Brand guidelines are an excellent way to put the idea of “your brand” on paper, or better yet, a shareable digital file. Brand guides are like the 23andMe results, school transcripts, diary entries, and credit report of your brand; they’re the documentation of everything that makes you, you.
Brand guides aren’t given as much credit as they deserve and often get overlooked despite what an incredible asset they can be to your team. I’m not sure if you’ve seen an impeccable brand book yet, but it can be the most satisfying document you’ve ever had access to. Every business should have a set of brand guidelines.
Upon opening a brand deck, you’ll learn things about a brand you never thought to consider, and it will make you want one of your own. Let’s dive into the anatomy of a brand guide and why you’ll never go back to keeping your brand identity stored away in your head.
What Goes Into Brand Guidelines
You’ll find that everyone in business has their own interpretation of what goes into creating brand guidelines. Every brand guideline template will look slightly different; some will be a one-page document, while others are so in-depth that they last over 100 pages.
From the perspective of a creative and strategic marketer, the more in-depth your guidelines, the better, but you can come to your own conclusion on what’s necessary for your brand later on.
The point of your brand guidelines is to be a one-stop shop for all things your brand. Creatives might only focus on your brand's visual identity; logos, colors, iconography, typography, imagery, etc. While strategizers might see it as more of a place to define your cultural identity; mission statement, vision statement, brand values, consumer profiles.
In the eyes of someone who dips their toe in creativity and strategy, your brand guidelines will include every detail of your brand’s identity; visual, verbal, and cultural attributes.
Your guidelines should practically be your brand’s bible, relaying how you came to inception, who you are, the paths you have taken, and how you envision the future.
The Kinds of Brand Guides
Creative Brand Guides
Oftentimes, when you think of brand guides, your mind automatically jumps to the creative aspects:
- Color palette
In marketing, the compilation of these creative components builds a brand style guide. Your color palette and logo are essential parts of your brand, but they’re not the be-all-end-all. Under more rare circumstances, a brand style guide template might also call for verbal identity markers:
The tone and voice of your brand are also creative-based. There are many ways to say you have the lowest price; take these four different approaches to express your brand offers the least expensive ice cream.
- We dare you to try to find the same quality ice cream at a lower price.
- Our ice cream is cheap, and we mean really cheap.
- We have the lowest-priced ice cream on the market.
- Price doesn’t always reflect quality; we’ll prove it to you.
Although each brand is trying to convey the same message, they each say it with a different tone. Consider the difference between all of the insurance mascots we know and love. The Geico Gecko, Flo from Progressive, and Allstate’s Mayhem; all sell insurance in a different manner that appeals to a different audience.
Strategic Brand Guides
Many components shape your brand; it’s not just how you look and sound. Strategic brand guides are more so about your positioning and how you market yourself. These components might be more expected in a typical business plan, but they also define your brand identity and belong in your brand book:
- Mission statement
- Position statement
- Vision statement
- Target audience
- Brand story
- Brand values
Defining these aspects of your brand from inception makes your direction clear and the road ahead easier to navigate.
A brand book is basically your style guide and business plan wrapped up into one; it’s the ultimate asset for every person representing your business. Go ahead, check out Starbucks’ brand guideline for example; it’s thorough, clear, and has allowed Starbucks to reach the level of prominence it has today.
Why Your Brand Guidelines Are Important
Consistency is king in branding; it creates clarity, trust, recognition, and loyalty. Although every person will have their own relationship with your brand, you want it to be a consistent one.
Take Dunkin’ Donuts for example; they wanted to be known for their donuts to compete with Krispy Kreme, but America had a different perception: coffee. Today, most perceive Dunkin’ as a competitor to Starbucks rather than Krispy Kreme. You might blame Dunkin’ for putting too much emphasis on their coffee and too little passion into their donuts. Either way, people were going to Dunkin’ more often for a cup of joe than a donut hole.
What does consistency have to do with this? Dunkin’ has always offered donuts and coffee, so where did things take a turn? Well, let me ask you this: what’s Dunkin’s tagline?
That’s right, “America runs on Dunkin’.” In 2006, Dunkin’ Donuts ran the tag for the first time, and that’s the first time donuts got ditched. We stopped hearing “Dunkin’ Donuts” repeatedly, and the lines became blurred.
By 2019, 60% of the chain’s annual revenue came from coffee, and Dunkin’ Donuts officially let go of the ‘Donuts’ in their name, beginning to operate as ‘Dunkin’’. Dunkin’ was no longer only associated with donuts; they had coffee, breakfast sandwiches, smoothies, and more. Dunkin’ was repositioned to be fuel for America, not just donuts.
Was the initial tag from 2006 a slip-up that altered the course of the brand forever, or was it a strategic move towards repositioning over a decade later? Dunkin’ never really said, but it’s certainly something to consider.
Perhaps if Dunkin’ Donuts’ brand guides made “Dunkin’ Donuts” mandatory, the marketers that created the infamous tag would have never dropped the ‘Donuts’ and the brand wouldn’t be where it is today, for better or for worse.
Fun Consistency Test: Show the youngest person you know Dunkin’s iconic pink and orange and ask them what the brand is? If they say Dunkin’, the brand has done a good and consistent job at dropping the ‘Donuts’ and avoiding the association.
All things Dunkin’ aside, your brand guidelines help you have consistent messaging and creative expression. These brand assets are vital to creating the relationship you want to have with the world. If somedays you’re all about donuts and others coffee, how are people supposed to trust that you’re the best in either?
Clear brand guidelines will define the characteristics of your brand; your brand identity. Like in books, movies, and even real life, we always look for characters that remind us of ourselves or the people we love most.
When people see themselves represented within your branding, they’re more likely to form a bond with you. This bond will keep them interacting with your brand, following your social media, staying up to date with new launches, and finding interest in any PR pertaining to you. Your brand soon becomes a consistent part of their life.
The more attached someone is to your brand, the less second-guessing occurs when it’s time to make a purchasing decision.
For example, if a value your brand upholds in every practice is ethical manufacturing, a consumer who’s bonded with you through this shared value won’t feel the need to second-guess your packaging before making their first online-delivery purchase with you. In the back of their minds, they would never associate your brand with styrofoam packing peanuts or unethical manufacturing practices, so it doesn’t even cross their mind.
This concept of character bonding doesn’t only apply to potential customers but also to potential employees and partners. The greater your reputation for possessing certain characteristics, the less questioning your intent. The people who work with your brand want to see themselves in your brand; otherwise, associating with you would misrepresent them and the values they possess.
When your customers, employees, and partners identify with your brand, they remain loyal and excited to grow with you. Together, you are a community of like-minded individuals.
Having a community allows you to sustain and inspires you to evolve. When the people closest to you adopt a new way of thinking, it makes you consider following suit. Evolving isn’t changing your brand’s values but growing into what the current social, political, and economic landscape calls for. Your community feels that your brand represents them; let your community represent your brand.
The more precise your brand guidelines, the more apparent potential brand strategies will be. When you know who you are, it’s easy to identify what tactics are “so you” and which ones aren’t.
A proper brand book will help solidify your brand expression; where you appear, how you speak, who you align yourself with, what you value, and so much more.
Creating messaging is much easier to do when your tone and voice are solidified. The messages you spread will align with your brand and your community, producing better results.
In line with how you communicate, where that communication takes place can be more or less “on brand,” depending on how developed your guidelines are. If you know your brand is more of a texter than an e-mailer, you’ll find it easier to get results from SMS than e-mail.
When you take away questions of tone, voice, placement, and appearance, creating effective campaigns becomes a much less strenuous process. You can skip over several introduction and clarification meetings with an agency or team member by handing over a thorough and well-thought-out brand book.
Your brand book streamlines strategy development for each campaign but also your business. Product expansion, brand acquisition, repositioning; your decisions will be easier to make when you take a moment to remind yourself of your mission, vision, and overall identity.
Let Your Brand Guidelines Work For You
Although creating an entire brand book might take more time than you’d hope, it’s for the better! Having a clear idea of who you are and the direction you want to take will make every decision, big or small, so much easier to make.
Brand guides ensure that EVERYONE on your team is on the same page and working towards the same goal. The creatives, strategists, and partners; when they all know how your brand is supposed to look, sound, and feel, they can work more efficiently, spot opportunities, and reject inconsistencies.
As your brand grows and inches closer to your ultimate vision, feel free to reconvene and discuss rebranding. For now, let your guidelines guide you and your team towards success.