Why You Need a Brand Guide and How to Create One

Why You Need a Brand Guide and How to Create One

Ask many small business owners what a brand guide is, and you may get an answer that resembles "like...my logo and stuff?" Yes. Like your logo...and stuff. When small businesses begin to build a brand, the primary focus is often on creating a logo they love. The logo creation process and end result are important, however, today I am focusing on the "and stuff" portion of building a small business brand guide, or brand bible, or style guide. Deciding what to call it is up to you. Teaching you how to make one is up to me.

Why do I need a brand guide?

If you're a small business owner and you're reading this, you may be asking yourself "why do I need this? I have one designer and he knows what font we use and what our logo looks like." Your one designer, whether they're in-house or a freelancer, may know your brand inside and out. As your business continues to grow, the need for additional designers and creative work will also grow. Having a comprehensive brand guide can provide multiple benefits, including:

  • Create a distinct and unified presence for your brand wherever your clients or potential clients may see you.
  • Reduce the time spent training a new designer on everything from your company's history to how to properly use your logo.
  • Help new employees get in compliance with branding elements that impact their day-to-day job such as proper email signatures, PowerPoint templates, proper letterhead, and more. 

Companies who do branding well are easily identifiable, beyond having a recognizable logo. For example, saying "the golden arches" probably makes you think of McDonalds. If I attempt to (poorly) sing "Ba da ba ba ba...I'm loving it!" to you, that would probably also make you think of McDonalds. While this is an example of good branding on a large scale, a small business can see the same type of success with a cohesive brand strategy and brand guide. 

Ok, I'm convinced. What do I include?

I'm glad I was able to convince you that your company needs a brand guide. I'm sorry that the McDonalds jingle is now stuck in your head for the rest of the day. To make it up to you, I'll cover the key elements to include in your brand guide, how to lay them out, and even provide examples of some of the best brand guides I've ever seen.

Brand story

Consumers today are familiar with some of the more popular stories of famous brands that started small and made it huge. Whether it was Steve Jobs in a garage founding Apple, or Mark Zuckerberg founding Facebook in his Harvard dormitory, these stories resonate with consumers because they embody entrepreneurship, innovation, and determination. 

Your business has a reason for existing. If the story is compelling, it's worth telling. The relationship consumers have with their favorite brands and businesses has become less personal in the technology age. Businesses should take the chance to tell the honest story behind their business to connect on a more personal level with consumers. The story of how your company began will also help to drive your mission statement. You started your business for a reason, now what is the reason your business keeps existing?

Mission statement

Now that you've identified the story behind your business, it's time to put into words the mission of your business. A well-crafted mission statement will state the purpose of your company. The mission statement should guide the actions of the company, spell out its overall goal, provide a path to success, and guide the decision-making of your company. Done right, a mission statement can be a message that resonates with consumers while helping you and your employees understand what is guiding the business. Below, I've listed out three well-known mission statements as well as three mission statements you may not have heard of before (but you've definitely heard of the company). See if you can identify these companies based on their mission statements alone. The answers can be found at the bottom of this article. 

  • "To inspire and nurture the human spirit - one person, one cup, and one neighborhood at a time."
  • "To be the most customer-centric company in the world, where people can find and discover anything they want to buy online."
  • "__________'s mission is to organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful."
  • "At _________, we work to help people and businesses throughout the world realize their full potential. This is our mission. Everything we do reflects this mission and the values that make it possible."
  • "At __________ _________ we have a mission to be the world's most respected service brand. To do this, we have established a culture that supports our team members, so they can provide exceptional service to our customers."
  • "At _________ our vision is to create a better everyday life for the many people. Our business idea supports this vision by offering a wide range of well-designed, functional home furnishing products at prices so low that as many people as possible will be able to afford them."

Vision statement

If your mission statement lays out your company's ultimate goal, then your vision statement is how you achieve this goal. Carefully crating a vision statement allows everyone within your organization to understand how you will achieve your mission. The vision statement should also help to guide internal decision-making. I recommend developing between three and five bullet points that lay out the vision of your company. Lets use a hypothetical lifestyle t-shirt company as an example. Their mission is to "provide high-quality t-shirts, using ethically sourced and environmentally friendly materials, while impacting change in the world." This company's vision statement could look something like this:

  • We're dedicated to manufacturing high-quality lifestyle t-shirts that can stand up to the extreme lifestyles our customers live.
  • We commit to use only ethically sourced materials, and take a vested interest in the standards of our manufacturing partners throughout the world.
  • We pledge to donate a portion of our annual proceeds to help improve the planet for future generations, while actively encouraging our employees to take opportunities to give back around the world.

Messaging and tone

In order to develop your company's messaging, it's important to determine what type of company you want to be by establishing a mission statement, and how you're going to become that type of company with a clear vision statement. Once you understand both of these, you can begin to develop your message, or how you will tell consumers about your mission, vision, products, and services. A well-crafted message will mirror your brand and also communicate with your target audience in their preferred manner. Using the t-shirt company example from above, their messaging would likely be more laid back, less formal, with a tone bordering on playful.

Logo

The visual representation of your brand, your logo must be included in your brand guide along with some basic information:

  • Include the inspiration for your logo. Why did you choose your specific logo and what elements of your company brand does the logo represent?
  • Include information on how people can obtain your logo's digital files. As your company grows, it's important to monitor how the logo is being used to the best of your ability. Having a request process in place could be helpful in the long run.

Along with the basic information about your logo, be sure to include some best-practices for the proper spacing and appearance of your logo. These rules may vary depending on the size and purpose of your logo, but these are some good guides to follow:

  • Maintain a minimum width of 1 inch for print.
  • Maintain a minimum width of 100px for web.

Also, be sure to keep enough blank space around your logo to maintain legibility and visual impact. No other graphic elements such as typography, images, rules, etc., should infringe upon this space. The minimum space needed should be relative to the height of the logo. Where the logo height is "x," the required buffer space is 0.125x. For example, if the logo is 1" high, the required buffer space is 0.125". If the logo is 2" high, the required buffer space is 0.25". 

Color palette

Your mission statement, vision statement, and message and tone all touch on how to verbally communicate your brand's message. The color palette your company uses will visually communicate things about your brand. Utilizing your color palette consistently across different mediums, including print and web, helps to establish the distinct and unified brand you hope to achieve. Company's can have multiple color palettes, but it's best to keep your palettes to two choices if your company is small: a primary palette and secondary palette.

When creating your brand guide, you'll want to include the Pantone, CMYK, RGB, and Hex values for each color alongside an actual swatch of the color. For a professional representation of your colors, the end result may look something like this color palette from Tesla

This professional presentation from Tesla presents the six colors that make up the brand's primary color palette. To check out Tesla's complete brand guidelines, click here. 

This professional presentation from Tesla presents the six colors that make up the brand's primary color palette. To check out Tesla's complete brand guidelines, click here

For something more fun and laid-back, Skype's presentation of their primary color palette looks like this: 

Skype takes a laid-back, often comical, approach to presenting their brand guidelines, including the color palette seen above. To check out Skype's complete brand guide, click here. 

Skype takes a laid-back, often comical, approach to presenting their brand guidelines, including the color palette seen above. To check out Skype's complete brand guide, click here

Font and typography

Selecting the font you want to use for your company can be a tough process. Assuming you've already selected it, getting it into your brand guide with more specifics on how to use the font is important. Your font choices should remain consistent from printed materials to the web, and encompass a variety of different styles that can be used. If you want to keep your brand guide simple, lay out the font styles, sizes, and when and where to use them for your company.

One of the more comprehensive brand guides on typography comes from Adobe. The below example is just the first page of five separate slides covering the use of fonts and typography:

Adobe has one of the most comprehensive brand guidelines imaginable, tipping the scale at 62 pages long. Don't let the length scare you, click here to check out the full guide. 

Adobe has one of the most comprehensive brand guidelines imaginable, tipping the scale at 62 pages long. Don't let the length scare you, click here to check out the full guide. 

Iconography

One of the newer elements to an effective brand guide is iconography. Whether they are a set of stock icons, or custom-designed icons to represent various products or services your brand offers, they should be consistent. Google has some of the most recognizable icons in the world, and devotes much of their visual asset guidelines to icons:

With some of the most popular products and services in the world, Google puts a lot of effort into their iconography. Check out Google's visual asset guidelines here. 

With some of the most popular products and services in the world, Google puts a lot of effort into their iconography. Check out Google's visual asset guidelines here

Imaging

The type of imagery you choose to use across your digital and print materials can contribute significantly to how your brand is perceived. Using consistent imagery, whether its real life photos or more illustrated pictures, can help consumers quickly identify that a piece of marketing material is from your company. No matter which direction you choose, there is a few basic rules to follow that will help your imagery truly stand out:

  • Make sure the photo has consistent lighting and avoid areas of extreme white or black.
  • Ensure the important elements of the photo are in focus.
  • Verify the photo resolution is sufficient for the output device. In general, the following resolution settings are required at the photo's final size: Print 300 DPI, web 72 DPI, and exhibits or displays 100 DPI.
  • Verify the horizon and strong vertical lines are straight. Review the photo to remove any date or time stamps if needed.

Business papers

Despite living in the digital age, some of your business may still be conducted the old-fashioned way. Having guidelines on printed materials you use can help ensure a consistent brand image that stretches to the physical embodiment of your brand. Items like business cards, letterhead, envelopes, and more should all remain consistent with the overall brand image.

  • Include templates in your brand guide for business cards along with proper layout, font type, request process, and recommended paper stock for printing.
  • Include examples of your company letterhead as well as instructions on how to properly obtain the letterhead when needed.
  • Design and include an example of your company envelope in your brand guide. If reaching customers via mail is an important aspect of your business,, having an envelope that stands out in the mountain of junk mail can help ensure a prompt response. Include instructions in your brand guide on how to obtain the envelopes when needed.

Electronic elements

Having printed objects, such as your letterhead and business cards, be consistent with electronic elements also contributes to a consistent brand image. Electronic elements where branding is especially important include email signatures and PowerPoint presentation templates. Be sure to follow these important guidelines for each of these elements. If your company has additional electronic elements, the same principles should apply to how you represent them in your brand guide.

  • PowerPoint template: Make your template readily available to employees to create presentations. Include in your brand guide examples of the title slide, body slides, font, color scheme, bullet format, and how to properly implement images or graphics.
  • Email signature: Include an example of the proper email signature, including font, font size, font color, any legal disclaimers, logos, and icons. Be sure to include any approved variations of the email signature as well such as adding social media icons or website URLs.
This detailed look at Tesla's email signature guide tells the user the exact font and color to use. Further in the guide, it also tells the user what variations are allowed including social media icons and the legal disclaimer. 

This detailed look at Tesla's email signature guide tells the user the exact font and color to use. Further in the guide, it also tells the user what variations are allowed including social media icons and the legal disclaimer. 

Put your brand guide into action

The above list of items to include in your brand guide is not set in stone. Some elements may work for your organization, while others might be overkill. Identifying the elements that are needed for your organization is the first step in completing your brand guide. Once you have your guide totgether, it's time to ensure your organization understands the it exists, understands the content, and how to get the guide when needed. Below is a list of best-practice dos and don'ts for for distributing and updating your brand guide when needed.

  • Don't email a large PDF to your employees. It's like this PDF will go unread and linger in email purgatory.
  • Do create an online version that is easy to update when things change. This can be accomplished via a private employee portal or private URL to a page on your website.
  • Don't print a copy of the brand guide for each employee. This can be costly due to re-printing multiple copies of the brand guide every time a change is made. It can also increase the risk an employee will use an old version of the guide in design decisions.
  • Do treat your brand guide as a living document. As your company evolves, so to will your brand guide.
  • Don't let your brand guide stifle creativity. Don't make your brand guide so strict that it will stifle the creativity of your designers or other employees. The brand guide should be just that, a "guide" to help channel creativity. 

Did you find this guide helpful? Did I miss anything critical that should be included in future brand guide articles? Let me know in the comments. Oh, and here are your answers to the mission statement quiz from above. How did you do?

  • "To inspire and nurture the human spirit - one person, one cup, and one neighborhood at a time." Answer: Starbucks
  • "To be the most customer-centric company in the world, where people can find and discover anything they want to buy online." Answer: Amazon
  • "__________'s mission is to organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful." Answer: Google
  • "At _________, we work to help people and businesses throughout the world realize their full potential. This is our mission. Everything we do reflects this mission and the values that make it possible." Answer: Microsoft
  • "At __________ _________ we have a mission to be the world's most respected service brand. To do this, we have established a culture that supports our team members, so they can provide exceptional service to our customers." Answer: American Express
  • "At _________ our vision is to create a better everyday life for the many people. Our business idea supports this vision by offering a wide range of well-designed, functional home furnishing products at prices so low that as many people as possible will be able to afford them." Answer: Ikea

Interested in a brand guide for your small business? Farmore Marketing helps create professional brand guides for your company. Contact us today to find out more. 


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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

As our Director of Internet Marketing, Paul enjoys working closely with clients to help drive revenue through effective internet marketing techniques. Paul received his bachelor's degree in Marketing from the University of Central Florida and enjoys sports (Go Patriots and Red Sox), movies, and reading. You can connect with him here: 

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