In Part I: What Is A Brand?, we discussed the basic elements of branding and some beginning steps towards building it. Now, to keep you (and all your employees/partners) accountable for those branding decisions, it’s time to create your official brand style guide.
Brand style guides have also been called brand identity books, branding guidelines, and even brand bibles. As the name suggests, your brand style guide should be a collection of your brand’s design choices and styling preferences to help guide your branding throughout every aspect of your business.
(For an inside look at some of the best branding style guides by some of the biggest brands out there, this HubSpot collection makes a great resource!)
What makes up a style guide?
Essentially, your branding guideline should house your logo, and all of the color, typography, imagery styles, and any templates you’ve created. This collection of information will help your business have a cohesive brand over time.
When it comes to branding, consistency is key. Think about it in terms of your business’ personality. If you met someone who’s personality flailed wildly from one extreme to another in quick succession, you’d be probably be less inclined to establish a business relationship with them. The same is true of branding.
Making a style guide will help you create that consistency moving forward. Visually, tonally, and emotionally, style guides are the Rosetta Stone of branding success. Let’s take an in-depth look at what makes them tick and how they can help you achieve branding success.
Just as your business should have a nailed down statement of general purpose, it should have a statement of aesthetic purpose as well. Start your brand style guide off by establishing that. This will provide a foundation for how you want your company to come across to the rest of the world: visually, tonally, and most of all personally.
Think about the type of person your average audience member might want to spend time with. That’s the type of person you should be molding your brand after. Instill these attributes in your stated mission statement, and move forward with the rest of your brand style guide from there.
Logo and Icon Specifics
Your logo is one of the most important aspects of your brand. It needs to be visually attractive and ideologically consistent with your brand, all in the space of a precious few pixels on a screen. While it’s important to convey something that’s true about your company and what you offer, it doesn’t necessarily have to be a heavy-handed, one-to-one analogy, either. (Not every hardware store needs a hammer in its logo.)
It’s good to use your brand style guide as an opportunity to designate some rules about how that logo should be used and presented. Whether you took the time to design one for yourself or paid a pretty penny to outsource the design work, that logo is extremely meaningful to your business identity. It makes sense to be careful about how its used by others. A well-thought out brand style guide is the first step towards ensuring your desires are met.
Trademarks and Copyright
Trademarks and copyrights are two intellectual property concepts that often get confused for one another. And for good reason. The differences are subtle, but in the context of brand style guides, very important.
According to Upcounsel, trademarks are used to protect “names, terms, and symbols that identify and differentiate a company and its goods.” The key term here is “differentiate” – these are aspects of your branding that make it distinguishable from other, similar companies’ branding material. This protects your business from upstart competitors using your name in a similar industry.
Copyrights, on the other hand, are used to protect creative content. A logo is one of the rare examples of content that can, in theory, be protected by both trademark and copyright, because it is both identifying and creative, depending on the context. Beyond that, copyrights will be important for any of the actual creative work your company may do. If content marketing constitutes a significant part of your budget, you’ll likely have plenty that you want to protect via copyright.
Typography refers to the font types you use in your branded written content. These may seem like small decisions, but sloppiness or inconsistencies in this area can cost you major branding points. A few years ago, documentarian Errol Morris used the New York Times website to test the influence of different typefaces on the perceived trustworthiness of the content. He found that readers were 1.5% more likely to agree with a written hypothesis if it was presented in Baskerville typeface. Consider that number spread out over the course of an entire marketing campaign, or multiplied by the total number of diners read a menu on a given Friday night? That 1.5% could be pretty powerful.
Therefore, it makes sense to set some ground rules about the typefaces your brand will be using. Different materials will call for different fonts, of course (a restaurant chain may excitedly use a bold new font for its menu, but revert to Times New Roman for a press release.) Whatever combination of typefaces works for you, lay them out here. Establish which ones will convey your brand personality best, and stick to them.
Color plays a major role in our receptiveness to content and our decision-making. Perhaps most importantly, we associate certain colors with specific feelings and emotions. As you might expect, some emotions are more suited for pulling the trigger than others. Plus, your particular industry, name, and logo may be better suited for certain colors than others.
Use your branding style guide to protect your logo and other brand imagery from being butchered by ugly color combinations. For example, as you can see above, Skype used its style guide to delineate which colors would be it’s primary colors, while throwing in secondary colors that may be used as accents to its logo (in a rainbow through its trademark cloud, for instance) but never directly within the logo itself.
Tone of Voice
Tone is an extremely important aspect of branding, so it makes devote some space in your style guide to it. The brand of your business has often been described as the taste it leaves in your customer’s mouth after a given interaction. Do you want to be seen as bold and energetic? Avuncular and reliable? Irreverent? Forever young?
Whatever it is depends on your industry, age as a company (relative to competitors), targeted audience, and the skill set of your employees. The way you approach brand tone reflects not just on your internal culture, but on your approach to business in general. “Sell the sizzle, not the steak” is a pretty clichéd marketing concept at this point, but there remains a truth within. Adopting a compelling tone helps you present your company as more than just a product or service, allowing you to sell an entire way of life.
Laying out the details of said tone in your brand style guide, much like Spotify did above, will help you achieve a consistent, absorbing tone that can move the needle moving forward.
While this may seem like a minuscule detail, it can have a huge impact on how your clients view your company. With a template, you can ensure consistency no matter who a client, lead, partner, etc. is communicating with. That way, a client one receive one kind of message from the first person they speak to, and a vastly different, or, dare we say, less savory, idea of your company from another one.
Also, within that template or guide, it’s a good idea to encourage some individualism. Who doesn’t love an opportunity to express oneself visually? Plus, it will convey something positive and endearing about your company culture to the prospect or client your employee is interacting with.
Building a brand is a complex, many-faceted endeavor. It requires a careful meditation on your business, your industry, and your value proposition. With so many different factors all impacting the perception of your brand in different ways and at different times, it makes sense to have a detailed plan of attack in place.
The style guide isn’t just a collection of typefaces and color schemes, it’s a blueprint for branding success. It can serve as a foundational document moving forward. Whenever you come across the inevitably difficult decisions that come with running a business, having a branding style guide in place will lighten the load of those questions and give you something to fall back on.