The importance of brand guidelines

Brands are about rules. Regardless of what media an entity is using for its marketing there is always the underlying current of structure in how brand elements are presented. This makes designing for brands both a challenging and rewarding process. Rewarding because brands are self-made icons with the money and power to back up some incredible campaigns. Challenging because no matter what one designs it has to stay “on brand” – a feat not always easily accomplished. This is where brand guidelines come in.

Brand guidelines, style guides, identity standards, or one of their many other names are the bible of brand usage and design. These are policies and procedures that govern the formatting and visual presentation of all company communications. From typeface to tone, these guidelines can tell a designer the minimal allowable size for a logo to the ethos of any campaign messaging.

When starting a project, receiving a company’s brand guidelines can be invaluable. Brands have lives of their own, requiring communication and design to be consistent across all marketing materials. The brand guidelines are the ideal reference tool to articulate the communication standards that govern a business.

What’s in the Guidelines?

Here are some of the key features a brand guideline may include:

  • Business Overview: the business’ vision, personality, values, and history
  • Mission Statement: what the business wishes to achieve and its promise to its customers
  • Logo Usage: usage preferences for logos, word marks, icons, taglines, and other identifiers. These preferences include positioning, orientation, proportional relationships, and minimum size requirements.
  • Typography: the fonts and styles of elements such as headers, subheadings, text, etc. This establishes the visual hierarchy of typed content and the specific purpose for certain styles.
  • Colour Palette: what primary and secondary colours are used by the brand including each hue’s CMYK breakdown.
  • Imagery: images project the personality of the brand; therefore, the composition, subject matter, tone, and positioning of images, photographs, or illustrations are specific.
  • Editorial Style: a set of editorial guidelines about managing language across multiple documents, including: vocabulary, tone of voice, and perspective.
  • Templates: examples of spacing, styling, and proportional relationships between textual and visual brand elements

Adhering to these guidelines helps ensure the company’s media resonates consistently both visually and emotionally. Even if one is creating a logo for a new business supplying the basic details such as typeface and colour provides the foundation for a client to begin developing their standards. Brands create these intricate outlines for a number of reasons, two being:

1. Brands are valuable.

Consumers recognize the intrinsic equity of a brand. With any product on the market today, there are at least five competitors vying for the customer’s attention. Whether the product or service does nothing more than satisfy a basic need, purchasing decisions are directly tied to the shopper’s perceived value of the brand. Think about toilet paper, Cottonelle, Charmin, Scott, or generic, each product performs the same function but many people have a favourite; one for which they are willing to pay a premium.

2. Brands have identities.

Brands want to be perceived in a particular way. A brand’s messaging and content is understood through the lens of the values that the company embodies. Over time, the market sentiment towards a brand evolves to the point where a company is recognized for a core set of brand associations. For example, Lush is an ethical, eco-friendly, energetic, and hip producer of fresh, handmade beauty products, these characteristics breathe life into all their marketing campaigns and dictate internal selling practices; the brand would never deviate from their identity as it would alienate and confuse their customers.

To be effective, a style guide must be accessible and understandable to any person involved in the messaging process, both inside and outside the company. This is especially important when working with third parties such as web developers, graphic designers, and freelance photographers. The standards should be concise, easy to understand, and include specific examples of correct and incorrect branding. However, guidelines should be flexible enough that they provide designers a framework with the latitude to develop new ideas but not so ambiguous that the brand’s identity becomes diluted.