How to Create a Brand Style Guide
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Imagine walking into your favorite cafe and settling down for a hot cup of coffee. You take the first sip, and you notice that it is creamier than usual. You forget it thinking you are fussing about nothing.
The next day, you get the same cup of coffee, but this time, it is a little too hot for you to drink immediately. Now, you know there is something amiss here.
Your experience – as simple as it may be – is inconsistent. The same logic applies to all businesses worldwide. Customers expect a consistent experience. What worked last time should work every time.
That is why companies, big or small, need a brand style guide to stay consistent. In this blog, we will explore how to create a brand style guide.
What is a brand style guide?
A brand style guide is a document that enables you to portray a consistent identity of your business through elements such as logos, font, imagery, language, etc.
Some people refer to it as ‘Toolkit,’ ‘Style Guide Template,’ or ‘Brand Guidelines.’ However, even though they sound different, their meaning is essentially the same.
Why is a brand style guide important?
Think about it this way – when do customers begin identifying your logo? When they see it consistently on your emails, website, app, brochure, etc., constantly reinforced through different communication media.
For example, BNP Paribas, a French banking company, sponsors the French Open tennis tournament every year. All through the two weeks, global audiences see the bank’s logo – that of a star transforming into a bird – everywhere on TV, mobile apps, etc.
Besides, it also helps the company employees adhere to the same principles and rules while communicating – internally or externally.
How to create a brand style guide?
In this section, we will explore the different elements of a brand style guide and how to create it. It consists of:
- Target audience
- Mission and vision statement
- Fonts and typography
- Color combination
- Language and messaging
- The target audience
Everything starts with your target audience. So, when you create a brand style guide, ask yourself these useful questions (also known as the 5Ws):
- Who are my ideal customers/users?
- What do they do for a living?
- What age groups do they belong to?
- Why do they use our product/service?
- What makes them stick to our product/service?
For example, Coca-Cola knows that it has a global audience, and that is why its branding language appeals to everybody. Their theme of happiness and celebration is common to all audience demographics.
On the other hand, Slack is a communication platform predominantly for office employees who want to get work done faster. And, that is exactly what Slack stands for – ease of use and simplicity. In other words, get work done faster. Their tagline “Where work happens” too appeals to the same demographic.
Your company’s brand guideline must identify and demarcate the target audience so that all communication can be attuned to their style. You needn’t write detailed essays about your target audience, but you must carve out a specific niche for yourself.
Here’s how an education software company could answer the 5Ws:
- Parents of students between the age groups of 13-18 years.
- They have regular white-collar jobs at corporations
- They are aged between 28-42 years.
- They need education software to help their children study online.
- The number of subjects offered and helpful teachers help them understand educational concepts quickly.
A lot of companies do not pay enough attention to mission and vision statements or often get confused by them. Simply put, a mission statement explains a company’s objectives and how it plans to achieve them. On the other hand, a vision statement is how it envisions its foreseeable future.
In other words, a mission statement explains how a company plans to attain its vision.
We couldn’t have a better example for a company’s vision and mission statement than IKEA’s.
IKEA’s vision is ‘To create a better everyday life for the many people.’ How does it plan to achieve this?
That’s what their mission statement explains: ‘To offer a wide range of well-designed, functional home furnishing products at prices so low that as many people as possible will be able to afford them.’
To create a vision statement, think about what you’d like to see in the next ten years. And then create a mission statement through it.
For example, a graphic design software company could have “To enable anybody to create beautiful designs digitally” as its vision statement. An ideal mission statement for it would be, “To provide a digital platform that lets users use readymade design templates for their everyday needs.”
A logo is one of the most visible components of your company. It conveys what your company stands for. A thoughtful logo distinguishes your company from other brands and helps people recognize your presence.
The easiest way to understand how logos work is by looking into iconic logos around the world. Nike’s swoosh, created by graphic design student Ms. Carolyn Davidson in 1971, is an easily recallable logo of our times. It is simple, smooth, and embodies what Nike stands for – speed, movement, power, and motivation. It is hard to believe that Ms. Davidson was paid $35 for an iconic brand that transformed how we perceived and experienced sports. The swoosh remains a powerful symbol of Nike’s growth over the years.
Similarly, Amazon’s earlier logo was typical. While it derives its name from the South American rainforest known for its biodiversity, the logo had a small arrow from the letters ‘A’ to ‘Z.’ It showed how the company had everything that we need in our daily lives.
Some companies go to great lengths to explain how their logos should appear in press releases and external publications. For example, SurveyMonkey elaborates the correct versions of their logos on their brand assets webpage.
They also lay out the incorrect combinations of their logo and brand colors that they do not want to be associated with.
When you’re creating your logo, ask yourself these questions:
- What do you symbolize to your customers?
- What would you want to be known for?
- How would you like to differentiate yourself from your competitors?
A food delivery company could probably answer the above questions as:
- Tasty food
- Quick delivery of great food (Never mind the price!)
- Great customer service
While it is important to think about your logo, don’t lose sleep over it, though. Get your inspiration from a logo maker that would give you dozens of templates to get started and customize them according to your needs.
The fourth element to create a brand style guide is the fonts and typography. While it may not sound very important when you’re a small business, ignoring it could lead to a poorer brand recall for your users.
Why? Because, like we mentioned above, staying consistent with your brand elements in your communications is key to getting customer attention.
Google’s logo has a sans-serif typeface with different colors that look bright and playful. Moreover, the same font flows throughout the company’s print and online artifacts, which shows the extent to which the company has invested in staying consistent.
On the other hand, publishing giant Medium relies on a serif family of fonts called Charter. UK’s The Guardian newspaper went a step further and created a typeface for themselves called Guardian Egyptian. These companies know why they prefer such fonts – because their audience consists of readers who spend time reading their publications, and their fonts are easier to read.
Marketing automation provider Mailchimp uses a primary serif font called ‘Means,’ which gives it an editorial appeal. However, it also uses a secondary font called Graphik to balance out the expressiveness of the Means font.
Whatever be your business, use a font that is uniform throughout. What we mean here is that it is fine to experiment with different fonts, but make sure you are consistent with it.
For example, your main website could use a serif font family, while your email newsletter could have a slightly different font. This is because people may not spend too much time on your website, but your newsletter subscribers may pore over every article you send them. So, you may have to alter your approach based on the medium.
Make sure that your brand style guide explains what is your primary and secondary font, their sizes, etc., based on the medium you’re putting out. It should also include the size of fonts on headings, paragraphs, etc.
Furthermore, explain the following points about your fonts and typography:
- What fonts to use and where? Headlines could have an all-caps style, while the body text might be a secondary version of the same font.
- What font sizes to use for headlines (H1, H2, H3, etc.), quotes, captions, body text.
- Specify how to align your copy – left, center, or right. Most brands that we saw used a left alignment.
- Spacing to be maintained in between bullets, paragraphs, text, etc.
The color combination is a crucial element of your brand style guide. This is because different colors have different annotations and meanings. Moreover, colors evoke emotions in human beings. Therefore, you must use the right colors that you would want people to identify your business with eventually.
That is why you’d need to pick a combination of colors that are unique and consistent – across your website, landing pages, CTA buttons, newsletters, etc.
But, while defining colors in your brand style guide, don’t confuse your users by giving them multiple shades of the same color. While it gives them the flexibility to use them, it also confuses them.
That’s why we prefer Coca-Cola’s brand color guidelines because they’re really simple to understand. They clearly define their brand colors as Red and Black. Red has a Hex code of #F4009, while black has a Hex code of #1E1E1E.
San Francisco-headquartered SaaS company, Gong, uses gradients of red and purple. Red symbolizes hunger, excitement, and passion. On the other hand, purple stands for magic, mystery, creativity, transformation. Together, they make a breezy concoction on their website and digital assets. No wonder Gong is listed in Forbes’ Top 100 Cloud companies.
We recommend using colors that are easily identifiable and usable. Having a primary color and a few secondary colors is a good way to set up your brand guideline. Use a combination of your primary and secondary colors on your brand assets. Don’t forget to include the HEX codes, RGB combination, and Pantone names of your colors.
Language plays a crucial role in spreading your brand message. Unfortunately, brand managers often forget to have the same tone on their website and social media handles. Many companies have a formal way of writing on their brand assets but would be extremely casual on social media. It can confuse their audience.
Instead, stay consistent everywhere and make sure you consider your target audience while communicating with them. For example, if your target audience consists of millennials, then talking about savings may not work with them (although they need all the knowledge they can get about savings).
For example, Salesforce speaks directly to their target audience, i.e., sales reps, sales operations executives, and managers, by using phrases such as “Close more deals” or “Make customers happy faster.” Such phrases resonate with their target audience well.
On the other hand, Netflix knows that its target audience consists of parents who are concerned about what their kids watch. That is why they reassure parents of the various features on their app that lets children be children.
But, irrespective of the medium, adopting a customer-friendly tone in your messaging helps customers stick around longer.
So, in your brand style guide, show different samples of what to write on:
- Websites – Include a copy of your homepage, so people know what you expect of them. That includes landing pages for your products, services, features, use cases, etc.
- Social media posts – An Instagram post deserves a far more casual tone than a LinkedIn post. So, explain the purpose behind posting on every social platform.
- Customer communication – Show the tone you use while communicating with customers via emails, surveys, newsletters, blogs, chat systems.
- Investor communication – Most public companies communicate with their investors, which requires using numbers, percentages, growth rates.
Every company must have a brand style guide and strive to align its digital assets with it. It is a living document that needs to be updated every time you make changes to your brand elements. However, don’t make too frequent changes because your audience needs to get warmed up with it.
The broader success of your brand depends on how effectively you’re able to communicate it to all parties involved – employees, executives, vendors, partners, customers, etc.