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10 October 2016

Creating brand guidelines – the how and the why

Brand guidelines – most companies have them, but not everyone uses them. Do you only ever refer to them when asked what pantone colour is in your logo? Or are they something you only roll out when you need new brochure designs?

Ian Caie, Head of Design at think, discusses the importance of fluid brand guidelines and why these need to adapt as your business grows.

When creating a new brand, company or product, it is natural as humans to jump ahead to the exciting design stage, and create your website or brochure without doing the essential ground work of developing brand guidelines. As the old saying goes: ‘Don’t put the cart before the horse.’

So, what are brand guidelines and why are they so important? Taking things back to basics, this is the ultimate guide and rule book to how your brand works and how it should behave. Typically included is essential information, such as an overview of your brand’s history, vision, personality, key values and importantly, the look and feel.

Although some may not realise, every company already has its own brand however without guidelines to help define it, it is very easy to become lost in today’s marketplace. It is important to maintain a strong brand with a defining, consistent tone and with set guides in place, you are less likely to stray off target.

However, I must stress that these are guidelines and not rules set in stone, never to be changed. In fact, one of the keys to maintaining strong brand guidelines is keeping them flexible enough to move forward, progress and change. In no way am I suggesting that you should update your brand guidelines bible every week, which would no doubt cause confusion amongst employees, but instead review them at least once a year to ensure they’re still aligned with your brand and vision as the company develops.

In today’s social media driven environment, you never know what new app or social media platform your brand guidelines need to fit into, therefore it is vital to check they are still valid. Take your logo for example - where and how it sits will be different on almost every marketing channel. Too often we see logos stretched or manipulated to fit into a set size, but remember scale is the key. Rather than a logo which looks distorted out of proportion, it may be the case that a simple development of the logo is needed.

So, what should be included in your brand guidelines?

We don’t need war and peace here. You’ll want them to be easy to digest, simple sections that are readable and understandable. This allows for future expansion and more evolved understanding of the brand you have and the message you are trying to deliver. Some of the key areas to consider are:  

Business Overview – your vision, personality, values and history

Message – include what your business wants to achieve and your customer promise

Tone of Voice – a short description of how the company should represent tone of voice, for instance language when writing and the personality of your business 

Colour palette - what colours are used in the brand with a breakdown and even hierarchy of colours

Font – the fonts and styles of elements such as headers, sub headers, paragraphs and small text, along with the size ratios 

Logo – how the logo should be used, size restrictions, space restrictions, colours to use and how it displays on different backgrounds and colours, as well as what not to do with the logo  

It is important to share your guidelines with employees of all levels – after all your people are as much your brand as the company itself.

And remember, guides can be adapted as the months and years progress. Creativity still needs to play a key part to make sure your brand demonstrates, and retains, its own individuality.

Think we can help you with your brand identity? Get in touch……