Does Your Startup Have Branding Guidelines?
A branding guideline, or a brand style guide, or a style guide, is a document that details all the particulars of how your company presents itself to the world. It's a reference tool that enables your startup to be consistent in delineating what your brand looks, feels, and sounds like.
Your brand identity is your company's personality. It's how the world recognizes you. Its consistency helps establish trust. Inconsistency confuses and can alienate customers.
You create all the visual guidelines your brand needs when you develop the logo, the color palette you use across all material, and the font styles and formatting specifics you will use.
But your brand still needs emotional guidelines to gain the target audience as fans. How your brand comes across to your audience—whether your speaking to them or writing to them—can make or break you. Your voice guides your tone, and your tone considers the individuals it’s addressing.
Your branding guidelines enable you to communicate in a consistent manner across all channels. And as your company grows, it will ensure that consistent communication comes from all teams in the company, including any freelancers brought in.
At the bottom of this post, we've linked to a [free] social media branding checklist. You can download it by clicking on the button below. But first, let's discuss what a brand style guide is and why it matters.
Brand Style Guide: What is it and why is it important?
Your brand is the outward presentation of your company. It projects your identify and defines how clients, customers, and partners view you.
A brand style guide describes, defines, and gives examples of what your brand is to look like in all media channels. It is the primary blueprint for your company's personality and tone. It can include grammar, voice, word usage, and point of view.
Creating a brand style guide is something many companies overlook. But, without a unifying guide, inconsistent and incorrect content and branding crop up. Over time this inconsistent messaging confuses your audience. And the difficulty of retracting wrong information or patching up a social media faux pas cannot be overstated. Once it's happened, it's happened and, like it or not, your brand has been diluted. Of course there are extenuating circumstances out of brands control, and mistakes happen. But, you can go a long way towards mitigating mistakes by taking the time to create a brand style guide up front.
Essentials to include in a style guide
Mission Statement: Your company mission should be established for all to see. Every thing members of your organization do should point back to your mission. Spell it out in your style guide for reference!
Brand Voice: Think about how you want your company to sound. Professional. Energetic. Witty. You make the call, but then you need to make sure everyone's on the same page. That way, the person drafting content for your company website doesn't sound completely different from the person answering company emails who doesn't sound completely different from the person doing your social media work whose voice should match the person...you get the picture.
Logo and Company Name: Define and show examples. Show how to use your logo and company name in a variety of formats; color or black and white, transparent, on different backgrounds, etc. Include rules around placement, font, color, and size of any tagline used with your logo. Likewise, define what abbreviations are acceptable for your company name and when to use them. Do you have a name that requires capitalization? Spell it out (pun, intended) for your team so everyone is on the same page.
Color palette: Provide HEX and RGB values for each color in your palette as well as the Pantone spec. Include recommended color combinations.
Type: Define font families, sizes, kerning, line spacing, colors for various content like headers, subheaders, text blocks, citations, quotes, or any other formatted text that might be used.
Layout: Define where and how elements are positioned on a page and how they relate to each other. Establish margins, padding, gutters, or grid patterns of the overall layout. Create examples that illustrate the differences in pages or layout templates such as landing pages, product pages, and emails.
Links and buttons: Determine the styles and colors for all links and buttons. Show examples and hex color codes for content links, sidebar links, submit buttons, form buttons, info buttons or any other link or button you may want to include.
Visual hierarchy: Show how headers, images, titles, and text blocks relate to each other on the page. Have examples that define the visual hierarchy you want to achieve.
Graphics and icons: Determine type, size, dimensions, and styles to be used for graphics and icons on your site. Have a library of graphics and icons ready for use.
Photography/imagery: Don't cheapen your brand by using mediocre or unsupported stock art or inconsistent photographic styles. Define the style you want used.
- All soft focus?
- Okay to show people's faces?
- Real people or stock images?
- Who is in your target demographic?
Be sure you have the usage rights to all the images you put in your photo library.
With your brand style guide in hand...
Having your comprehensive branding guide should make marketing more fun. You've got the basics; logo, colors, type. Now what? A branded visual environment is about setting creative guidelines so you stay on brand wherever you go. You need to have the tools for everyday visuals while not limiting creative growth.
With your brand style guide, you are ready to address how you want to curate your overall written, spoken and visual brand footprint and stay on-brand at all times.
The guide informs everything from the photos you use, to the icons on your website, to the way you write and design email newsletters. Anything showing off your full brand in action will have your strong voice and tone in the copy and a unique visual layout. Your brand should be instantly recognizable and stick out among your competitors.
Conclusion: Consistency is Key
When you put together all the pieces of your brand guidelines, you are seeking to establish consistency across all your marketing materials: across all the media you put your brand on, and across all the platforms you publish your content to.
Consistency is key when creating a brand. Having a clear brand identity is worth the time you spend developing it. It means that any employee or freelancer will be on the same page as you and will understand how to communicate visually and verbally with your market, which in turn will help your brand engage and generate trust with consumers.
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