Each brand we develop for our clients comes with a brand guide: a blueprint that lays out every element. The idea is that a new team member or vendor — someone with little to no knowledge of the company — can flip through the brand guide and easily understand what it stands for and how best to represent it. (Download Trekk's brand guide and you'll see what I mean.)
Don’t think that because it’s not customer-facing you can skip this step of the branding process.
No two brand guides look exactly alike. Some are exhaustive while others are simple. Some are meant for an external audience such as media contacts, while others are for internal eyes only. But don’t think that because it’s not customer-facing you can skip this step of the branding process. As a designer, I’m telling you that the brand guide is crucial to the consistency of your tone and message. It should be the resource for your designers, content creators, and developers — anyone who might create something that represents your brand. And if you do any work with contractors or vendors, you’ll know that they expect a detailed brand guide on any new job. It’s the fastest way for them to understand their guardrails and get to work.
I claimed that every brand guide is unique, but there are some basic components that every good one has. Make sure yours covers these bases, and feel free to use ours for inspiration.
Vision, voice, and message
Think of this section as guidance for writers. Clearly lay out what your company does, and then include adjectives that describe your brand’s personality so that your writers know what tone to strike.
Are you a high-end restaurant? You might consider words like refined, timeless, and exclusive. Are you a bowling alley? You’ll probably be more likely to go with descriptors like fun, casual, and accessible. Finally, include your value props for different segments of your target audience. What problem does your product or service solve, and how do you position that to different types of customers? (Not sure how to answer these questions? You might want to start with a brand workshop.)
Don’t get too wordy in this section — direct one-liners will be more useful to someone using the brand guide as a reference tool.
When your writers write and your designers design, who are they doing it for? If you’re B2B, include details like industry, company size, and annual revenue. If you’re B2C, hit all the relevant demographics. Either way, make sure to cover how your audience likes to communicate, where they spend their time online, and what they value. You might need to do some customer surveys or market research if you don’t already have this information, but that’s all part of the branding process.
This is where you’ll start to define the visual identity of your brand. This is incredibly important because you want your audience to be able to recognize you at a glance and to feel a level of familiarity with your brand.
We achieve that first and foremost with colors and fonts. Specify your primary and secondary colors and when and how each should be used. For example, if one of your colors should only be used for headings, make that crystal clear here.
Iconography and logo usage
Do you want your logo to stand alone? Are you okay with designers overlaying it on an image? Can it appear in any color from the color palette, or are some off limits? Can designers resize it? If so, how small or how big should it get? Same goes for any icons associated with your brand, like our Trekk discovery icon. I like to provide examples of dos and don’ts in this section… mostly because it’s fun to come up with the don’ts.
List your fonts, along with the acceptable weights. I like to include a link to download the font if it’s not a standard one. Make sure to include the web version if applicable — many print fonts have a slightly different version that’s optimized for digital readability.
Have fun with this section. This is where you can expand upon the tone you’re going for with your voice and visual identity. Include photos that are your “style” — and ones that aren’t — to further define what’s on brand. This section will be particularly helpful to anyone tasked with choosing stock photography for your brand.
This isn’t part of the brand guide itself, but I like to include snapshots of it to document how the template is intended to be used. For example, if your cover slide is designed to accommodate only full-bleed images, you’ve got to let people know. It’s all about making it as simple as possible for other people to make your brand look good. This is another place where it’s helpful to link to the file location so that, should you update the template in the future, people will always know where to find the latest version. You can also include other basic collateral, like letterhead or business card templates.
Brand guides can get way more detailed than this; ours includes editorial guidelines and common word usage, our company history and significant milestones, and how we talk about our discovery process. If even the basics seem overwhelming, don’t worry about it too much. Start with the essentials: your story and your logo. As your team uses your brand guide and you learn what additional resources might be useful, add to it, and tweak it.
Creating your own brand guide? Download ours for a little inspiration.
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