First impressions take just seconds, but they can influence a customer’s relationship with your business in the long-term. Whether a customer is contacting you on social media about a product launch or receiving leaflets through the door, your branding should be consistent. Being instantly recognisable helps to build your brand identity and establish trust in your business.
What are brand guidelines?
Brand guidelines outline how your business should be represented to the outside world, from your visual identity to how you communicate. It includes your mission statement, values, logo usage, colour palette, tone of voice and more.
There are lots of creative examples of brand guideline documents online, but a simple document can make a great reference point, especially when you’re busy running a business. For a start up, it’s a great way to get clear on your branding from day one. If you’re an established business, you may need something more comprehensive that covers every aspect of your business. This activity allows you to look at your brand as a whole and refine how you want to portray your business.
Why are brand guidelines important?
It doesn’t matter if you’re tackling marketing in-house or outsourcing to an agency - brand guidelines are the key to consistency. Your style guide can also apply to everything from networking to customer services. All areas of your business should be consistent with your brand identity to create a cohesive and professional look.
What to include in brand guidelines
Let’s look at what you should include in your brand guidelines document. There are lots of areas to consider, so choose the ones that are most important to your business to get you started.
Your brand story
This first section sets the scene and outlines who you are as a business. It explains the ‘why’ at the centre of your business and drives the decisions you make.
- How would you describe your business in a few sentences?
- What is your purpose or mission statement?
- What are your goals?
- What is your elevator pitch?
- What are your values?
- What is your tagline or strapline?
- What is your brand positioning?
- Where do you see your business in the future?
Your target audience
You should have a clear idea of who your brand is aimed at, based on your market research. This information is commonly found in your marketing plan.
- What does your ideal customer look like?
- Who is your target market?
- How does your product or service solve their problems?
Your visual style
A big part of branding is how your business looks, such as colour schemes, fonts and imagery. Your brand should communicate who you are and what you do whilst also standing out from the competition. You’ll need to choose a limited colour palette that relates to your business or fonts that match your overall style.
For example, if you’re a wholesale retailer, you’ll want to consider the merchandising of your physical products and how your branding will impact this. It also impacts marketing materials such as signage, brochures and business cards.
- What are your primary and secondary brand colours? (Don’t forget to include RGB colours for web and CMYK for print!)
- What fonts will you use and how will you use them?
- What imagery or illustrations will your business use?
- How will your branding apply to your online presence, such as your website and any digital advertising?
Your logo is a major element of your visual style and there are important questions to consider when thinking about your logo. It’s common for brands to show examples of how not to use their logo within their guidelines. This ensures that your logo is represented correctly.
- Are there any variations of your logo?
- How should your logo be used?
- Are there any rules around sizing and spacing of your logo?
Your tone of voice
Next, you’ll want to think about how your business communicates with your current and potential customers. This is often driven by your mission statement and values, and it should also compliment your visual style. A brand that is professional and corporate is unlikely to use too much conversational or colloquial language. Your tone of voice will be more successful if you know who you’re talking to.
- What does your brand sound like?
- What words or phrases resonate with your business?
- Do you have any overarching messaging?
- How would you describe your tone of voice?
Your social media channels
Lastly, if you’re using one or more social media platforms to promote your business, having guidelines in place will support your consistent messaging. As more and more consumers turn to social media to discover new brands, reach out to businesses, and read reviews, it’s important that you make a good first impression.
- What assets are used for your profile pictures and header images?
- What copy should be used?
- What imagery should feature?
- What types of content do you post?
- Who is your audience on social media?
How to enforce brand guidelines
Now that you’ve compiled everything about your brand into one document, how can you make sure it’s followed?
- Refer to your guidelines regularly – think of it as a checklist or cheat sheet for your business branding
- Share them with your team so they can understand the brand
- Give a copy to any relevant third parties, for example if you outsource to a digital agency or you’re working with a new agency on a print advertising campaign
As your business evolves, you’ll want to check back in with your branding to make sure it’s still aligned with where you are in your business journey.