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When you hear the term “brand guide,” is the first thing you think of your logo and colors? Maybe some typography?
That’s what you usually get on your brand board – and where most graphic designers leave off.
Brand guides go a step farther to cover everything that goes into your brand, including details on your ideal customer profile, the voice, and tone of your brand, photography guidelines, and even your brand vision and mission.
Want to dig in? Let’s get started!
What goes into a Brand Guide?
A brand guide covers every component that relates to your brand. Your brand is how people recognize something is from your business – immediately. It makes you say, “Of course, that’s from [Insert Brand Name].”
A brand guide helps you make sure that everything you (and your team) create align with that brand to give that same “of course!” feeling.
- Your company vision statement
- Your company mission statement
- Your ideal customer profile or personas
- Your brand personality
- Your core values
- Your brand story
- Your logo
- Your color palette
- Your typography
- Your imagery and photography styles
- Your voice and tone
Are you feeling overwhelmed? Let’s break down each piece to make it easy to create your brand guide!
What is a Vision Statement?
A vision statement is simply a statement about the future state of your business and what your business will achieve over time.
When you’re creating your vision statement, you want to paint a picture of what success looks like for your business. What is your business’s place in an ideal world?
Here are a few examples:
- Alzheimer's Association: A world without Alzheimer's disease.
- Teach for America: One day, all children in this nation will have the opportunity to attain an excellent education.
- Creative Commons: Realizing the full potential of the internet — universal access to research and education, full participation in culture — to drive a new era of development, growth, and productivity.
- Microsoft (at its founding): A computer on every desk and in every home.
- Australia Department of Health: Better health and wellbeing for all Australians, now and for future generations
What is a Mission Statement?
If a vision statement is a picture of what your business will look like in the next few years, your mission statement is what you’re doing to get there. In the most simple terms, a mission statement is what your company does.
Now, this may seem like a pretty simple exercise:
“We sell facial products.”
“I’m a life coach.”
A mission statement, however, goes beyond that simple component and expands to tell others why the business exists and what makes it different. Your mission statement should include:
- Value: what is the value of the company to both customers and employees?
- Inspiration: why should someone want to buy from your company?
Just make sure that with all your creativity, your vision statement and your mission statement are reasonable.
Here are some examples:
- Life is Good: To spread the power of optimism.
- sweetgreen: To inspire healthier communities by connecting people to real food.
- Patagonia: Build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis.
- American Express: We work hard every day to make American Express the world's most respected service brand.
- Warby Parker: To offer designer eyewear at a revolutionary price, while leading the way for socially conscious businesses.
- InvisionApp: Question Assumptions. Think Deeply. Iterate as a Lifestyle. Details, Details. Design is Everywhere. Integrity.
- Honest Tea: To create and promote great-tasting, healthy, organic beverages.
- IKEA: To create a better everyday life for the many people.
- Nordstrom: To give customers the most compelling shopping experience possible.
- Cradles to Crayons: Provides children from birth through age 12, living in homeless or low-income situations, with the essential items they need to thrive – at home, at school and at play.
What is a Target Market?
Your target market identifies the best person to buy your products and services. It’s best to be very specific here, with details about the psychographics and demographics of your customers. Your target market and ideal customer profiles will look a bit different depending on if you’re in a B2B or B2C market.
Household composition & marital status
Psychographics & Behaviors:
What does she read?
What would make them trust you?
What is their primary concern in life?
Who else do they shop within your niche? Outside your niche?
What are your Core Values?
Just like you have values that drive your personal decisions, your business needs core values that your company follows in all aspects of operations. They guide decision-making and define what your business stands for.
- Good humor
- Spirit of adventure
- Service to others
- Continuous Learning
You don’t have to have a list of one-word values. You can flesh those out into more meaningful statements of what that value means to you. Here are a few examples:
- In everything we do, we put back (i.e., give) more than we take.
- Do the right thing: What do you do when no one else is looking? Our teams act with integrity and honesty and focus on putting ourselves in the shoes of others.
- Act with integrity: We’re honest, transparent, and committed to doing what’s best for our customers and our company. We openly collaborate in pursuit of the truth. We have no tolerance for politics, hidden agendas, or passive-aggressive behavior.
- Start With the Consumer: The consumer is our top priority. And every day, we’re hyper-focused on making them love car ownership. Someone who embraces this value makes every decision, no matter how big or small, with the consumer top of mind. They put themselves in the consumers’ shoes and make their experience better.
How do you tell your Brand Story?
In my book Minimum Viable Marketing, I talk about how to convey your brand story in four simple steps. The goal of sharing your brand story is to help your customers, employees, partners, and stakeholders to relate to your business. When they can see themselves in your story, they’re more likely to support you in both the short and long term.
Here are the four key components you need to share in your business story:
- How you identified the problem.
- Spark of genius: when you realized you could solve the problem.
- Start solving the problem of others
- Connect to your mission.
What is Your Brand Personality?
Friendly. Professional. Trustworthy. Rugged.
Your brand personality is what makes your customers relate to your business. Customers are more likely to buy from a brand if it’s personality is similar to its own. According to Investopedia, there are five primary types of brand characteristics with similar characteristics:
- Excitement: carefree, spirited, and youthful
- Sincerity: kindness, thoughtfulness, and an orientation toward family values
- Ruggedness: rough, tough, outdoorsy, and athletic
- Competence: successful, accomplished and influential, highlighted by leadership
- Sophistication: elegant, prestigious, and sometimes even pretentious
Your brand personality will also help you give direction for your logo, color palette, typography, image style, and of course, your voice.
Your Logo in Your Brand Guide
When you read the headline of this article, your first thought was probably about your logo, followed closely by the color palette of your brand. But your brand guide contains a lot more information about your logo than just “here it is!”
It should include:
- All approved versions of your logo. Include versions on a white background, black background, and transparent background. If your logo is in color, also consider adding a black or white option, as well as greyscale. If there are approved versions that are horizontal or vertical, include those as well.
- Any size requirements. Some brands restrict how small their logo can be used, especially in specific orientations, to ensure readability.
- Spacing. Do you require a certain amount of whitespace (or transparent space, as the case may be) around your logo? Include this in your brand guide – either as a number of pixels or a percentage of the size of the logo.
- What’s NOT ok. Sometimes it’s as important to outline what not to do with your logo as what they should do. For example, can they recolor your logo to make it go with their brand colors (for example, if you’re partnering with a company and your logo will be on their landing page)? Can they take a graphic component of your logo and not use the text? Or vice versa? Be sure to include examples of what not to do and what to do instead.
Colors in Your Brand Guide
The second piece that comes to mind when you think about your brand is the colors that go into it. Not just the color of your logo – but your accent colors that bring your brand together. Colors are no place to eyeball it and hope you get it right, especially when you’re working with web developers and graphic designers.
For each color in your brand guide, be sure to include:
- Specific color details, including the Pantone color (if applicable), CYMK, RGB, and hex codes. If your brand is primarily online, many businesses opt only to provide the hex color and allow the designers to look up the specifics they need beyond that in their graphic design program.
- A sample of the color! Seriously – it’s so easy to mistype one of those hex codes, so include a visual reference of the color.
- Any restrictions on how or when a color should be used. For example, my HeyBrandi brand includes a VERY bright and vibrant green. While it’s eye-catching, it should only be used in less than 5% of a total graphic because otherwise, it becomes overwhelming. (Yes, it’s THAT bright!)
Typography in Your Brand Guide
Typography is how you treat all the words that represent your brand. It’s not just the fonts you use, but also any unique tweaks you make to them.
Your brand guide should include:
- The fonts used in your logo.
- A font for your headlines and subheadlines. Include specific sizes or the size differentiation between them. (For example, you a headline may always be 24pt, and your subheadline 18pt, or there could always be a 6 pt difference between them, depending on spacing and application.)
- Body fonts. Just like it’s vital to pick fonts for headlines and subheadlines, make sure you’re indicating what font you want the majority of your text to have.
- Serif and sans-serif options. Did you know sans-serif fonts are easier to read on-screen, while serif fonts are preferred for offline reading? Give your designers a choice for your headlines and body fonts to ensure you have consistency in all your online and offline materials.
- Special use fonts. There may be unique cases in your marketing where you use a specialty font – like on a tagline with your logo, or to accentuate specific words or phrases in promotions. Be sure to include those fonts, so you don’t end up with some designs in Playlist Script and others in Black Jack.
- Alignment guidelines. Are headlines always center aligned? Do you indent paragraphs?
- Any special treatments. Sophisticated graphic designers may adjust kerning, leading, and tracking on a font to fine-tune how it looks. Leading is the space between lines. Kerning is the space between individual letters. Tracking adjusts the space between groups of letters to make the text fill the lines evenly. (One note: you can typically only change kerning, leading, and tracking in graphic design programs, not online.)
Brand Guide Direction for Your Image Styles
Visual appeal is what captures the attention of virtually everyone. (Sure, sometimes it captures their attention because it’s so bad, but that’s not what we’re going for here.) While your logo treatment, colors, and typography all help give your imagery a certain flare, there’s more to getting your images to look cohesive.
Brand Photography Style
Whether you’re using stock photography, hiring a photographer, or taking your photos, the majority of your images should have similarities. Many brands today use bright white backgrounds and lighting; often leveraging flat lays to showcase their products or messages. Other options include blurred backgrounds, deep shadows, nature, or cityscapes. One of the most important things to consider is the mood that your images convey.
If you’re getting images from a variety of sources, consider creating a Photoshop or Lightroom action that you can apply to get a consistent, even effect.
If you’re taking your photos, try to be as consistent as possible with your setup and lighting. Consider investing in some simple lighting and reflectors for your space, rather than depending on natural light that can vary significantly based on time of day, weather, and time of year.
Brand Video Style
Just like you define your brand photography style, it’s good to define your brand video style. Here are some examples of ways to describe your video:
- Talking head (in an office or location)
- Slides (or other text over static graphics)
- Professionally produced
- Demonstrative (showing how-to do something either physically or on-screen)
When defining your video style, also consider the tone and mood you want to convey in your videos.
Social Media Style
Most businesses use some mix of graphics, photos, and videos to share on social media. When defining your social media image style, it’s important to remember that your style should drive connection with your ideal customers. Often, social media is a little more personal and “light” than other forms of connection, while still being true to your brand. When defining your social media image style, consider:
- Brand placement on images
- Hashtags on images
- How to handle text-based images (background colors, font choices, whitespace)
When you’re defining your social media style, you should also talk about the tone and style you use when crafting the text part of your social media posts. Do you use emojis? Which emojis are “on brand”? And do you do long-form posts, or are they short and sweet?
Educational, Entertaining, and Sale Styes: We create graphics and brand content for one of three reasons: to educate, to entertain, or to sell. Each of these types of messages has its unique requirements.
Educational Style: Are you authoritarian or merely authoritative? Is it more like learning from a friend or that 11th-grade calculus teacher? Consider your tone and how your customers are going to learn from you.
Entertaining Style: Does your brand use sarcasm? Memes? Off-color humor? Clever quips? There’s no right or wrong answer here – but consider how your ideal clients are going to respond. The best entertaining posts are ones that your clients want to share.
Sale Style: There are two ways to sell – directly and indirectly. You can put the links out and let people recognize, “oh, I can buy that.” Or, you can be more direct – with asking for the sale. By establishing how you sell – in social posts, on your website, and even on sales calls, it will make it easier to avoid the stress that can come with engaging with sales.
Defining Your Brand Voice
Developing a brand voice isn’t about scripting everything, so your brand sounds like a robot. It’s about the opposite. It’s about being consistent with the voice you’re creating, especially when you’ve got multiple people writing for your business.
If your brand was a person, how would you describe it’s personality to someone? There are the standards (authentic, smart, professional), but don’t be afraid to go beyond what someone typically thinks of to describe a business. Like:
If you’re struggling to find the right words, you can ask some of your best customers how they’d describe your business!
Once you’ve got your three words nailed, define how those words show up in your communication style.
- Clever: witty, ingenious, explain complicated things easily
- Brave: heart-felt, compassionate, takes a stand
- Easy-going: conversational, simple, friendly.
Be sure to include examples in your brand guide of what to do – and what not to do in your writing.
Finally, in every business niche, there will be words and phrases that align with your business, and others that don’t. Include lists of words that do and don’t align with your brand.
Let’s look at the word amazing. Here are some other ways to say “amazing”:
The list goes on and on. Now you clearly can’t use these as straight replacements – because something breathtaking typically has a positive connotation, while something dismaying is negative. But it’s important to know which terms you do want your team to be able to use.
Sharing Your Brand Guide
Finally, is the fun part – how do you share all this knowledge and insight with your team? Whether you’re working with full-time employees, contractors, or freelancers, it’s essential to have your brand guide accessible when they need it!
Option 1: PDF
A PDF is probably one of the easiest ways to share your brand guide – and make sure it doesn’t get accidentally changed! You can create your brand guide document in any word processing or graphics program (or a combination) and then save it as a PDF. Just remember to put an updated date and/or version number on the document so you can make sure the team is always working from the most up-to-date version
Option 2: Shared Document
You can also choose to share your original document from a document repository, like Google Drive or Dropbox. Since you’ve got one master document, it’s easier to make sure everyone is working from the most up-to-date version. Make sure that you only give read-only access to your document unless you want the team to update it. (Hint: most of the time, you don’t).
Option 3: Project Management Tool
This one may come as a bit of a surprise, but your project management tool can also be a great place to keep your brand guide. You can always keep it up-to-date, and you can link to supporting documents and examples.