When you think about the most popular brands, you likely notice certain common denominators — they’re easily recognizable, and they’re consistent about their image across all platforms.
Whether it’s their website, a billboard, or a TV commercial, their logo and colors remain the same. Even if they make slight modifications for a particular event or during holidays, it’s all within the same palette. Consistency is key.
To effectively maintain brand consistency, everything your business publishes on the web, prints for distribution, or creates in general should be created with your business's key design elements in mind.
Luckily, your company can easily develop an all-encompassing document that can store all these elements and detail out all the specifics your team should know when putting them to use. What is this amazing document I speak of?
A brand style guide.
A style guide is a book of rules that outlines everything pertaining to the look and feel of your brand. It can be a book, document, poster, pamphlet, PDF, or whatever is easiest for your teams.
This type of guide defines and explains your typefaces, colors, logos, and everything in between. Without a style guide, your teams might present inconsistencies in their materials; so marketing might distribute promotional content with your logo styled differently than the logo your sales team includes on their proposals.
These details — whether big or small — are important to how your audience experiences your brand at every touchpoint. You want them to recognize you and connect on an emotional level with your organization. Ignoring them could result in confusion or in making you look less professional than your competitors.
You might have heard both the terms style guide and brand guide. Fortunately, you can eliminate all confusion by knowing that they mean the same thing.
Whichever way you like to call it, a brand style guide is an essential part of maintaining a consistent and strong brand for your business. So not only is it crucial to create one, you also want to make sure everyone on your marketing team has easy access to them.
It may be tempting to think that if you keep your guidelines short, you really don’t need to document them. However, there are many benefits to having all relevant elements in writing:
How many shades of blue are you familiar with? Sky blue? Turquoise? Teal? Navy? Baby blue? Tiffany? Cobalt? We could spend all day listing a myriad of variations; but we’ve got things to do.
By having guidelines in place, there’s no guessing game. For example, you could specify to only use Pantone 17-4919 TCX. There’s no way to mess that up. No more going back and forth trying to get the exact shade you want.
Before you publish anything relating to your brand — start a new campaign, create an ad, or use a new template for marketing emails — you’ll want to be able to ensure that you can hold it up to specific standards.
What are the do’s and don’ts? How can you ensure what’s being published will look exactly as intended across all mediums — online, banners, staff t-shirts, business cards, etc.? Some may require resizing for practical purposes, and brand guidelines provide direction on all such elements.
When you always look and sound the same, people become familiar with your brand. If your marketing materials are blue today and pink tomorrow, you’re going to confuse people. They may not even notice it’s you who’s advertising something new. So once you find a color that represents your brand identity, stick with it.
Ok. So brand guidelines are important. Ready to take notes on how to move forward? To get started, do the following:
Create an Outline.
Start first with your brand story so that it all makes sense. “We use Pantone xyz yellow a lot because we’re bright and cheery, and we want people to feel upbeat every time they interact with us.” Something along those lines.
Set the stage with that first section. Then make a list of every element you want to cover in detail — logo, typography, tone and voice, social media use, etc.
Keep It Simple.
Make sure that the document is easy to understand. If your team needs to get a degree in ancient languages to decipher it, nobody’s gonna read it.
Also, include a table of contents for easy reference, and anchor each section title to its location, so that nobody has to spend time scrolling up and down.
Keep It Accessible.
Tell everyone where you’re storing it. If you use cloud storage, label it clearly and make sure everyone who needs it to perform their job duties knows in which folder to locate it.
If you still keep a hard copy at work, 1985 called and said to get with the program. Keep a digital copy and back it up.
Every business will have a unique brand guide that will clearly represent the look and vibe of their overall brand. Not one brand style guide is the same. However, you’ll still want to include certain elements to have a well-rounded guide, including:
1. Company’s Mission and Vision
Your mission statement, vision statement, and core values are what drive your brand. They are what shape who you are, what you do, and why you do it. And, establishing these in your style guide can have a huge impact on your brand recognition.
Noting these elements in your brand style guide should influence what content you write, who you write for, the designs and graphics you create, and even the imagery you select.
Place your mission statement, vision statement, and core values at the top of your brand style guide. That way, your employees will have a constant reminder of the purpose and guiding principles of your organization.
2. Brand Messaging
The same way the company logo and colors should be used consistently, you want your brand messages to always have the same tone and voice.
If you like to be conversational, irreverent, humorous, or whichever characteristic that defines your brand, include a section in your guidelines requiring that all content should reflect that.
3. Your Target Audience/Buyer Persona
It’s much easier to craft a message if you know who the recipient is. This is why you want to include a description of your buyer persona somewhere early in your guidelines.
What’s their age range? Demographics? Education level? Job role? Pain points? Preferred social media platform?
4. How to Refer to the Company
Apple Computer, Inc. is generally known simply as Apple. International Business Machines Corporations is known as IBM.
Some companies alternate between using their full name and an acronym; or they may be popularly known by an abbreviation. Establish how to refer to your business and the scenarios in which you may require a variation.
5. Logo Guidelines
Your company’s logo is the top recognizer for your brand — so make sure it's never used incorrectly.
Depending on how many different variations of logo usage you have, this section might be one of the longest to outline in your brand guide. And that's ok. Here are the major elements of your logo and usage you should mention in this section:
What colors can your logo be? You never see a red McDonald's M for a reason. By the same token, you may be ok with using several variations: One for a light background and one for a dark one, for example.
How much breathing room should you give your logo? Most companies choose to allow at least some spacing on either side of their logo so it's not crowded by any other design elements.
What Not to Do
This one is often overlooked, but it can have a valuable impact on consistency. Use this subsection to note what not to do when using the logo, including changing sizing of elements, changing colors, overlapping, etc.
If your company has a secondary logo, what is it? Make sure to note the same guidelines as your primary logo.
For example, Bluleadz's primary logo is our B brand mark with the word Bluleadz underneath. However, in certain use cases, we use the brand mark and our name separately from each other.
Another vital aspect of your style guide is typography. More likely than not, your brand uses a unique typeface and font for your website, content, print, and designs.
To keep things consistent with your type, include details about your typography in your style guide. You should answer all of these questions in the typography section:
What typeface does your brand use?Bluleadz answer: Museo Sans Rounded
What fonts does your brand use?Bluleadz answer: Museo Sans Rounded 300, Museo Sans Rounded 700, Museo Sans Rounded 900
What sizes and weights should your different headers be? (H1 to H6)Bluleadz answer: H1= 48px, 700 weight
What colors should your typography be in in certain cases?
Bluleadz answer: Never use secondary color in our logo.
7. Colors Palette
Behind logos, colors are the next element of your brand that is most recognized. When you think of Target, you know their logo is red. Starbucks? Green, of course.
Provide the values of your colors, including the HEX, RBG, and CMYK values. If you have numerous colors in your palette, note the recommended color usage your brand should use.
If you have a secondary palette, be sure to note that here as well. Secondary colors are often used as accents in certain designs (the green subheaders you see in this blog serve as one of our many secondary colors!).
What to note in this section:
- Primary and secondary colors
- Color usage
- Color values
Specify the required format (JPG or PNG), resolution, pixels, dimensions, whether you’re ok using stock images or to hire photographers for ad hoc events. Also include requirements for specific formats, such as online or print usage.
9. Social Media Guidelines
Include everything relating to engaging with followers on social media — how to address negative reviews, when to post, whether you’re getting involved in pop culture, news, political issues, static or video cover photos, hashtag use, words you’d want to avoid, post length, inclusive language, etc.
10. Brand Voice
The overall tone and voice of your brand impacts all your content and outreach. Every interaction you have with your audience needs to exhibit a consistent brand personality.
The mission statement and values are the why of your brand. The tone and voice are the brand's how – how you exhibit those values and how you can express your company's messaging in an authentic, engaging way.
Without further ado, browse through the style guides below to get some cool and practical ideas on how to create your own.
Medium has a beautifully designed style guide that outlines every element of their brand in great detail.
Right off the bat, they highlight their purpose, which will keep employees encouraged about promoting a positive brand.
They also do a great job of visually explaining their elements, from noting the different sizes of their logo to showing what the logo should look like on different backgrounds. They don't miss out on anything, and it shows.
Check out their full brand guide here.
Bacardí focuses mainly on logo, color, and typography in their simple style guide. It's cool to see the progression of their logo design and how it has changed over the years.
They also excel in detailing every aspect of their logo use; you can see how they invert their logo against a black background, how much breathing room you should leave around it, and even various ways you shouldn't distort their logo.
Overall, their brand visual identity guide is clean cut and detailed enough to create consistency across their brand.
Look through the full style guide here.
American Red Cross
American Red Cross covers all the basics in their simply designed style guide.
In the logo suite, they make sure to highlight all the ways the logo can be used in different cases, such as in button form, in classic form, or on a dark background. They even explain in red text when exactly to use each, so there shouldn't be much confusion within the company!
A simple breakdown of primary and secondary colors falls underneath, with CMYK, RGB, and HEX values for each. Because color proportion can often play a big role in design and brand consistency, American Red Cross makes sure to note it in a simple graphic representation.
Beyond design, they also added a section to set guidelines for tone of voice, which can make a huge impact on their overall messaging and content across all platforms. Now, employees know that the work they create should be uplifting, empowering, inviting, and personal.
Scroll through the full brand guide here.
Fandango, a movie ticket company, doesn't miss out on any details in their 52-page style guide. One big reason why is due to the countless ways to use the Fandango logo.
When scrolling through the style guide, you can see how to use the Fandango logo with corporate partner logos, how to use the Fandango MOVIECLIPS logo, how to use the Fandango Powered By logo, how to use the Fandango logo when accompanied by their tagline... I can go on and on.
They also do an excellent job of highlighting what not to do when using their trademark logo and extended logos. This surely ensures that their logo is being used across all platforms in a consistent way.
Don't worry — they didn't forget to include typography and color, and they even have a whole chapter on brand usage on YouTube.
Check out the full brand identity style guide here.
Njord might have one of the prettiest brand style guides out there.
Through a simplistic design, this restaurant doesn't skip a beat on outlining the essentials of their brand. They include the numerous opacities of their primary colors, the pattern they use as a subset of their logo elements, and even the four logo variations they use.
Beyond that, they even highlight product design, showing how to use their brand elements in bag designs. This is a great feature for a B2C company.
Learn more about Njord's style guide here.
When it comes to creating a consistent brand, your style guide will be your best friend. As you grow your business and hire new employees, they won't need to ask any questions because they'll have access to all the details of your brand and how you represent yourself to others.
With these tips and examples in your back pocket, start designing a brand style guide that works for your business today. No style guide is too long. Add any elements and examples you think you'll need to create the best possible brand for your business.