your positioning and strategy. This section will be informed by your business plan.
A mission statement is a set of guiding principles for your business; a good one will help to determine your business’ growth as well as shaping your strategy.
Your strategy doesn’t need to be in-depth – don’t give away any secrets to success, as non-employees may see this document – but it should give a rough idea of how you plan to achieve your mission statement through positive work practices.
Your positioning – where you see yourself in the market and where you aspire to be – can help you to establish yourself as either a challenger to businesses in the same sector or as a market-leader in the industry.
Visual identity – building the components
The visual identity of your business could perhaps be your biggest asset, so feel free to be as comprehensive as you like in this section. Think of your visual identity as a jigsaw puzzle which is made up of several small components.
Your logo has the potential to be the single most recognisable jigsaw piece; think of the number of brands you can name because of their logo (Nike, Apple, Google, Starbucks, Amazon… the list goes on). A good logo will ‘fit’ your company name.
While things like fonts and colour schemes may seem less important, they can play a psychological role in telling people what your business is about.
Colour psychology is a documented phenomenon which recognises that colour carries specific meaning, while fonts have certain characteristics (such as reliable and strong, or fun and playful; think Arial compared to Comic Sans).
As such, having an established colour palette which gives guidance on the appropriate use of colours across online and offline materials, as well as a distinctive font, can shape the way your business is viewed. For an easy checklist of things to include in your visual identity, see this handy guide by clicking here.
Communication and your company voice
Consistent communication with your customers is essential to fostering a strong brand identity.
Branded communications – including letterheads, invoices, email signatures, and business cards – should all use similar design elements and be consistent with your visual identity.
Equally importantly, all of these should be delivered using the same tone of voice (or writing style, whichever term you prefer). Tone is an important aspect of your brand which stands apart from visual identity but which plays an equally important role.
This is because tone creates associations – helpful, direct, straight-talking, informative, friendly, and so on – which will feed back into your brand identity. This will help to foster a consistent voice which will make your brand and business recognisable.
Secondly, the sort of language you use in your written communications is important.
Language can be flowery and decorative or it can be simple and clean. Neither is necessarily right or wrong, but use will depend on circumstance; a design agency may opt for the former, while the latter would be more suitable for a construction firm.
This is where an editorial and style guide can be useful, offering guidance on which language is most appropriate. This will help to keep your communications consistent and relevant.
Finally, decide on the channels through which you will communicate with your customers. If you decide to use social media, then consider your digital strategy. If you don’t want to use social media, there are other ways to develop a brand identity online.
To sum it up…
The best brand guidelines are detailed and informative without being dry or demanding. They should set out the rules without complicating them.
It can help to look at some other style guides to familiarise yourself with the format before you begin to construct your own, as they can offer some inspiration.
For something simple and easy to follow, you can take a look at the style guide of the Barbican Centre. Despite its 86 pages, it is a beautifully constructed and text-light piece of work which makes it easy to understand how the brand should be presented.
Equally, the Mozilla Firefox guidelines are detailed yet comprehensive. These give some more guidance on the correct use of the Mozilla brand elements, while also being digestible.
The Adobe guidelines are more complex and comprehensive than most; the company was established in 1982 and has built a strong profile since then. These guidelines help the company to maintain that identity.
At the other end of the spectrum, guidelines can also be fun. Skype has a playful style guide which sets out how the brand should be presented.
Style guides are comprehensive, complex and sometimes unwieldy documents. Taking the work on by yourself could be a drag, especially if you’re not confident when it comes to creative design.
If that is the case, you can commission a designer or design agency to do the work for you, which will give you oversight of the project without the stress of designing and compiling it yourself. Check out our guide to outsourcing for SMEs to help you get started.