Formulating Brand Guidelines and why it's important to stick to them
A brand is like a living, breathing person. It has a voice, interests, fashion sense, speech patterns and is reactive to current events. Although it’s important to remember that your brand should always remain that – an entity separate from you.
A Brand Guidelines document includes instructions about how a brand should appear. This includes text, audible and visual depictions of a brand and can have an impact on almost all aspects of a company. It can be as simple as ‘Use this type of imagery’ to nitty-gritty things like ‘The logo must have this amount of padding’.
What are my brand guidelines
- Your audience (demographic, interests, behaviours)
- Your company values (eg.: design, quality, environment, charity)
- Price range
Once you have a good outline of your audience and what your brand is all about, you can then start to determine other elements. Naturally, someone who falls into this category should be able to give good insight about this aesthetic and brand voice. Of course, if you’re a startup going in “lone wolf”, then you’re likely making a brand you would vibe with yourself. If someone else is working on brand copywriting, a brand guidelines document will prove useful.
While I could say that everything about your brand guidelines should be influenced by audience trends, that’s not the case. After all, if it were, wouldn’t you end up producing an identical aesthetic to your competitors? Readability isn’t exactly audience-focus, it’s more a broad strokes human necessity. It’d be a hard-sell if I tried to convince you that millennials appreciate a good bit of padding around their favourite brand logos. There are modifiers of a brand guidelines document where you’ll have to take the initiative. How best to communicate what my brand’s all about to anyone.
Across your Website
Your company / brand website is where you have complete control about what you can show and tell about your brand. No pesky character limits, interactivity, heavy customisation. Everything you need to shoot for the exact aesthetic you want for your brand, like walking into a brick-and-mortar store. Nonetheless, the brand guidelines should give you a good base of how the site should look and feel. That includes the copy on the site too, what you say and how you should say it.
The copy could still house all its intended keywords for the sake of SEO, but keep in mind that a human will still be reading this. This is why keyword density is a metric with search result quality. To fish out the sites that cram keywords into content by the bucket load. It borders on desperate and incoherent to actually read. In any case, the brand voice, SEO and readability are a balancing act you need to keep in check within your brand copywriting.
To touch on the keywords for a moment. If your marketing team is insisting on content alignment with keywords, consider building new landing pages, rather than modifying existing ones. That way you can craft bespoke content that covers a particular topic more naturally.
On Social Media
At first, you may want to produce social media content just as you would for your website. General consensus with us is that not every social media post should be about sales. That’s what ads are for and people do not come to social media for nothing but ads. Instead, provide a perfect blend; a mix of content types with different ulterior motives. (Comments, engagement, shares, website clicks)
But what am I supposed to post about? Look back at your brand guidelines, check those interests that correlate with your brand. You can engage with your followers or with other corporate accounts. It’s a rare opportunity to loosen up and lend some humanity to your brand in the eyes of your audience. Remember, it’s not all about sales, but your brand will look all the better for it.
Be careful this attitude doesn’t leak into your corporate posts. Even if it’s in good faith, there’s a limit to how much of a diversion you can make. This isn’t your personal account after all – everyone can see that. Check the copy with your peers, does it keep its intended message or has it detracted from its original purpose. Let your main posts do the heavy lifting, loosen the shackles with replies to followers.
There are occasions where you will be speaking as yourself on behalf of a brand. For example, customer support / help desks often reaffirm that you’re speaking to an actual person, not a bot. This is also done to keep track of security and employee performance as well. Just like with the brand guidelines, customer / technical support also has a set of instructions and guidelines to follow while providing support. This helps to ensure that service provided is consistent – no prejudice involved.
There’s nothing wrong with being a stickler for the details, more so if it concerns the depictions of your brand. You got your logo looking right on your website, why wouldn’t you want that to remain consistent across other mediums. Include specific instructions about padding whenever including your logos elsewhere.
Business partners may need the use of your logo, your brand guidelines can provide them instructions on how to approach that. Keep in mind that the brand guidelines should be giving them options rather than demands to bend to your own restrictions. Stiff instructions are more likely to be ignored, so make the options available.
You’re an Icon
Logo design is a whole different kettle of fish so here’s a few things to consider:
A good logo is unique enough to stand out from others, but not too detailed to be readable under certain circumstances.
Not a make or break rule, but we find that a threshold on colours for logos makes readability easier to work with. Use of colour goes beyond the logo, colours used across other brand material also affect readability as well as create an ambience.
Your Yin to your Yang
While you can’t guarantee that your brand material will be fit for every placement, you can plan for those circumstances. Make alternate versions and palettes for use when placed on light / dark backgrounds. Versions logos with / without titles or slogans, useful when working with limited space. Mono friendly versions for printed documents. Depending on the complexity of your designs, alternate versions may warrant more redesigning. We advise that you address this before greenlighting your branding.
Time for a Change
If a significant change in company direction, management or service, a brand refresh may follow. Such changes will affect far more than your brand guidelines. We’re talking about the look and feel of a brand, rather than market repositioning or a managerial mix-up. Maybe you feel your brand looks dated amongst your competitors, no time like the present.
How you approach a brand refresh depends on your core brand’s principles. That is to say, your new core principles. Have you ever wondered why some companies acknowledge their own legacy, (establishing in 1985, service for over 40 years, etc). Meanwhile, it doesn’t seem as important to others? That likely means they don’t view it as a core principle, not one they believe their audience cares about at least.
Be careful about a brand refresh that you don’t overhaul the branding beyond recognition. Else, you might end up alienating your original consumers.
Who you say you are
A Brand Guidelines document is for internal use, which is often shared with partner companies, influencers and as part of press releases. This is done so that all of your touch points have access to all of the necessary dressings to officially represent your brand.
The thing about artists and critics is that they can break down symbolism and visual meaning like nobody’s business. In ways that an outside observer would’ve never noticed. While not quite as deep or elaborate, graphic design and brand design can achieve the same thing. Where every colour and stroke can have real purpose in your branding. Brand guidelines help you to preserve that purpose, even without the original context.
It’s important to understand that when updating branding, what it meant, what it symbolised. Therefore, when making more drastic changes to branding you can change out anything outdated, while preserving what’s still prevalent to your company’s ideals moving forward.