Outline Your Brand Guidelines

Outline Your Brand Guidelines

If you’ve been working through the other branding sections under “Mastering Marketing,” congratulations are in order—you now have a real brand, not just a company name. You have a plan to build it. You know and understand the direction you need to go to cement your brand’s images, feelings, and experiences in the hearts and minds of your niche.

Now you need consistency in how you present yourself to the market place. And for that, you need brand guidelines.

Don’t let references you may have heard about branding books that rival the length of a car manual scare you. Yes, they’re out there, but they are designed for companies with dozens of brands or more.

Companies creating overly elaborate branding guidelines for a single brand usually find themselves so locked into one restrictive way of thinking that they risk losing the creativity and ingenuity that marketing is built on. Just as bad, excessive limitations can also drive up project cost as the time it takes for creatives to find an acceptable place to land amongst all the roadblocks can easily triple.

All you really need is a style sheet, a simple document outlining the main do’s and don’ts of your branding. You’ll give this to every staff member, agency, freelancer, or media representative to use as their starting point when creating marketing or communications about your brand.

The Basic Stylesheet

The idea is to be consistent inside the company and out. The stylesheet will explain and demonstrate allowable brand usages, both for appearance and narrative reference.

Start with the basics below, then add to your style sheet over time as you need to. Remember to only include requirements.

  • Logo—Display all the versions of your current logo, or new logo if it’s being changed, with notes on when and where to use each format (i.e., JPG for most digital and print uses, transparent PNG for overlay on top of photos or other backgrounds, or EPS for larger uses such as for signage, packaging, and uniforms). You will likely have black and white, color, and reversed-out logos, and possibly horizontal, vertical, and square versions. Display them here with examples of how each may or must be used. Store the clearly labeled digital versions in a logo folder on your computer to have at the ready whenever needed. (See our “Design Your Logo” article for more info on logo use).
  • Company Name—How do you want your name to appear in written form? For instance, the LinkedIn name stands alone in logo form, but in narrative it must appear as “Linkedin professional networking services” or “LinkedIn recruiting services”.  Do you have an acronym? If so, where and how can it be used? (i.e., first reference the name is spelled out, subsequent references may use the acronym; or perhaps the acronym is only allowed in internal publications)
  • Trademarking—A typical statement might say that the trademark symbol must always appear on the logo unless a very small usage situation will make the symbol unreadable. Also state how you want your registration and trademarks to appear in narrative copy. Standard practice is to require that the symbol be used the first time the company name appears in a particular piece, in addition to the logo. This might be the first time the company name appears in narrative form on a web page or in a brochure or direct mail piece.
  • Color scheme—Not just “navy blue and red” but the specific PMS and color spec breakdowns for each. Yes, this is designer-speak, but once you’ve finalized your company colors, it’s important to have the designer list those details here for subsequent designers to maintain consistency.
  • Photography—Give the designer access to any digital photography files that are cleared for use, with notes on what is being used currently in various media channels. Do you have any required do’s and don’ts around the use of stock photos?
  • Fonts—Show and list any required fonts for headline and body copy use, if they have already been set. However, you may wish to include a statement that says, “Other fonts are acceptable for specific uses once approved.” This will allow the creative team the flexibility to go a different direction when the specific strategy would be better suited by a different look.
  • Any other must have’s or must not’s for your brand?

Stylesheet Deluxe

When you’re ready to kick your branding guidelines up a notch, you may wish to ask a writer to incorporate things such as company values, brand strategy, target markets, avatar photos, brand voice, benefits, tagline, and history profiles. Why? It saves time and money and forges consistency. Once elements are decided upon, the branding guidelines document can become a great central depository for all the key elements that creatives need to know, regardless of project. It then becomes a great time-saver for you as well because this standard information doesn’t have to be repeated inside every project brief.

If you’d like a really nice visual representation of all this, now turn over your document to a designer to jazz it up in a mode that reflects your brand personality.

Most companies revisit branding guidelines about every five years or so, not necessarily for brand overhauls but to keep the logo fresh with the times and address new usage situations that may arise. Read more about this in our article on “Rebranding.”

For now, the above basics and a project brief will give your creative team all they need to jumpstart your brand building efforts.