Brand Guidelines: What They Are & Why They’re Essential

A brand is undoubtedly much more than just a logo and a colour palette. Your brand should totally envelop your business’s communications, informing all your textual and visual “dos and don’ts” company-wide.

Your brand should trickle into everywhere your company is visible – from big-budget marketing campaigns to day-to-day emails and comms.

But how do you maintain a consistent brand when you have a large team or use outsourced talent? Even the simplest of brands can have numerous “moving parts” to juggle at any one time. Brand guideline documentation helps to keep everything – and everyone – consistent.

But before we find out why brand guidelines are so important, let’s explore what they are and what they generally include…

What Are Brand Guidelines?

Brand guideline documentation clearly lays out how a brand is to be portrayed wherever it happens to be visible. Think of it like a “For Dummies” guide to communicating your brand. Though we’ll discuss what brand guidelines include shortly, for starters they can include your brand’s colour palettes, correct instructions on logo presentation, use of fonts, linguistic tone of voice, and so on.

Guidelines like these aren’t just self-indulgent fluff. They provide real, tangible guidance about how to keep your brand consistent; and as we’ve stated in the past, brand consistency = brand value. Guideline documentation is invaluable to people who have to create anything on a brand’s behalf.

Brand guidance documents are useful regardless of what you’re creating for a brand – be it a sales email, a social media graphic, branded stationery, content marketing, an email signature template, product packaging, or even a new website. Your brand guidelines provide focus across teams and leave nothing to interpretation or to chance.

What do Brand Guidelines Include?

Brand guidelines can be as detailed or basic as you like, but we recommend you err on the “detailed” side, especially if you have to entrust your brand’s appearance to outsourced creatives or to large, distributed teams.

In our experience, brand guidelines generally fall into three different bands of complexity:

Option 1: The Basics

Simply laying out the basic rules of your brand assets is the bottom rung of brand guidelines in our opinion. But it’s much better than nothing! Basic brand guidelines usually include:

  • Logo treatment – how to correctly present your logo, including backgrounds, use of colour, and spacing.
  • Colour palettesHTML colour codes, CMYK values, or Pantone colour codes for your brand colours.
  • Fonts – What fonts you use, for what, and when. Can include guidance on heading hierarchies and basic textual layouts.

Option 2: Intermediate Level

This “middle tier” of guideline documentation includes all of the points above but goes into a little more practical detail about how the brand is to be portrayed, including:

  • Tone of Voice – How your brand should be portrayed in text. Your brand’s linguistic personality.
  • Typography – How textual elements should be laid out in relation to each other and to other graphics.
  • Visuals, Illustrations, and Photography – Guidance about how to create, select, or source on-brand graphical elements.
  • Document Layouts – Designs for commonly used branded documents like letterheads, emails, etc.

Option 3: The Best

This kind of brand guideline documentation is our personal favourite as it provides emotional context for the brand in question. As well as all of the above, this kind of documentation includes:

  • Company vision, mission, and values – Why and how your company does what it does.
  • Company Culture and Ethics – The shared values, attitudes, and aims that your company strives for.
  • Good Examples of Brand Collateral – Examples of successful brand treatment with feedback as to what makes them so “on-brand”.

5 Reasons Why Brand Guidelines Are Absolutely Essential

1. Retains Your Brand Value

Keeping your brand’s visuals consistent over time serves to keep your brand recognisable and memorable. Upholding a consistent look across all touchpoints creates a professional, trustworthy appearance.

Maintaining detailed, informative guideline documentation is especially crucial if you rely on large teams or disparate external parties to create branded collateral.

2. Informs Both Creatives and Non-Creatives

Strong brand guidelines keep everyone on the same page – and we mean everyone! Though brand guidance is arguably most important for marketers and creatives, the right colours, logo treatment, and tone of voice need to carry through to any externally facing collateral. Therefore, customer service teams, salespeople, and after-sales support teams should also pay heed to branding documentation.

We would even recommend keeping branding consistent even on internal correspondence and documents in order to keep the brand’s essence ingrained wherever possible.

3. Maintains a Professional Appearance

When a brand starts portraying itself in an inconsistent, slapdash manner, it gives the impression that they don’t really care about appearances. And if they don’t care about their appearances, what else could be falling by the wayside? Do they not take pride in what they do? Inconsistencies can be easy to spot, and almost always sow seeds of doubt in the prospect’s mind.

An investment in brand guideline documentation is an investment in your brand’s enduring recognisability and esteem.

4. Rules Keep Things Simple

When all of your brand’s “rules” are laid out in black and white, nothing is left to interpretation. There’s no room for debate or differences of opinion about, say, how to apply your logo to a document or what fonts to use for what.

When these differences are left unchecked, inconsistencies will run rampant, leading to erosion of your brand’s perceived value.

5. Good Guidelines Nourish Creativity

You may think that strict rules would hamper creativity, yet most creatives will tell you there’s nothing worse than a blank screen to bring on a withering case of creator’s block. However, when you know a few basics about what you’re creating – colour schemes, layouts, tone of voice, and so on – it can give you a bit of a head start, creatively.

Guideline documentation also helps new creative team members hit the ground running, helping them create on-brand deliverables straight out of the gate.

A Few of Our Favourite Brand Guidelines

Let’s explore a few excellent examples of brand guidelines, handpicked by our team.

I Love New York

I Love New York Brand Guidelines
Personally, we feel this document is a stellar example of detailed brand guidelines. It gives practical pointers about colour application, clear space, and logo “dos and don’ts” whilst also clearly demonstrating the brand’s personality. It even includes examples of successful application; mission and vision statements; and information about the brand’s history.

Mailchimp

Brand Identity and Content Style Guide
Mailchimp’s brand identity document guides you through their recent rebrand and the thinking behind it, whilst also providing functional information about brand fonts, colour schemes, and photography. You can really feel the company’s strong personality and a precisely refined culture. The style guide painstakingly details the rules their internal writers use to maintain their consistent, yet playful, tone.

NASA (1976)

NASA Graphics Standards Manual (1976)
One of the only brands to have survived the hard vacuum of outer space! This guide is a delightfully retro and remarkably practical, giving a fascinating glimpse into NASA’s brand. It contains sensible guidance on fonts, colours, logo treatment, and document layouts. It also contains detailed instructions relating to vehicle livery – from motorcars to space telescopes!

Need help nailing down your brand’s look and feel? Want a document that provides practical guidance about how to apply your brand everywhere it’s seen? OLCO Design don’t just create brands, we can help define them too! Our team of experienced marketers will work with you to define your brand inside and out, creating clear, pragmatic brand documentation that leaves nothing to chance. Book a no-obligation consultation with us today!

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