Branding & Design
Brand Guidelines (A Comprehensive Step-by-Step Guide)
As a business owner, you face many challenges day after day. Most of them focus on creating more business opportunities and providing your customers with the product or service you offer. But, of course, nothing in the business world could be possible without marketing and sales. But even if you take care of those two aspects without proper preparation, the whole effort could fall into nothing.
Even if your brand identity and all of your brand visual assets are on point, you cannot be sure people will use it in the right way if you don’t have a document called brand guidelines. It doesn’t matter how great your marketing department is (if you have one, of course). Or how good is your understanding of branding—there’s still much confusion about the brand guidelines, the actual value they bring, and the role they play in defining, maintaining, and growing a brand.
To get your brand guidelines right, you’ll need first to understand what they are, why do they matter, and learn how to create them and use them properly. Let’s dive in!
What are brand guidelines?
Brand guidelines (sometimes referred to as brand identity guidelines, brand standards guide, brand manuals, branding guidelines, style guides, or simply brand books) are documents used to help you build your brand, keep your assets consistent throughout different applications, as well as keep your vision safe and in line.
You can use this document both internally and externally. And no matter how you call it, it represents roughly the same idea. It might be a physical book, digital file (usually in a .pdf format), or a page on your website including (in its basic version) all of your brand identity elements with the details about their construction and usage. Some extended branding guidelines also include a brand strategy or even a business plan.
When your company works by itself on a new branding project or undergoes a rebrand, either on its own or with the help of creating an agency, you should make or get brand guidelines on completion of the project.
Why are Brand Guidelines Important?
Brand guidelines are essential tools designed to give your brand elementary consistency and some level of flexibility. Designers often use them to be sure they’re using the right typography, color palette, or versions of your logo.
Brand guidelines are crucial because your company will not always be dealing with or working with its primary branding agency. For example, during your business activity, some of your stationery assets could „get out of stock,” or maybe you’d like to update your website or launch a new marketing campaign at some point. Then brand manual would be crucial for you and your new vendor to ensure your brand identity and strategy will be preserved exactly as designed.
Let’s bring up an example:
Imagine you’re going to launch a new advertising campaign using Facebook or LinkedIn, and you’re about to prepare a set of ad sets for your brand to represent a new product to your audience.
Sure, your branding agency can create those ads for you, but maybe this time your budget is pretty short, and you’re thinking about bringing that work „in-house.”
Your new graphic designer needs to understand how the brand was set up and have a guide for using it properly. And that’s where the brand manual gets in place.
More than just a visual style guide
Practical guidelines should be much more than that. In most discernible organizations, people use branding guidelines as a resource that everyone uses to represent their brand and follow its mission proudly.
Starting from the „smallest” member of your team, working either in sales, marketing, customer service department, to the business development director who’s approaching networking events to introduce your company, everyone should have a great understanding of what certainly makes your venture unique.
At Brandman Design, we’re always providing our clients with Brand Guidelines, either in a digital pdf file or by preparing a separate place for this purpose on their websites. So if you’re working with us, you can be sure you’ll get one too. But if you prepared a brand strategy and identity and don’t have one yet, drop us a line. We can help you with that.
What Should You Include in Your Brand Guidelines?
Soo, far soo good. You know already what kind of document it is. Let’s talk about what should you include in your brand guide?
Like anything else, you can take different approaches and either create an essential visual style guide or a complete comprehensive blueprint. It all depends on how far you are with your company’s branding and what you will need in the future. Often, startups and smaller companies create something more basic and quick to read, as spending too much time and effort on a piece which no one will use makes no sense. You can continually update your brand manual in the future, as long as you don’t order a print yet.
However, suppose you’re in charge of a massive corporation like BMW, LG, or British Airways. In that case, you’ll probably need something more extensive, including more of your brand touchpoints to be sure no one will hurt your brand, even accidentally, during new project cooperation.
I think it is time to list up some elements from both approaches:
What to include in a Basic version of your Brand Guidelines
The most basic brand guideline documents will often skip the brand strategy part. We don’t necessarily recommend this approach, but we don’t judge or say it’s wrong on the other side.
You won’t find there any information about the company’s mission, vision, target audience, or this sort of thing, and these documents move straight to the visual aspects of the brand representation such as:
1. Logo Design
Right after a short introduction into who the company is, what it represents, sometimes listing a temporary structure (if applicable), we see the table of content. The first thing that you should place after this in your brand guidelines is your logo design.
The main form of the logo and the design that you expect to see 90% of the time in typical, „easy” applications; be sure to include those on a monochromatic, primarily white background.
You should describe your primary logo shortly, but it could also explain what it represents and why.
2. Logo Variations
This section should include other variations of your logo. For example, it usually presents a secondary logo. If the primary consists of the symbol above the wordmark, the secondary will be set horizontally, meaning its mark will be placed right next to the company name, on the left or right side.
It is a place where you should list the symbol itself, without the wordmark. Then, in different variations (if they appear), like different color sets, filled or outlined, you name it.
Many people get scared after hearing the phrase „logo variations,” which makes me a bit surprised. It’s is the XXI century— the responsiveness times are here. Your logo doesn’t need to be used only in its basic form. There are applications or places that force adaptation, in a practical matter, of course. That’s why when we design a logo, we should also prepare its vertical version, a version without the company name (only a symbol/mark), a version without the logo mark—the wordmark itself, and so on.
Think about NIKE and how they use their logo:
- A simple swoosh on a small product
- Swoosh and Nike text on the storefront window
- Full or reduced versions of the logo on their packaging (depending on size and logo position)
- Full Nike Air wordmark with a swoosh on Nike Air shoes
- Big white or black swoosh or Just Do It slogan standing alone on a billboard
Your logo design must be fully flexible as you won’t be limited to using it in the most basic positioning and application setups.
3. Logo Reversed & Monochrome
If you plan to keep the ultimate functionality of your brand logo, it is essential to have it also prepared in mono and reversed versions. Every trademark is created first by having it designed in a black & white version to preserve focus on details, not on its color. Therefore, you should have your all-black logo version included in the brand guidelines.
It will also be good to have a logo exported in greyscale as some applications might use it, and it might look much more explicit in this form. For example, there is a chance that you might need a small logo placed somewhere on the white background or use it as a watermark. Such a logo in a greyscale becomes very legible and works as an excellent brand accent.
A monochromatic logo version (black or white) is required sometimes. For example, you might need a simple black or white version of your logo when you order advertising materials such as pens or pencils, clothing merchandise, or other assets that use embroidering techniques. It depends on the color of the material to be sure it contrasts nicely and stays visible.
4. Other Logo Lockups
Modern brands use different assets for identification purposes. For example, suppose your company uses icons or other symbols that became associated with it. In that case, it might be good to think about different logo lockups to expand your creative assets and also put those in your brand guidelines.
Such logo lockups allow you to mark your products or marketing materials without a direct need of using your primary logo, which overused could become, let’s be honest—boring. The most popular lockups have the shape of the badge, stamp, symbols locked in a circle or other form.
See an example of logo lockups in the form of badges created by Brandman Design for Brick Stone Brewing:
5. Logo Dimensions and Proportions
There is a reason your logo has been designed in this exact way and looks the way it looks. To be sure you and the vendors who will use it in your marketing materials understand it well, you should have the proportions of your logo also displayed in the brand manual.
This section might include only a raw sketch (for abstract logos) or a logo with the construction grid on it (if x- and y-axis or any important angles have been used in its design).
Such details as:
- the distance between company name and logo symbol
- proportions of symbol elements regarding others
- wordmark letters sizes
- words baseline and cap-height line
It would be best to briefly describe it to help you with your logo positioning regardless of the application you will use for your logo.
There should also be a place to indicate the smallest size of your logo that you can use without losing its functionality. In most cases, 4mm is the smallest size for print and 6 pixels for digital appearance. Although it all depends on the complexity of the design and the designer or creative agency’s decision, because they, as a creator, know the best in what sizes the logo will be the most legible.
6. Logo Clearspace
The space around your logo design is as important as the logo itself, no doubts about that. If your company mark is surrounded by other graphic elements or set in a bit of place without space to “breathe,” it won’t look professional, and there might also appear some legibility problems.
Your brand guidelines should include your logo in all its versions with a clear space with some “x-height” guides (usually taken from one of the logo elements for easier proportion understanding). This way, everyone will know how much space should be free of other graphic elements at all times.
7. Brand Typography
Typography is a significant part of your brand guidelines. It would be best if you documented your brand’s typography choice in detail here. You should see here all of the typefaces used by your brand—including primary and secondary as well as supportive fonts.
The last ones are something that every company should be aware of. You should export all of the eventual typefaces used within the logo and create an outline. But when it comes to other text (like in your email signature), you cannot be sure if your viewers’ computers have the same fonts installed on their devices. So your email signature might look completely different on other devices. That’s why we highly encourage you to use standard, google fonts in your email signatures.
Right next to listing the fonts you use, it is vital to set the proper hierarchy and determine sizes and font styles. You want to know, obviously, what font and what point size to use in specific places.
This section should include:
- Headlines/headings (H1, on the web)
- Sub-headlines/subheadings (H2, H3, H4..., on the websites)
- Paragraphs/standard copy
If you work with many vendors, you should, by all means, have your fonts prepared for them to download or at least point out where to get them from, within the current license for usage that you possess, of course.
8. Brand Color Palette
The colors your brand uses daily have to be chosen with care and set in your branding style guide too. They split into two parts:
- Primary color scheme/or color palette
- Secondary color scheme/or color palette
It’s not about telling that your company is red, or blue, or green. It’s about preparing a set of colors working together on your brand’s behalf. The colors from your primary palette are often the colors found in your logo or different versions of your logo design. You will mostly use them across your leading marketing and advertising media such as print collateral, website, and more.
All color palettes set in your brand guidelines should be displayed visually and evaluated with a different color mode: CMYK, RGB, HEX, and Pantone (if applicable). You want to be sure that people will use its right colors no matter where your brand appears.
The secondary color palette is defined to add depth to your brand’s color scheme.
You might want to use them in different forms of marketing or advertising, such as flyers, brochures, or websites. You might also use a secondary palette to differentiate separate departments of your brand.
9. Brand Imagery
It’s imperative to use consistent photographic and illustrative content to keep your brand’s messaging coherent. In addition, images play a vital role in identifying your brand. That’s why you should establish its style as early as possible and set the imagery section in your brand guidelines.
This section of your brand manual usually features a set of appropriate images and those which aren’t suitable for your brand, as well as custom color overlays (if applicable). The crucial details of your brand imagery include the light, composition, and subject matter. The brand imagery chapter of your brand book is beneficial for illustrators, photographs, or other vendors using images in your brand marketing efforts and advertising agencies if you use their services for creating Facebook or google ads, for example.
10. Business Stationery
Even though we live in a digital era where most professional engagement happens online, companies are still using stationery. It is a great way to build brand awareness and increase trust within customers. Such elements as business cards, envelopes, and letterheads are the absolute minimum every brand should have designed and set in its guidelines.
Those assets pretty often get out of stock, and we need printing them over and over again.
Setting brief details about your corporate print collateral in brand guidelines can ensure brand consistency across all of the company printed materials.
It might also happen that you add new team members. By this, your company might need to get additional business cards printed. Suppose you hand over your brand document, created by a creative agency, to your vendors. In that case, you should have them done quickly and without unnecessary questions about sizes, colors, or other elements from the cards.
11. Social Media
It honestly depends on how many assets your brand has for representation purposes. However, having social media assets listed and described in your brand guidelines can help you keep consistency.
- Profile images/Avatars
- Background//Header/Cover images
- Specific Content Style
- Social Media profile names (tag handles–@)
Should reflect your brand in the same way, no matter which platform you use. Your messaging could indeed be slightly different on different social media channels, although the base has to be consistent. It is important here to establish the main style and build up from this point.
We have worked on some Instagram and Facebook content for a few companies. You can find a great example of setting an IG post style in our project for WokoLoco:
Consistency in approach (I know you’ve read this word multiple times already) helps your brand get recognized, especially in a current noisy social media world full of clutter and new „brands” popping up every day.
Extended Version of the Brand Guidelines
Every single brand guideline should include the above-listed elements. It is a base that ensures that your brand identity will be used properly and won’t hurt your brand in any way while your vendors, creative and advertising agencies, printing houses will use your brand assets.
More comprehensive brand documents include all those elements determining the brand identity but also a few positions more, touching upon your brand strategy, like:
1. Your Brand mission
The starting point of your company’s strategy is your brand mission.
Your brand’s mission is what defines you as a company and gives you a trajectory. It is the “what” and the “how” of your business.
To be more precise, especially when it comes to defining the brand mission in the easiest but clear way and set further in the extensive brand guidelines, you can shape it this way:
[What we do] by [How we do it] for [Who it’s for] to [Value we provide].
It is wise to include this part of your brand strategy, together with your brand story, at the beginning of the brand style guide right before you get into the brand identity or any other aspects of your brand image.
2. Reason to exist, or your brand purpose
At the core of the whole brand strategy is the brand purpose, the reason for being. And it’s not just about making money—which is the purpose of every business, but it has rather be much more than that.
It could be a personal reason you’ve started your business and why you do what you do. Or where you find the passion for working long hours when there’s a need. Why do you recommend your business to your true friends and family? It’s what makes you proud of being a part of your brand. What would you do if you wouldn’t have to care about money at all?
3. Brand Attributes
These are the collection of words (primarily adjectives) treated as the main facts about your company. They define what an observant prospect or potential employee notices when researching you or interacting with your brand.
These aren’t random things you’re choosing, but they instead are just natural parts coming from within your business and you as a founder.
There are many approaches to this section. We use to split brand attributes into the following groups (but use whatever works best for you or whatever framework your creative agency uses):
4. Core Values
The values are things that your brand celebrates and promotes within the organization. So it’s more an internal message rather than something you’re going to put in front of your customers. Still, you can do that if you feel like doing so.
The core values are what you’re striving for as business equity, as well as individuals within it, the behavior standards, soo important to your business, and describing what you stand for and believe.
5. Voice & Tone
The voice and tone of your brand are all that you can say about the language you use. Either within the company as well as how you communicate with your audience and customers. It helps you define the proper terminology or eventual jargon or other specific types of language, clear for your audience as well as reflecting your brand’s culture and attributes.
In this section, you define how your emails are signed; if you use „Thanks,” „thank you,” „regards,”; do you begin your messaging from „Hello” or other specific greetings.
It also set communication standards for customer service or situations while your team members interact with other companies on industry events.
There are many more elements of brand strategy that you can include in your brand guidelines, although we will write a separate article about it not to get away from the main topic.
Additional elements that you could put in your brand manual
It would help if you had all of your brand assets, also called graphic elements (including logos, typography, icons, colors), clearly outlined in your brand guidelines. Those are things that don’t change and help you keep consistency through the media you use to build awareness, spread your message, or do business.
You can define and set some other parts in this document, such as:
- Car/Truck wraps
- Website (architecture, grid systems, imagery)
- Email signatures
- POS/other marketing stands
- Event/tradeshow stands
- Instore/office or different environmental designs
- and more
The decision is yours. Keep in mind if you’re going to use those more than just once.
Top 6 Brand Guidelines Examples
Knowing what we know already, it is time to see some examples of excellent brand guide books.
We’ve gathered some of the best publicly available brand guidelines to help you brainstorm what should go into your brand guidelines and how they may look. Whether you’re looking to create a document that’s straightforward and complex, you should find an excellent resource below:
1. LinkedIn Brand Guidelines
LinkedIn is mainly a web and mobile app gathering professionals. They also make sure to cover any print materials their brand might use. They have one of the cleanest brand guidelines packed in a very easily accessible webpage – full of resources, including logos, downloadable print, web color palettes, and more, split into user-friendly sections.
2. Uber Brand Guidelines
Everyone knows Uber. It is another fantastic example of an online brand guide. Their branding allows the user to find what they need quickly without running through multiple pages. Every page you land on is spotless and legible.
3. Spotify Brand Guidelines
Spotify uses a pretty simple style guide which is also available online, but there’s more to the brand than just a green circle logo. Their style guide allows you to download a logo, making it easier to represent the company without manually recreating it. You can also learn about colors and other brand assets over there.
4. I Love New York Brand Guidelines
If you’re looking for an extensive brand guide, check the one created for the I Love New York brand. This manual in a pdf file begins with a thorough explanation of the brand mission, story, target audience, and tone of voice. After understanding the strategy, you can move forward to reading about the brand’s logo positioning on various merchandise, colors they use, and typography of choice.
5. NASA Brand Guide
NASA has created a “Graphics Standards Manual,” an official and very complex physical book about its brand, available for purchase. The 220 pages of their guide describe countless logo placements, color and typography uses, and supporting designs. All that NASA uses to represent its brand in one place. There are also NASA’s space shuttles with their own branding rules. This very comprehensive brand manual is a brilliant example of corporate branding.
6. Audi Brand Guide
As Audi is a well-known name worldwide, it means that the brand is often replicated and promoted in thousands of places and by dozens of vendors. Therefore, they need a cohesive and user-friendly guide to keep consistency and avoid hurting the brand image.
The company’s online brand guidelines are concrete because they’re split into different chapters ordered by other brand appearances, like user interfaces, communication media, corporate branding, corporate sounds, motion pictures, motorsports, and dealer facilities.
Conclusions of our Comprehensive Step-by-Step Guide to Creating Brand Guidelines
Your brand guidelines are one of the most important documents in your company. It is the complete guide to your brand. Touching both upon strategy and all of the identity and marketing materials your brand possesses and uses.
It’s crucial that your brand guidelines don’t live only on the shelf but rather live and grow with your brand.
Whenever you communicate with new suppliers, introduce your brand to a new audience, or bringing people into the company, you should use it.
Expanding this book should take place every time you add or change something as your company grows. To ensure your brand will be adequately represented and keep essential consistency, you should use these guidelines whenever you run a new campaign, either marketing, advertising, or any kind. And make sure you keep those up to date whenever you update a piece of your brand.
How important are your brand guidelines for the success of your business? Drop us a line! We’d love to hear your insights!