I learned most of what I know about branding from really big companies. Working in a corporate environment with Fortune 100 companies gave me and advantage in my industry. As a graphic designer I was an integral team member when they were recreating, merging or introducing new services to the brand. As a result I was “on the cutting room floor” for many of the decisions effecting the company globally. Even many upper level executives didn’t have this privilege (I guess they were too busy, or thought it was better left to the pros). I knew it was an honor, and I paid attention.
With each new brand the most critical implementation component was the brand style guide. It’s a document that guides each and every employee, and all service providers, through the proper use of the brand’s logo, color scheme, partnerships and communication. In every case, before the brand was introduced to the public, each manager had a copy of the brand guidelines which they then distributed to their staff.
Without brand guidelines, your brand appears messy and disjointed in the marketplace. I’ve seen many companies stunt their growth by not putting time into this very important asset. It is a staple business tool if you do any marketing or advertising, whether online, in print or in person. Here’s what should be included and why (write this down or print it out, it will become your Table of Contents):
1) Your Core Values. Brand values are adjectives that we use to describe what we believe in and how we think our business should be run. In developing your brand values you differentiate yourself from competitors in the minds of your clients and staff. These values will set the tone for who you serve, why they choose you and why you retain them. As a small business many of your clients will choose you based on these values and not because you’re the best in the business (that ranking is based on opinion). As an example, Brand Excitement’s core values are support, integrity, leadership, and excellence.
2) Color Palette and Usage. Your colors are a form of non-verbal communication with symbolism and meanings that go beyond ink and screen. It is best to choose 2-3, although I have seen some brands do well with four. You’ll want to include the color definitions for each color you choose: RGB, CMYK, Pantone and Hex. Your designer will know exactly what those are. This allows you to have your materials look consistent no matter where you get them printed, and no matter the size.
3) Typography. This may be represented in two ways – your logo and/or the text of your documents. If you choose a font which is not a common library item, you can’t control how that font will be displayed on the web but you can control how your font is displayed in most print and electronic documents. Having one consistent treatment to your documents provides a cohesive experience.
4) Logo. Most people think the logo is the brand, but as you know, it’s only one of the components. You need extensive usage guidelines for you logo, such as how it should be used in a joint venture or co-branded document or presentation, how it should be displayed when photos are used, how to adjust it with a colored background, and the white space around it, to name a few. As your brand grows, the definitions become more and more important for communicating consistently across many media.
5) Unapproved Formats. As important as it is to define how the logo should be used, this section is critical to outline how the logo should NOT be used. You may elect to put treatments such as drop shadows, rotations, scale and tracking in this section.
6) Brand Review Process. Make it easy for your staff (or interns or assistants or partners or friends) to execute your brand by putting in place a process for all outgoing materials. Any use of your brand components needs to be reviewed and approved by yourself or a designated brand manager. Any requests for exceptions to the brand rules will be considered on a case by case basis by this person. This ensures that communication remains seamless.
As your brand grows, your guidelines will expand. Over time your guidelines may come to include signage usage, trademark and service mark details, tagline principles, PowerPoint usage and more. As you develop new materials over time, be sure to outline the process in your guidelines so that the next project runs smoothly.