Even solopreneurs and one-man agencies need solid brand guidelines. Here’s how to make a brand book that lays out the look and feel of your business.
It’s a cliché, but as a business owner or the solo in-house creative at your workplace, your brand really is your biggest asset. As a company grows and evolves, as customers make multiple interactions with you and your team, your brand — the way your company looks, feels, and interacts — becomes a defining asset of the company, the thing that binds customers to you and the constant that makes you recognizable among the competition.
Getting your brand right is as much a science as it is an art, encompassing research, design, tone, and let’s face it, a huge amount of graft. Getting every member of the team to buy into your culture, to promote your mission and values, to imbue the company’s personality into every customer interaction — that takes graft. The payoff, however, can be huge. So, ensuring your brand doesn’t become diluted, lost, or forgotten, is an important skill. Luckily, you don’t need to hold it all in your head and hope for the best. There’s a better way. Sometimes called the brand book, brand guidelines, brand manual, or simply, the Bible — whatever you prefer, creating a set of “rules of the road” for your brand is an important step in ensuring that everybody understands what they should be doing, how they should be using it, and (if you decide to make changes in the future) what they are, and how they should be incorporated.
Why Is a Brand Book So Important?
Here are four reasons to support introducing a brand book into your company.
You see, a brand without a consistent look, feel, and tone, isn’t really a brand at all. Every time you interact with a customer, be that in person, through the website, when you hand over a business card, or via marketing material sent out in the mail, you want to ensure that the experience or perception that the customer gets is consistent. Not doing so leads to mixed messages, and ultimately erodes confidence, which is the last thing you want.
At its most basic level, it shows that as a company, you sweat the details, a perception that will aid the customer relationship no matter what type of company you are.
2. Rules of the Road
Although you probably know your brand inside-out, anybody new joining the company won’t. Equally, every new customer is experiencing your brand for the first time, as well. Having a set of rules as to when certain visual elements or customer interactions are used over others, and in what circumstances or orientations visual assets are implemented, is important.
For example, say you have a large team and there are no rules on which font, colors, or tone to use — each of those team members will send out emails in their style and tone, meaning every customer will receive a completely different experience. Then, say the customer writes back in and communicates with a different team member — chances are they’ll receive a wildly different experience to the first one. At best, this will feel a little disjointed to the customer. At worst, it could lead to that customer misunderstanding or becoming frustrated, which could lead to the customer walking away entirely. Not good.
3. Brand Awareness
Think about all the products or services that really matter to you — cars, electronics, home grocery deliveries, taxi apps, hair and beauty products, fashion. What do they look like? What colors do they use on their packaging or in their app? What is their logo or their slogan? Can you recall the tune they use on TV commercials? I’m going to bet that for your favorites, you can bring to mind at least one or two of those elements.
This is called “brand awareness,” whereby customers start to associate certain attributes with the experience that you’ve created, so much so that they push aside all the other alternatives and your product becomes associated firmly with that experience. This is hard to create, and takes a long time to develop, however, having brand guidelines allows that process to happen more quickly.
4. Brand Value
There’s that saying: perception is reality. With brand, it’s almost an empirical truth. If you have a consistent brand, it presents your company as a professional and reliable outfit, one that has a justified place in the minds of its customers. Maintaining a perception of integrity and appeal is much more easily achieved through the implementation of brand guidelines, as it ensures that everybody is singing from the same hymn sheet, no matter how they’re interacting with customers. Getting to the point where the brand itself is creating value for your customers is an extremely advantageous position in which to be.
What Is a Brand Book?
Now you know the why, it’s also important to understand the what. It’d be easy if there were a universally recognized format for brand books, but that isn’t the case. Simply put, branding isn’t a one-size-fits-all scenario. As such, it really does depend on what stage your company is in, how big it is, what the company is trying to achieve, and what is important to it. Having said that, brand books are usually split into two sections — identity (the look and feel of your brand) and assets (the actual elements that make up that look and feel).
Brand identity can cover a lot of ground, however, the following are the major elements that should be considered in any brand book:
Your company’s mission statement is the starting point of any brand and should describe, very simply, why your company exists, what its goals and aspirations are, what products or services it provides, and what groups of customers it hopes to support. Keep it simple and clear.
The values that the company possesses should support the mission statement and sit at the very core of the company. It’s important to think about what the key facets of the company are or what it holds dear to its heart — integrity, honesty, accountability, passion, precision, or fun — but don’t just pick them off the shelf, they’ll be different for every company and trying to retrofit them will be self-evident, as team members won’t believe them, and therefore, won’t feel inclined to support them when communicating with customers. Keep the list of values short and ensure you provide insights into why they’re important to the company so others understand the direction being taken.
Personality or Tone of Voice
How does your company interact with its team and its customers? Is it strictly corporate or is there an air of informality? Are interactions factual and precise? Do you poke fun at yourself? Whatever it is, it’s important to mark down the personality with some examples so that all team members can interact in the same way. A great support tool for team members (especially new comers) would be to include templates or examples of company emails or marketing literature that have already been created.
If identity is the theory, then assets are the application. The company logo is an obvious starting point, but it’s usually much more wide-reaching than that. Here are a few examples to get you started:
So, let’s start at the beginning. The company logo is the single most important aspect of your brand, as it’s the most prominent visual element and will be seen on everything from business cards to websites to the side of the office building or fleet of vehicles. The brand book shouldn’t just display the logo, it should tell people where it can and can’t be placed, how it should be manipulated, what colors it can be replicated in, and how close to other elements it’s allowed to be. Also, bear in mind that your logo will potentially be displayed on everything from mobile devices to billboards, so including rules on the smallest and largest reproduction is important. Given its importance to the brand, the main thrust here is to ensure the logo is only ever seen by the public in the ways that you wish it to be perceived.
Laying out your company’s brand colors in a palette and showing which colors can be used in various situations, ensures that the whole team understands when certain things are acceptable, and when others are not. Focusing on what the colors mean to the company, and including examples on how certain combinations can increase legibility, are important ways to support your decisions with meaningful outcomes.
Typography and Layout
When discussing typography, it’s important to disclose the typefaces your brand uses and why. For example, if your brand uses oversized typography to create impact and immediacy in marketing materials, then show examples of how it can be used, and importantly, why it’s done that way. It’s also wise to include examples of how the layout works across all the different marketing channels that you may use. For example, laying out a leaflet is likely to be different to laying out an email or a page on your website. Showcasing those various scenarios with rules around leading, grids, sentence lengths, and how images interact with text, color, and other visual elements, ensures a greater level of consistency, no matter what’s being created or by whom.
Make It Real with a Brand Book
Having a brand book is a fantastic tool for preserving the legitimacy of your company. It’s a great resource to share with newcomers, and something that should constantly be referred to by all team members, no matter how long they’ve been with the company. Organizing brand workshops and refreshers that keep the brand at the top of people’s minds are also great ways of getting team buy-in and eking out scenarios that perhaps the brand book doesn’t cover. It’s also important to remember that a brand is a living thing — gone are the days of setting and forgetting. As new markets open up and companies pivot to meet those demands, so the brand should mutate and evolve, as well. Therefore, updating the brand book regularly is an important aspect.
The danger, however, is that in creating the brand book, you develop something that’s incredibly complicated and technical — a brand book that reads like a textbook won’t gather interest, just dust. To overcome this, writing the brand book in the style and tone of the brand itself is a great way of showcasing what you’re trying to develop, as this will be subconsciously picked up by those reading it and will, hopefully, make their jobs as brand custodians that much easier.
At the end of the day, creating a brand, then legitimizing it with a brand book, ensures that customers have the experience you want them to have, every single time they interact with you. A solid brand book that’s easy to read, simple to understand, and quick to implement, is a must-have resource that will take time and patience to develop, but will, ultimately, pay off in the long run.
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Cover image via Mark.G