A recognizable brand is the backbone of any business. It’s more than a logo, a color scheme, or a mascot: brand guidelines are the framework of your business’s identity and strategy.
When you use Google, watch a Disney Princess film, or see a Nike runner ad, you have expectations. Successful branding communicates impressions and values to customers. Brand strategy establishes your brand DNA and puts the focus on your audience.
Branding is what sets your business or product apart from other companies or properties and as the legendary Marty Neimeier states, “it’s the gut feeling about a product, service, or organization.”
The examples above demonstrate how branding works even when potential clients have walked away or turned off your ad. A forgettable business won’t drive sales. When customers associate a feeling or memory with your business, they remember you.
While becoming a memorable business sounds excellent in theory, how can you use brand strategy to create a company that connects to customers? The answer: brand guidelines.
What Are Brand Guidelines?
You probably already guessed that brand guidelines are a set of rules. However, what makes brand guidelines unique is that they go beyond outlining what not to do. Instead, brand guidelines describe how your business should be perceived both visually and verbally.
When you think of Nike, what is their brand strategy making customers feel? Named after the Greek goddess of victory, the name, ads, and marketing evoke that “you can do it” attitude.
The brand strategy capitalizes on relatable concepts. Everyone can relate to facing adversity and needing a boost to feel like they can do it. Branding isolates a customer’s needs or wants and asks how your customers will identify that feeling with your business or product.
Brand guidelines take a concept or brand and apply rules to create consistency. With these rules, anyone who interacts with the business, from sales, marketing vendors, outside partners, designers, etc., will promote and represent your business accurately.
5 Reasons Why Your Business Needs Proper Brand Guidelines
Here are the five reasons proper brand guidelines are essential.
1. Create Consistency
Consistency is essential for your brand’s identity both visually and verbally. Your employees, clients, and anyone else that engages with the brand will have a clearer understanding of your business.
Uniformity isn’t boring. It’s reliable.
Brand strategy should communicate your brand’s values with cohesive materials. You can save time and costs by preventing second-guessing and do-overs. Your customers can trust that you’ll consistently deliver products or services and in the end, you’ll operate more efficiently for a longer period of time.
2. Set Standards
Standards help maintain quality and brand integrity. Brand guidelines aren’t restrictions but tools that standardize components associated with your brand, including your strategic vision, messaging, voice, logo, website design, documentation, visual elements, and more.
Your brand guidelines make it easier for new employees to get up to speed and new ideas to fit into the business. It helps to drive the brand culture forward while building a tribe.
3. Eliminate Confusion
Without guidelines, your brand can get a little lost in the crowd.
Like building a house, you need a blueprint. You can customize spaces and change how many bedrooms or floors, but you need to decide before building. You can only expect sturdy construction when you develop a plan.
It helps your business in the long term, allowing you to expand your business without losing sight of your brand DNA. Everyone who engages with your brand should understand your brand from employees, parents, vendors, clients, or your target audience.
With an effective brand strategy, radical differentiation separates your business from the crowd and gives you the opportunity to win.
4. Establish Recognition
Your brand strategy establishes your business as a recognizable entity to your clients and target audience. How your branding is perceived will impact customer engagement so we need to ensure we get it right the first time.
Google’s brand guidelines are an excellent example of successful brand awareness. The design, shapes, and other elements are instantly recognizable and fit within the constructs of their brand architecture and strategy. When customers know who you are, they’re more likely to turn to you when they need your services. Coupled with a consistent customer experience and they will now turn into brand evangelists and promote the brand to their mico-sphere of influence.
5. Inspire Brand Creativity
Some say that rules stifle creativity, but an artist will tell you there’s nothing more stifling than staring at a blank canvas. Knowing where to start can inspire your business to move beyond a blank page. Once your company has a framework, you can add individual details for different products or projects.
In our customer-driven economy, guessing at what customers want is a mistake therefore rooting all business, marketing, and design in strategy and a scalable framework is essential.
Updating your guidelines as your business evolves can help your brand grow without losing a recognizable identity or voice. For example, think of how restaurants have adapted to include delivery apps. From menu design to takeout containers, the brand needs to be communicated even as the business changes to exceed customer demands.
What Do Brand Guidelines Include?
Your business should customize the needs of your brand guidelines, but here’s what every brand guideline needs.
- Outline or elevator pitch defining your values, brand identity, and usage
- Purpose: The reason you exist beyond making money
- Mission: How to drive value over the course of 5-20 years
- Vision: What the world looks like when the mission is achieved (almost always unreachable)
- Immovable Goals: What are we working towards over 5-20 years?
- Persona’s: Who are your customers? Used to help inform marketing, product, and business decisions
- Positioning: The unique space that only your brand occupies
- Reasons to believe: Why should your target audience care about your business?
- Core values: The core construct your brand needs to live everyday
- Golden Circle: Crafting your why, what, how statements
- Voice: Evergreen and consistent. Your brands personality
- Tone: How your brand speaks based on situational context
- Headlines & living lines: Impactful statements to be used as web and marketing copy.
- Editorial Guidelines: Every brand has a different way of speaking and the more you can outline different scenarios, the more effective your communications.
Look & Feel
- When and how to use your wordmark or icon logo
- Rules for appropriate sizing, orientation, color, and usage
- Elements of your design system (packaging, print templates, brand touchpoints)
- Primary, secondary, and tertiary color schemes
- Usage and rules
- Consistent styling rules
- Optimized readability
- Definition and rationale
- Rules for appropriate sizing, orientation, color, and usage
- Standards for styling, quality, and layout
- Stock photography resources if necessary
The Importance of Getting Your Brand Strategy & Guidelines Right
The importance of memorable branding shouldn’t overshadow effective branding. For example, take Burger King’s International Women’s Day scandal. It was memorable, and the intent of the tone was on brand. But because of the message’s delivery, it was quickly perceived as sexist, an impression that their target audience now associates with the brand.
Marketing blunders can happen to even well-established brands. It helps to employ outside experts to develop your brand’s identity and assess your perceived brand.
When designing a brand strategy from start-ups to existing brands with many years of success, the goal is to find clarity and to keep the brand as simplified as possible. Nothing is more of a brand killer than internal chaos and reactive fly-by-night strategies.
For a business to not have a brand strategy and guidelines in today’s economy is certainly a disadvantage. With the ultimate goal of branding to sell more things to more people for a longer period of time for a higher price point, ensuring you have a long-term plan to achieve this level of success will only come from establishing a proper brand strategy and guidelines and living every day with every employee, partner, vendor, and customer interaction.