28 September 2020
What is a brand style guide?
A brand style guide is a rulebook that explains how an organization presents itself to the world through its logo, font and color selections, photography and much more. Put another way, it is a reference tool that helps maintain consistency in what a brand looks, feels and sounds like.
Using a brand book ensures that your brand looks and feels the same, even when you have different people working on customer service, marketing, design and sales.
Why are brand guidelines important?
Think of your brand identity as your company’s personality. It is how the world recognizes you and begins to trust you. If you see someone change how they look and act all the time, you will not feel like you know who they are, and you certainly would not trust them.
Imagine a co-worker who always wears a dress shirt tucked into slacks, with his hair cut neatly short. Now imagine if that same person walked into work one day unshaven, wearing cutoff jeans and sporting a new tattoo of a tiger riding a motorcycle through flames. It would probably feel uncomfortable because it is not what you are used to. You might even check in with him to make sure everything is okay.
The same logic applies to brands: inconsistency will confuse and alienate your customers. A style guide is important because it helps your business communicate in a consistent way across all teams and channels.
The key components of brand identity
Need a brand style guide for your business?
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Before you create a style guide, you need to know your brand. There are five key components: mission, vision, target audience, brand personality and core values.
Together, these are the most important things needed to establish your brand identity because they tell the world what you stand for. All the other parts of your brand style guide are tangible elements that communicate those key components to the world through design.
Mission and vision: Write a mission statement about why your company exists and a vision statement about where you want your brand to go. These can be big (you are going to change the world) or small (you solve a small, annoying problem), as long as they are true to your brand.
Target audience: Describe who your customers are and why they need you (i.e. how your products or services solve their problems). If you have done a market research, include any insights that could help your team communicate more effectively to your customers. Here is a deeper guide on how to define your target audience.
Personality: Make a list of 3-5 adjectives that describe your brand. This will set the tone for both design and writing. Are you sophisticated or quirky? Classical or trendy? Ask your team for input and perspective.
Tip: It can also be helpful to list 3-5 adjectives that your brand is not. In fact, many advertising agencies begin their branding projects with an “Is / Is Not” exercise.
Values: Determine the guiding principles for company decisions and actions. Memorable values will make it easy for your team to stay on-brand.
How to create a brand style guide in 4 steps
Step 1: Collect brand guide inspiration
Step 2: Define the 6 essential brand guide elements
Element 1: Brand story
Element 2: Logo guidelines
Element 3: Brand color palette
Element 4: Typography and font guidelines
Element 5: Image guidelines
Element 6: Brand voice
Step 3: Make an outline for your guide
Step 4: Plan for the evolution of your brand
You are ready to create a brand style guide!
Your company is more than just the products or services you sell. A strong brand tells the world why they should choose you over all the other options on the market. A brand style guide tells your team how to stay true to that brand.
While some style guides are as thick as a novel, others are a simple one-page reference. It all depends on your business needs. The important thing is that it lists all your basic brand elements and can act as the singular point of reference for any future design project.