Building a strong, recognizable brand is one of the most important parts of growing a business. Even if you’re a team of one, sooner or later you’re going to run up against the need to explain your brand to someone else. This may be a subcontractor, a new hire, a joint venture partner, or someone in the media, including podcast hosts. Having a brand style guide ready to go, eliminates the stress of making sure everyone is on the same page and guarantees your business is presented deliberately in the way you’ve designed.
What are the benefits of a brand style guide?
It takes between 5 and 7 impressions for the average consumer to notice and remember your brand. Are you exhausted already? Imagine how much harder you’re making it if every time someone interacts with your brand, it seems a little bit different? It’s going to take a lot of reaching out to get to 5 consistent impressions!
Branding people (myself included) love to point to consistency as a key aspect of a strong brand. And one of the best ways to ensure a brand stays consistent — even if you’re the only one running the brand right now — is with a brand style guide. Not only do you ensure a quicker and easier path to brand recognition, you make your life a lot simpler by knowing that all the most important brand decisions have already been made.
Just going through the process of creating a brand style guide can be enlightening for some business owners. You quickly become aware of the parts of your brand that you may know intuitively but have never actually articulated. Many business owners find additional brand clarity by forcing themselves to write down the rules for maintaining brand quality.
What does a brand style guide include?
A brand style guide is the rule book to presenting your business. The more information you can add, the more thorough an understanding the reader will be able to gain about your brand, and the more likely they are to present your brand in a consistent and high quality manner. Even if you are the only one in your business right now, it’s good practice to create a brand style guide to keep yourself on track. (It can be easy to be distracted by the latest visual trend or accidentally start using someone else’s voice.)
In general, a brand style guide includes:
Your brand story is the driving force behind your brand. At a minimum, you should articulate the Vision, Mission, and Values
Vision: This is your north star. What is the world you are trying to create?
Mission: Mission is more practical; how are you going to get to the world you’re trying to create?
Values: What are the values that you’re willing to uphold, even if it becomes a competitive disadvantage to do so?
A brand story can also include your history, the origin of the brand, or any other important stories that are key to distinguishing your brand from the competition.
Who is your brand built for? Who are the people you’re trying to attract? While you can divide your audience into different groups of people who share a broad spectrum of similarities, you should always connect them to what they will achieve by interacting with your brand. In other words, it’s really not important if your “ideal client” drives a mini van or wears stilettos (unless that’s what you sell), but it is important to know where they spend their time, how they envision themselves, and what they need to believe about themselves and your brand to buy from you.
Connection is the section of a brand guide that connects your story to your audience. This is done through articulating your brand personality, attributes, value proposition and positioning. This section sets the strategic stage and acts as a foundation for messaging and visuals.
Brand personality: How does your brand express itself? Is it serious and educational? Is it fun with an obvious sense of humour? Is it edgy? Exclusive? Romantic? Defining the personality will help ladder up to the next parts of the brand.
Brand attributes: Tied to personality are attributes. Think of them as a deeper dive into a personality and a way to more clearly describe how the brand will behave. For example, imagine a brand who has the personality “fun”. There are many ways to express “fun” that depend entirely on subjectivity. To keep consistent, make sure to express the attributes. “Humorous”, “light-hearted”, and “playful” are words that can describe “fun”, focusing on outward expression. However, when considering a “fun” customer experience, attributes like “seamless”, and “effortless” are more appropriate. Defining the brand attributes helps you build a brand with clarity.
Value proposition: What does your business bring to the table? Sometimes this is thought of as the elevator pitch but is most likely seen on social media bios. A simple way to think about this is
“We/I help [AUDIENCE] with [PROBLEM] by doing [SOLUTION].”
Positioning: Positioning is a complex part of brand building and there are several ways to approach it. In general, it’s an explanation of where you sit in the market against other people who solve the same problems you do. The goal of positioning is to be the only one in your space. Branding expert Marty Neumeier uses the following formula in his book ZAG:
WHAT [Your category]
HOW [Your product/service]
WHO [Your audience]
WHY [What is the problem your audience wants to solve/their as-yet unachieved ambition]
WHEN [Is there a trend you can use as a boost]
Neumeier uses the example of Harley Davidson:
“The only motorcycle manufacturer
that makes big, loud motorcycles
for macho guys (and macho “wannabes”)
mostly in the United States
who want to join a gang of cowboys
in an era of decreasing personal freedom.”
Once you’ve set the strategic stage, it’s time to move into the more tactical parts of brand building. In the messaging section you’ll outline your name, story pillars, voice and tone, and any additional rules.
Name: We’re seeing more and more unique names as online business owners struggle to find an available URL. In this section make sure to outline any rules around your name. For example, if you run a business called BlueRabbit, make sure to point out that the name is always one word, written in camel case. You should also highlight what not to do: Blue Rabbit, blue Rabbit, Bluerabbit etc.
Story pillars: Story pillars are the messages your brand will return to over and over, generally tied to your core values and/or your differentiators. For example, if you own a coffee shop with a core value of “community”, it may be important for you to talk about buying locally grown beans, the personal relationships you’ve developed with your customers, and the events you’ll hold at your space. Story pillars set up the kind of marketing content your brand creates and contributes to a sense of consistency in how your brand is presented.
Voice/Tone: Voice and tone are tied to your brand’s personality and give guidance to writers on how to “speak” like your brand. Voice is always consistent, but tone changes depending on the situation. A great example of a voice/tone guide is [Mailchimp](https://styleguide.mailchimp.com/voice-and-tone/). Make sure to include do’s and don’ts in your guide. “Do: use contractions and speak casually. Don’t: use slang or terms that will go out of fashion.”
90% of information sent to the brain is visual, so keeping your design consistent is crucial in building a memorable brand. Your visual guidelines should include information about your logo, colours, typography, photography, iconography and illustrations.
Logo: As one of the most recognizable parts of a visual brand, the guidelines on the logo should be extensive. Show all variations of the logo with the rules for when each is to be used or not used. Include the do’s and don’ts — do use the coloured logo wherever possible; don’t tilt the logo on its axis — and remember to include important items like clear space and usage on different mediums.
Colours: List the brand colours. Make sure to include RGB, CMYK and hexidecimal codes. Where appropriate, Pantone colours can be chosen (although most online businesses will never print something that requires Pantone.)
Typography: List the typefaces for the brand, with links to where they can be downloaded or purchased. It’s also advisable to add an operating system type face for when someone is creating documents or slide decks and can’t access your chosen fonts.
Photography/Iconography/Illustration: Show samples of the types of images that your brand uses. List any specifics to be aware of in regards to consistency. This could include colour ranges or subject matter (photography), line art or solid icons (iconography), and illustration styles.
One section of a brand guide that is often overlooked is the administrative part. Who can answer questions about the brand? Where are existing brand assets stored? Do you have a preferred printer? Add their contact information here too.
Creating a brand style guide is a great way to ensure consistency and quality, no matter who is involved with your business. It also helps you take stock of what you have dialed and what might be missing in your brand. If you’re finding this task overwhelming, I’d love to talk and see if I can help.