Your brand is your company’s most important asset. It’s more than just words on a page or images on a screen ⏤ it’s how you communicate with and attract your audience. From your logo to every customer interaction, it’s the identity of your organization.
To stand out in a competitive market, consumers need to easily understand who your company is and what you provide. Brand consistency helps consumers feel confident in their decision to become a customer because they know exactly what to expect from you with every interaction.
So, how do you ensure a consistent experience that builds brand loyalty? Develop strong brand guidelines.
What are brand guidelines?
Brand guidelines are the standards and rules developed by an organization to maintain brand consistency at every touchpoint. They define the framework for anyone who is communicating on behalf of your company via visual, verbal, or written communication. And they set the foundation for a solid brand to grow and thrive.
Brand guidelines standardize color and font usage, logo application, tone and voice, image styles, graphics usage, brand sentiment, and more. While brand guidelines might seem limiting at first, they can actually allow for more creativity in your work. With guidelines, knowing what you can and can’t do allows teams to create within an established framework instead of starting from scratch each time.
Why are brand guidelines important?
Brand guidelines define who your brand is and what you do. Iconic brands don’t just happen by chance. They know exactly who they are. They’ve created a clear, cohesive, and seamless experience across every touchpoint. This ability to deliver an omnichannel brand experience makes them stand out among their competitors.
Documenting your brand guidelines protects your brand from misinterpretation, misunderstanding, and inconsistency. Plus, the exercise of creating brand guidelines helps clarify details that have been up for debate, or get rid of outdated ideas that no longer apply.
Once established, brand guidelines should be treated as a living, breathing part of your business. As your company inevitably changes and grows to meet new demands, build new products, and reach more customers, your brand guidelines should adapt as well.
Tips for developing brand guidelines
The timeline for developing brand guidelines is unique for each company depending on resources, current structure, and brand goals. Whether you’re creating brand guidelines for a new or existing organization, both require a clear picture of what your brand stands for. The biggest difference comes in the application of the new standards when you relaunch your brand.
Creating brand guidelines for a new company provides a blank slate to work with, which can be both exciting and daunting. Whereas establishing guidelines at an existing company helps provide structure to current standards or is done as part of a brand redesign.
The challenge with an existing brand update is that it’s already living in the world. Updating it requires remembering and revising all of the existing brand touchpoints to reflect the new guidelines. But with detailed brand guidelines, you’ll know what needs to be updated when and how. So, where do you start? Build the foundation for the rest of your guidelines by clarifying your brand essence.
1. Clarify your brand essence
Brand essence defines the key characteristics of your brand and embraces the mission, vision, values, and purpose of your company. It defines who you are, what you stand for, and how your audience feels when interacting with your brand. Your brand essence guides more concrete elements like visual, written, and verbal style, and it gives your teams something tangible to refer to during every project.
Think about your brand essence as the way you want someone to feel after interacting with your brand. What do you always do? What do you never do? Knowing the key characteristics of your brand helps you deliver a consistent experience and connect with consumers in a way that leaves a positive lasting impression.
2. Develop the rules
Rules guide the use of brand elements and should be established for things such as:
- Logo usage: Which logos are OK to use where? How should it be applied to branded items? Can it be placed on other graphics?
- Typography: What is the brand’s font? Can other fonts be used? Are you able to use bold and italics? Which font sizes should be used?
- Illustrations: When and why do we use illustrations? How should illustrations and photography be used together? How do illustrations and text work together?
- Icons: Which icons are OK to use? Should they be kept at a certain size? Do they need to be a certain color?
- Color: What are your brand colors? What sentiment do your colors convey? When and how should your colors be used?
- Grids and white space: How should items be placed within a design? When is nothing better than something?
These concrete standards keep everyone aligned when creating any visual and written communication and provide the clarity needed to work quickly and confidently.
3. Train people how to use them
Once you’ve developed your brand guidelines, they need to be communicated to your team. Plan an official launch so everyone is aware of what’s changing and why. Make it exciting to gain buy-in and adoption. Create and promote regular training, and make your guidelines available in an easy-to-access location. This creates a united internal front that helps keep your brand approachable and top of mind.
On top of all that, create a brand identity kit to share across the organization and with external partners. Include your brand guidelines, the most business-critical visual assets, and information on how to use them. This gives your teams and partners across the globe (or the hall) easy access to the right logos, approved color palettes, and typography styles. Put the resources into shaping a comprehensive brand identity kit and doing it right. It’s well worth the long-term return you’ll see in brand consistency.
4. Plan for growth and change
Your brand is a living, breathing part of your business, and so are your guidelines. As your business grows and changes, your guidelines need to evolve as well. To change and implement them consistently, you’ll have to hire and develop a team of marketers who are hungry to grow with your brand. Start by taking a strategic approach to assembling your team and choose a competency framework to help them build the right skills for the future.
Clear brand guidelines and a dynamic team will take you a long way, but you’re still missing one big piece of the puzzle. You need to centralize storage of all your brand assets with a solution that scales. Having an accessible, flexible system in place makes it easy to keep your guidelines updated and helps manage all of the brand assets you create without going crazy.
Protect your brand with brand guidelines
A digital asset management (DAM) system, provides a centralized and secure place for your assets — like graphics, photos, videos, and documents — to live. Using this kind of single storage location ensures that everyone is able to find and use the most recent and on-brand assets, making it easier to keep your brand guidelines in place.
Is providing a consistent and seamless customer experience a top priority for your business? Start by developing clear brand guidelines that give your teams the direction they need to build trust and loyalty with your audience at every touchpoint. With a defined plan and a DAM system to help manage it, you can develop strong brand guidelines that will bring clarity to your work, and evolve with the success of your organization.
Note: This article was originally published in April 2019 and has been updated to remain current.