In this article, we’ll explain what a brand style guide is and outline a simple, five-step process you can use to develop one quickly and successfully. Let’s get started!
What is a Brand Style Guide?
A brand style guide is a living, breathing document that defines how an organization should be represented by those communicating on its behalf. It contains specific rules, standards, and best practices that allow a brand to maintain consistency, no matter who is creating content for them or when that content is created.
There are specific elements that every brand style guide should contain: the brand’s story; the audience the company serves; and specific details like logo, color, typography, and imagery usage as well as the desired brand voice. We’ll dive into each of these in greater detail below.
5 Steps to Develop a Brand Style Guide
Ready to develop a brand style guide for your company? Just follow these five steps and you’ll be able to quickly create a document that outlines your organization’s unique brand preferences and requirements.
1. Know Your Brand Story
Start with your brand story. What does your company care about and stand for? What values does it have and what goal or mission is it trying to achieve? Is there a specific feeling you want people to walk away with after associating with your organization? You need to capture these things in writing and communicate to the world what your brand is all about.
A great example of a stellar brand story comes to us from Skype. The company does an excellent job of explaining its mission and values in a lighthearted way that perfectly reflects the fun and entertaining approach the brand takes.
Speaking of fun and entertaining approaches, don’t be afraid to let your company’s personality shine through in its brand story and throughout its entire style guide. In fact, if your company has a playful brand image, we encourage you to make it known.
2. Identify Your Audience
Next comes the specific audience your company serves. You’ll want to clarify exactly who your customers are why they want or need your company’s products. This is important! When your team (or any freelancers your company works with) understands your target audience, they’ll be able to craft content that resonates with that specific group of people.
Fortunately, if you’ve already created buyer personas for your organization, this step is easy. Simply include a streamlined version of each persona in your brand style guide. If you haven’t created buyer personas, now is the time!
Do your research and discover who your customers are. Then create a fictional character that represents each main segment of your audience. Be sure to include both demographic information like the gender, age, occupation, and income level of your audience, as well as psychographic details like their goals, fears, and daily challenges.
3. Clarify the Details
Now it’s time to clarify the details and explain how your company’s logo should be used, the exact color scheme your brand uses, any typography requirements you deem important, guidelines for the use of imagery, and an outline of your organization’s preferred voice.
Let’s take a quick look at each of these:
Your logo is likely the most recognizable aspect of your brand. As such, you need to ensure that it’s used appropriately. Consistency is key here. Your brand style guide should clarify the exact ways your company’s logo is to be used so that it looks the same no matter where it appears.
Be sure to describe any size, space, and color requirements you have. We also suggest explaining ways in which your logo should NOT be used. The more clarity you can give your team, the better.
Just about every successful company has specific colors associated with it. When you think about Netflix or Coca Cola the color red comes to mind. Businesses like Facebook, AT&T, and Ford have aligned themselves with the color blue.
Your company has a specific color palette as well and you need to make sure that it’s detailed in your brand style guide. So include the hex codes, RGB values, and CMYK color codes for each of your brand colors. Again, this will ensure consistency across all media types.
The fonts used to represent your brand are also important and should be listed in your brand style guide. Some companies select a single typeface to be used in all situations. Others choose a few complementary fonts. If you take the latter route, be sure to specify when each font should and shouldn’t be used.
You’ll definitely want to get a professional designer to suggest the right typeface for your company if you haven’t already. But here are a couple of things to keep in mind:
- Your preferred font(s) should be different than the one used in your company’s logo. This will help the typeface stand out.
- Clarify what proper alignment and spacing looks like. Should fonts always align left, right, or center? And what tracking and kerning ratios should be used?
Let’s talk about imagery. How should your company be represented in its visual marketing pieces? Companies like Trello use custom illustrations almost exclusively. Other organizations rely on photographs to craft their brand images.
Your company’s brand style guide should clarify the kind of visuals it uses and showcase a few examples of them for readers.
Finally, we have voice: the writing style your team should use when communicating on behalf of your company. You’ll want to define the tone. Is it fun and lighthearted or serious and authoritative?
You’ll also want to clarify rules regarding grammar, punctuation, and spelling. Does your company use the Oxford comma? Does it capitalize the first letter of every word in its headlines or just the first one? Make sure all these details are clear in your brand style guide.
Pro Tip: Your brand style guide should include a few paragraphs written in your company’s brand voice for your team to see, study, and emulate.
4. Create Your Guide
Now that every aspect of your brand’s style has been defined, it’s time to assemble all those details into an easily shareable brand style guide. You’ll need to decide if you want this document to be accessed on your company’s website or distributed in PDF format.
Then simply build your guide in the order listed above: brand story, target audience, logo usage, color palette, typography preferences, imagery guidelines, and brand voice details. When the document is finished, distribute it to your team and make sure they follow it.
If you’re looking for brand style guide inspiration, the guides from Skype, Urban Outfitters, and I Love New York are great examples. Each is thorough and includes all of the elements mentioned in this article.
5. Plan For Innovation
The final step in this brand style guide development process is to plan for innovation. Every business goes through a company rebrand at one time or another. Just look at Apple, one of the most recognizable brands in the world:
While each iteration of the company’s logo is similar, it’s been modified every few years or so. Your organization’s brand will evolve as well. As you learn what connects best with customers and modify your approach to branding, be sure to update your brand style guide to accurately reflect the changes.
Your Turn: Create a Winning Brand Style Guide
Your company’s brand style guide will help it maintain consistency no matter who is creating content for it or communicating on its behalf. It will also allow your team to improve productivity because they’ll know exactly how to create great content for your organization.
When developing a brand style guide for your business, just follow the five step process we outlined in this article:
- Know Your Brand Story
- Identify Your Audience
- Clarify the Details
- Create Your Guide
- Plan For Innovation
Do that and you should be able to create a brand style guide that serves your company well for many years and makes the day to day grind of creating exceptional content for your organization much easier. Good luck!
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