Brand book, style guide, brand guidelines. No matter what you call it, this resource is the heart and soul of your brand. It takes your mission, vision, and values, and translates them into visual design. A well-developed, comprehensive brand style book will help everyone in your company know exactly how to communicate your brand.
How do you create one? We’re here to teach you!
What are brand guidelines?
They are a set of rules and tools on how to utilize the different elements of your brand.
Who uses brand books?
Designers, writers, marketers. In fact, anyone who will be developing creative pieces for your brand will use these guidelines.
Why is a brand book important?
Branding, thus brand books, define your company’s personality. The branding elements featured in this book are how the world will recognize you and learn to trust your brand.
Brand books are important as they become the living document of a brand - a single source of truth that ensures everyone has the same understanding of what the brand is. It helps a business to communicate consistently across all teams and channels.
What are the key components to a brand style guide?
Before a brand can be fully developed, four key components must be established:
1. Mission and Vision:
Craft a statement about why your business exists. Why was your company formed? Where is the company headed? Creating both a separate mission and vision statement (no matter how big or small they are) will help to finetune the essence of a brand. Just make sure that they are genuine.
For example, the retail store, Target’s, mission statement (or purpose) is: “We fulfill the needs and fuel the potential of our guests. That means making Target your preferred shopping destination in all channels by delivering outstanding value, continuous innovation and exceptional experiences—consistently fulfilling our Expect More. Pay Less.® brand promise."
Warby Parker, a designer eyeglass retailer, has the following vision statement, “To offer designer eyewear at a revolutionary price, while leading the way for socially-conscious businesses."
2. Target Audience:
Describe your ideal customers. Who are they? Why do they need you? Make sure to conduct market research and include any insights that your team has potentially already uncovered.
What three-five adjectives describe your brand? Those are your brand’s personality and will set the tone for all marketing and website items produced by you. Would you describe your company as sophisticated? Trendy? Formal? Traditional? It’s here where you can ask your team or loyal customers for help.
Pro-tip: You can also create a list of adjectives that your brand is NOT. For example, the brand Zappos is both fun and weird, and not traditional.
This is where you (and core team members) decide guiding principles for making company decisions. Memorable values, like the ones Buffer has, will help everyone to stay on-brand.
What elements should be included in brand books?
These six essential elements must be included in all brand books:
1. Brand Story/Company History:
This is the part where you introduce your brand. Giving people a simple summary of the heart and soul of your business will help them to understand and accurately represent your brand.
It’s in this section where you can highlight the mission and value statements, and any fundamental components of your business.
Here is where you list logo colors, logo usage, and the different types/styles of your logo. Listing these out will help to make sure that your logo is always used appropriately. The University of Michigan does a great job of this in their brand guidelines.
Pro-tip: Describe when and where you should use the different logo versions. Make sure to include size (minimum and maximums, and proper proportions), don’ts of logo usage and placement, and provide visual examples to make this section very clear.
3. Color Palette:
Establishing brand colors will help to create consistency across all brand pieces whether they are online or offline. Most brands choose four or fewer main colors, allowing for accent colors to enhance different pieces. I personally LOVE Heineken’s color palette.
In your brand guide, make sure to show swatches of your brand colors along with pantone name and number, CMYK, RGB and Hex codes, which will allow for consistency in digital and print items. You can reach out to a local graphic designer or use the internet to help you gather this specific information.
Another important brand element is font. From a brand perspective, you need to determine whether one typeface family is needed or if you’ll want multiple. We suggest using one font for your logo and a different one for other marketing pieces. The contrast will help your logo stand out.
This section of the brand book will help to guide everyone in the right direction for image style and use. Find the right imagery to go along with your brand’s personality and intended audience. These images should also be authentic to your brand. For example, if you’re in the restaurant industry, your image use will mostly be comprised of food and beverage pictures from your actual restaurant(s) instead of abstract graphic art.
Once a few strong marketing pieces have been established, your brand’s imagery can evolve from there.
To ensure proper image usage, we recommend providing examples of images that have been approved and those that haven’t. You can also include imagery from other brands that are similar to yours in addition to collecting images which reflect the feel that you want your brand to convey.
The written word will affect how your audience perceives any brand. You can start off this section by expanding upon the brand personality that you’ve already developed.
Is your business confident with some sass like Nike? How about ritzy like Givenchy? Use language that matches the identity that you want for your brand. If your brand is high-end, use professional language. If your brand is more relaxed, be more conversational. You can even get specific with what words to use and not use.
Brand voice guidelines from Skype’s Brand Book.
Of course, your brand book can include other sections that are specific to your business as well. When I create brand books, i usually include a section for social media and print pieces. At the end of the day, creating style guides help to create more on-brand pieces the first time around, so feel free to add whatever you feel are needed.
How often should brand guides be updated?
A brand book is a living document that will evolve over time. I recommend that you revisit this book periodically so you can review and refresh - whether that’s once month, once a quarter, or annually, that timeline is up to you. For reference, here at S13A, I update brand books when we launch a new website or develop a big marketing campaign.
There you have it! You’re now ready to start creating the foundation for your brand book. Are you in the process of branding (or rebranding) your business? Tell us about your experience with using brand guidelines below!