Most of us have at least a basic understanding of what branding is and why it matters. At the very least it’s your company’s visual identity; a recognisable representation of the business. Beyond that, it’s every part of the way you communicate with customers, staff and stakeholders, from the logo, corporate colours and typeface through to your personality and the language your people use when they represent the company.
And if your business is just you, your brand is just as important as if you were a multinational organisation.
Brand guidelines – sometimes called corporate identity guidelines – are the manual by which your brand is applied. They’re there for internal use by anyone who creates a document and for external use by any agency or printer who helps you publish it.
They prevent embarrassing mistakes and misunderstandings, contradictions and inconsistency, poor public perception. They save money on errors in print, online and in the damage those things can do to your reputation. They’re the guardians of the message you’re sending out to anyone you want to do business with.
See why you need them?
Creating guidelines helps you build your brand
You don’t need brand guidelines to start a business, design a logo or an email signature. You need them to build upon the foundations you’ve laid.
It stands to reason that you’re going to have a website, document templates, business card and, as time goes on and your business develops, perhaps everything from vehicle livery and uniforms to print and online ads and branded promotional goods. Guidelines are essential to maintaining consistency across all your branded material.
Inconsistency and errors matter more than you might think. It’s a question of trust as much as identity. If you want someone to place their trust in you and the products or services you offer, your brand is the first test of that trust. If you can’t be trusted to represent your own company consistently and professionally, would-be customers will wonder whether you can be trusted to look after what matters to them.
Do I really need brand guidelines?
Every business needs and should have a set of brand guidelines. They’ll save you time, they’ll save you money and they will help you project a more professional image.
It’s a matter of caring about attention to detail. Now, imagine you run a small plumbing business. You might think that brand guidelines are just for the big companies, that you can rely on the good work you do to cement your reputation. Good work goes further than anything else. But the way you present your business tells everyone who sees your website, your local paper ad or your company van just how much pride you take in your business, how much you care about quality and attention to detail. If you don’t care about that, perhaps you won’t care about your workmanship either.
Your brand guideline essentials – the must-include items
While your corporate identity will lay out the markers for your company, it must also be flexible and adaptable so that it can grow and develop with your company. But at the start, these are the key areas which should be addressed.
Mission statement – Touch upon your history and move on to your intentions – and make those business aims about the service you want to give your customers.
Use of logo – Your logo should be untouchable – until such time as you decide it needs changing. This area will show how your logo should be used, space restrictions around the logo and how it should be displayed on different colours and backgrounds. You can also show what not to do with the logo, like stretching or compressing it, or making it too small or large for its context.
Colour palette – The colours in your logo, in backgrounds and even in your typeface all need strict definition to maintain a consistent, reliable brand. This area states what colours are used and in what situation, any specific order or priority for using those colours (some brands include a secondary colour palette for use in certain circumstances), and the exact colour codes for use on print, screen and web.
Typestyle templates – This is key to saving you time and money and, ultimately, will help you project a better, more consistent image. The obvious templates you’ll want are business card, letterhead and compliment slip, and as your business develops you may want to add additional templates for:
- social media profile page layouts
- email signatures
- brochure/flyer layouts
- print advertisements and digital ads and banners
- POS material and packaging
- signage, clothing and promotional goods.
Imagery – If you commission photography – or even if you rely on sourcing stock images from the internet – the pictures you use create an emotional response in the viewer and help define your brand’s priorities and personality. This area allows you to guide the style of those photos, from the approach to lighting and even colour accent through to stating strict no-nos.
Style guide – The written word is a vital part of your brand. Every word matters, because every word has the potential to persuade or even do damage. A style guide can include everything from specific words or phrases which should never be used, to preferred spellings, when to use capitals and whether you want headlines and subheadings in sentence case or headline case.
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