Brand guidelines: the secret weapon behind memorable brands
Think of some of your favorite brands, and I bet you can picture their colors and logos right away. (Hello, Nike swoosh!)
When it comes to developing a memorable brand—like those you just pictured—it’s all about consistency. But how do you stay consistent when you’ve got a team of people managing a bunch of different brand assets?
That’s where brand guidelines come in!
What are brand guidelines?
Brand guidelines are the set of rules that clearly define the look and feel of your business.
These guidelines create a foundation for your company's visual identity. They’re like your company’s secret weapon, working behind the scenes to empower a robust and memorable brand. They exist to guide the visual and written content that your customers and fans can see.
An effective brand style guide is flexible yet consistent. Creating your branding guidelines from scratch can be a daunting task, but it’s essential to be intentional about them. Taking the time to create your brand style guide will save your whole company many headaches and hassles later on.
Do I need brand identity guidelines?
There’s no way around it—yes, your brand needs brand guidelines.
If you want your company to live on in people’s minds long into the future, you must have a strong set of brand identity guidelines that are communicated and shared effectively across your organization.
On the surface, this process can seem pretty simple, right? A few colors, a catchy symbol, and a powerful slogan—throw ‘em together, and you’ve got a brand, right? Simplicity and uniformity make a brand seem like a trusty old friend, but simple brands require the opposite underneath. Moreover, reaching that coveted level of trust and recognition takes patience, time, and hard work.
It also takes work to keep your brand and its components consistent and up-to-date while communicating your guidelines internally. Luckily, defining some of those key branding components in documented brand guidelines can help you, your company, and your team reach that point faster.
How to Create Brand Guidelines: Your Brand Guidelines Checklist
To start creating your brand guidelines, let’s look at some of the most important brand and design elements and how to incorporate them.
1. Mission statement
What does your company stand for? What are its values and greater mission?
A clear, concise mission statement not only helps your customers find you but also guides decisions and acts as the overarching representation of your company. Your mission statement should be at the core of your marketing content.
Who is your audience? Who are your ideal customers?
Define what they’re interested in, their pain points, and why they need your product or service. Then, make sure your brand communicates how you can solve your audience’s problem through its advertising, content, and visuals.
Without a communicated solution, your brand can easily slip away into the void, blending in with other brands who do something similar. Don’t be afraid to get specific when defining your solution and audience.
How do people identify your brand? Your brand logo is an essential part of your company's visual identity.
If you have multiple versions of your logo, be sure to include them in your brand guidelines. You'll also want to include some parameters on when and where to use the different brand logos. You may also want to identify the minimum size for your logo to avoid distortion.
Your brand colors convey emotion and strengthen brand awareness over time through consistent use and repetition. Your color palette should reflect how you want your brand to make people feel.
For example, Netflix's signature colors—red on a black background—help create a dramatic feel reflecting the feeling of a great film.
Your brand guidelines should include the PMS, CMYK, RGB, and HEX codes for your primary colors and accent colors. You may also want to include some context around why your team should use them and in what cases. This keeps everyone on the same page when they’re creating branded content.
Words and type, just like imagery and colors, are visual! Your creative team should keep fonts and typefaces consistent across documents, marketing materials, your logo, etc. It’s helpful to include typography in your brand guidelines to streamline the look of any assets your company publishes.
Think of how typography should be used, including colors and sizes. These clear, comprehensive guidelines help keep everyone on the same page.
6. Brand Images
The type of imagery your brand uses on slide decks or social media posts should also be consistent. Your branding guidelines should include some guidance on what style of photography or types of images can be used across marketing materials.
Brand images should reflect how you want customers to feel when experiencing your brand. For example, popular marketing company HubSpot uses bright, bold photography that conveys the optimism they want their customers to feel.
You'll also want to be conscious of diversity and localization in your images. The subjects and settings in your brand imagery should reflect your customers’ diversity and geographies.
Brand consistency isn't just about the visual elements. Your written content also needs to sound consistent and "on-brand," no matter who creates the content.
The best brands include the following in their messaging guidelines:
Brand Story: A cohesive narrative that brings together the facts and feelings surrounding your business.
Brand Voice: The personality and tone of voice that comes through in your company's written brand assets.
Value Proposition: A statement that answers "why" someone would want to do business with your company.
Messaging Pillars: The significant themes or benefits that make your company's offerings valuable and unique.
Taglines: Any phrases that your brand often uses in marketing materials.
Naming Conventions: How your company name and product or service names can and should be used in brand assets.
Overall, you want any brand message coming from your company to sound like it was written by one person or a team of people who are all on the same wavelength.
Creating brand messaging guidelines helps you make sure your written brand assets are just as consistent as your visual assets.
How do I incorporate brand guidelines?
If you’re starting from scratch and don’t have branding guidelines yet, don’t worry! Get started with the brand elements listed above.
You can also review our Brand Guidelines Guide for some additional brand elements you’ll want to define as you create your style guide.
As you capture the basics of your brand guidelines, continue to build out your style guide over time. You may notice that as you elaborate on your company’s mission statement and core values, ideas will readily come to mind for other areas of your branding. If that’s not the case, don’t be afraid to experiment and iterate in the early stages.
Can I change my brand guidelines?
Is it possible to change your brand or brand guidelines? Yes!
Branding may be all about consistency, but there will still be times when your brand needs a refresh, update, or change. These changes don’t have to be huge, but your branding will likely evolve as the business does over time. (Your company may even go through a complete rebrand.)
Your brand style guide should be a living document that your team changes and updates as your branding evolves. With a solid system to manage your brand guidelines, you can easily navigate those periods of growth and change and move forward with ease.
Air: Getting Everyone on the Same Page
Many of us have probably been in a situation where someone used an old logo in a document or added a strange color or filter to a company image. Ah, the panic!
How did this happen?
The best way to make sure that everyone is on the same page regarding branding elements is to make your style guide available to everyone who needs it.
Air makes it easy to create a living system for your brand guidelines so you can keep branding consistent in real-time. Air gives you a centralized place to store and organize visual elements like logos, images, and photos. It also allows you to set permissions to protect other team members or external contributors from accidentally committing a huge branding no-no with these assets.
Having a central place where your entire team can easily access the branding materials you want them to use alleviates many of the common challenges of managing brand assets. It’s a win-win for both the person managing the branding materials and the person using them.
Discover how to use Air to manage your brand guidelines.