What Are Brand Guidelines and Why They Matter
Have you ever turned on the TV in the middle of a commercial and immediately recognized it was an ad for Target? How were you able to identify the brand? You remember their colors, shapes, flashy transitions, and bright imagery with upbeat music. Many of these visual decisions are laid out and defined in brand guidelines. Also known as style guides or brand standards, this set of instructions and defined visual rules are how a brand works.
So why are brand guidelines important to have?
- They unify chosen elements into the look and feel of a company’s brand. Your brand is the public face of your business; it shapes the way clients and customers perceive and recognize you. To build brand recognition, you need consistent and cohesive messaging people can distinguish and remember. Having a steady visual tone is a great way to build recognition and this begins with a defined style.
- When working with a large team or creatives outside your team, brand guidelines provide a base visual style across the board. Consistency is key for a strong brand; having the same set of visual rules as a point of reference for everyone is paramount. Additionally, brand guidelines become a stylistic foundation for your creative team, giving them tools to work with within your brand and allowing them to build further depending on the project.
It is essential to create your brand guidelines at the outset of your business endeavor. Many companies have a logo created for them and then stop, thinking that’s all that’s necessary for branding. Taking the time to set up brand guidelines from the beginning is much easier than after a marketing campaign or two. Setting your brand standards also acts as discovery process, helping you to fully flush out your foundation for marketing.
Secondly, having the design DNA of your brand established will allow new team members to learn and acclimate to the standards quickly and efficiently without disrupting your messaging.
Now that we understand why brand guidelines are important, what should be included? There are two main categories to define: Design and Brand.
- Logo: You have a logo in mind and maybe it’s already drawn up and set. But how will it look in different spaces? On black? In a footer? Next to other logos? This section ensures it appears as intended at all times. All approved versions of your logo should be shown with examples to avoid misrepresentation.
- Size: List the minimum size and proper proportions that your logo should be displayed at, using inches or millimeters for print and pixels for digital.
- Space: If your logo requires a certain amount of white space around it, give clear instructions.
- Colors: Show variations (reversed, in color, black, white, grayscale) and when to use them.
- Don’ts: It can be just as important to show how you don’t want your logo to be used. Prohibit stretching, altering, condensing, or re-aligning of your logo to maintain brand integrity.
- Color Palette: Picking colors for your logo and brand defines the look and feel and is a large part of creating your brand’s identity. Try to use only a handful of colors that work well together; generally, this means a base color, an accent color that contrasts, and sometimes a neutral hue or two. Once you have established your color palette, don’t stray far from them on your branded materials. Remember, a consistent look and feel builds brand recognition.
It is helpful to include swatches of each color and the following color codes describing them: PANTONE (PMS) name and number, CMYK print color, RGB and HEX digital codes. These will allow your brand colors to be reproduced accurately.
- Typography: Selecting your fonts and how they are used is another key component to creating your brand. Set rules such as alignment and spacing (tracking and kerning), and note when each font is to be used in the style guide.
- Other: You may want to also have a guide for what types of photography and imagery should be used with your brand, whether it be examples given or a description of the look and feel. Templates and grids are sometimes included with brand guidelines, for brands with a carefully structured layout formula.
- Mission, vision, elevator pitches: These tell the story of your business and what your purpose is. They give insight to what your brand is about and help your team understand the heart of your company.
- Editorial style: The content is just as important as how visually appealing it is; defining vocabulary and verbal tone in the writing will help your team create content that is consistent with your brand.
Your brand guidelines will help create a consistent and cohesive message that represents your business. Not all style guides are the same, some are novels while others are a sheet of paper front and back. It just depends on what your needs are. The important thing is that your brand foundation is established and you’re ready to build on it with marketing!
-Geoff D., Graphic Designer