A brand is more than just a logo. It's the personality of your company, with all its expressions and touchpoints. That's why it's so important to have strong brand guidelines that define how your visual identity should look and feel. Most articles talk about how to create a strong brand but fail to mention that a successful brand is built and shaped over an extended period of time. After all, Rome wasn't built in a day! We'll discuss the basic components of strong brand guidelines, and we'll give you some tips on how to keep your brand consistently good-looking.
Strategy and creativity in perfect harmony
First and foremost, your brand guidelines should be a healthy mix of strategy and visual identity.
A great-looking brand without any real added value for its audience will never be successful in the long run. Although it's important to have a well-defined strategy, the substance isn't always enough. In order for your brand to be successful, you need to have a strong visual identity that will resonate with your target audience and a clear plan of how you will add value to their lives.
For your strategic guidelines, there are 4 main topics that help to make decisions about what kind of content to create and how to position yourself in the market:
- The audience
A brand’s purpose is the reason for its existence, beyond making money. It can be the reason why a company initially was created or it can be the end goal it wants to achieve. Under this topic, you can also place your mission, vision, and ambition.
Your personality is who you are. It defines where you stand in the world and how you interact with your customers and partners, allowing emotional connections to develop. The easiest way to define your personality is by choosing 3-5 human character traits that your brand aligns with. You can also look into the 12 Jungian archetypes which symbolize basic human motivations, values, and personalities.
A brand promise guides the direction of the customer experience by summarizing what you stand for and the added value you offer your stakeholders. It’s the literal promise of what customers can expect from an organization, and its products and services no matter what.
Your target audience is the group of people you're trying to appeal to. It's important to know your target audience inside and out as this will help you create content and design that appeals to them. In order to identify your target audience, you'll need to do some market research and look at your current customer base.
In use (creative) guidelines
For your in-use guidelines, you should cover at least these 4 main brand assets to stay consistent across your different channels.
- Boilerplate copy (baseline, elevator pitch)
The logo will have the most extensive guidelines and rules because it's your most important asset when starting to create brand awareness.
You'll use a logo in many different places, in many different contexts. So to make sure it stands out no matter what, companies tend to have multiple versions of it. This could include a primary logo, a secondary logo, a monochrome and negative one, and a symbol version.
Each of these versions should get a little intro, a definition and where to use it, and a visual example.
The second aspect of your logo(s) is the clear space. This is the area around the logo where no other element should interfere with the logo to ensure that the logo remains readable and recognizable. To create clear rules about it, make sure to include an explanation of what it is (like in the intro above), why you need it, and how to measure it by showing a visual example of a logo version and its clear space guides.
Next up: The minimum size of your logo. It’s sort of self-explanatory, but you should make sure each logo version has a minimum size for both digital and print to keep the logo readable and recognizable. The easiest way to do this is by showing a visual example of the logo versions with the minimum height next to it.
Another important aspect is the placement of your logo on backgrounds, again to make sure your logo stays readable and recognizable. Here, the easiest thing to do is to show some clear do's & don'ts with a short caption to explain which backgrounds you can or cannot use.
The fifth and last part of clear logo guidelines is the composition, referring to the rules about the placement of the logo on different print and digital applications. This can be the website, social media, brochures, billboards, or formal documents. The easiest way to document the guidelines for this is by giving a visual example and a short caption with the specific placement mentioned. (e.g. On formal documents, the logo always goes in the top left corner.)
Just like the logo, you should start off listing your different font types, although mostly being limited to two types: your primary font for most of your content, and an office tool-safe font that could even work on a computer from 10 years ago, and won't bug out in emails or word documents.
The next step is to list the general principles of each font type. In a short paragraph you’ll explain which type of content the font is used for, and possibly includes some visual examples of the usage principles.
Lastly, make sure to cover the font hierarchy or font pairing. These guidelines explain how different weights, sizes, and styling of your font types should be used in different applications. An overview of the different styling options and some visual examples with a short explanation in the caption should be added to clarify.
Similar to the other brand asset, give an overview of your different color types. Most often this includes primary and secondary colors and could extend to gray tones and gradients.
Each color type should include a short intro about what they're used for, some general principles of usage, the different color codes for different applications, and a visual example. Your codes should include Pantone®, HEX, RGB, and CMYK.
Specifically, if you're using gradients, make sure to give guidelines for linear/radial usage, the angle it can be used with, and the order of color mix.
Aside from the design part, there is also copy and content to write. You could create a tone of voice guideline although that's already quite advanced.
What you do need from the get-go are a baseline and a basic elevator pitch. Both should have a short intro of what they are and when/where to use them, and the actual content of the course.
Online brand guidelines
Now that you have an overview of what goes into a clear brand guide by now, it’s time to consider where to actually document it, in a way that it gets used and read. More often than we care to admit, a well-designed and on-brand PDF gets created and lost somewhere on your Dropbox, Google Drive, or OneDrive. And if it gets used and updated once in a while, we often see different versions of the brand guide being used simultaneously. This completely undermines the purpose of strong guidelines: to ensure your brand is consistent across all its channels.
Instead, look into online brand platform tools, like Kadanza, to create one single source of truth for your brand to exist and be documented.