Back in the good old days, when the Internet was still new and everyone had eye-blinding Geocities blogs, brand books weren’t really that important.
White text on a black background? No problem.
Mismatching color schemes? Comic Sans plus seven other fonts? Absolutely.
FLAMING CAPITAL LETTERS SIGNALING JUST HOW ‘ON FIRE’ YOUR WEBSITE IS?
WHY. THE. HECK. NOT.
30 years ago, just getting a website to run properly was a Herculean task, fit for only the most legendary of web developers.
It’s 2018, and design is king–which means having an ugly site isn’t a great idea (unless, of course, that’s your…personal…brand..?).
Back away, Geocities! Enter–THE BRAND BOOK.
Okay, what’s a brand book?
To protect your business from devastation–
And unite design elements for your organization
To denounce the evils of mismatched fonts
And perfect your image ‘til it’s where you want
THE BRAND! BOOK!
Brand guidelines blast off at the speed of light
Make some now, or prepare to fight!
All joking aside, the brand book has a number of aliases–you might’ve heard it referred to as:
- Brand guidelines
- Brand guide
- Style guide
- Brand toolkit
- Visual identity guidelines
- Brand manual
- Brand bible
All of these refer to the same thing–an official document that 1) explains the brand’s visual identity and 2) outlines design standards that must be kept.
The brand book helps ensure that your company feels the same to your customers, even if you have many employees in many teams. They can work together using the guidelines you’ve established to create a cohesive, recognizable brand.
Building a brand isn’t just about building a pretty visual suite–it should be linked to your services.
The ultimate goal of brand design is to help your customer run passionately through the funnel you’ve laid out for them. Beautiful design will grab your customers’ attention, but there should be something enticing them to ~come a little closer in the first place.
Build a creative brief using this template that can outline the scope your of project and your end goals.
A typical brand book has these elements inside:
- Logo set-up specifications
- Tagline and tagline usage
- Visual examples of correct and incorrect logo usage
- Brand-specific color palettes
- Brand-specific fonts
- Business card + letterhead design
- On-brand images and photo guidelines
But, if you’d hunkerin for a little more somethin’ somethin’, you can also add:
- Supporting graphic elements
- Website layout and design elements
- Signage specifications
- Copy and content style
- Editorial guidelines
Do I need a brand guideline?
Visual design has a very real impact on customer conversions and purchasing decisions. Gorgeous design can mask small flaws in copy and content.
Bad design, though, can scare off potential leads. It’s just another flaw of being human–we’re visual creatures who make snap judgments based on initial appearances.
When you have a team of marketers and designers on board but no clear guideline on the design goals they should be aiming for, they’ll often vie for attention.
Jessie might disagree with James on how to present the brand, leading to lengthy discussions (read: arguments) that waste valuable time and money.
Instead of representing the company faithfully through their designs, they’ll create an image centered around their own interpretations and tastes.
It’s okay to have variety, but too much dissimilarity causes dissonance–and that’s dangerous. A good brand book will reflect the organization, not the individual employees or boss.
What are the risks, really?
Customers interpret plagiarized logos, dead website links, and mismatched design elements as signs that a business is untrustworthy.
Put it this way: members of the Team Rocket we all know and love wear white shirts that have a massive, red letter “R” on them. If one day they started wearing baggy, camo tank tops, you probably wouldn’t believe that they were part of Team Rocket.
Poor design confuses and alienates customers. Make a brand book so that you can avoid:
- Inappropriate usage of your logo and tagline
- Mismatched design elements
- Inconsistent messaging that alienates leads
- Poor design quality that conveys cheapness/unreliability
How do I know if my current brand is weak?
Here are a few questions you can ask your team (and yourself) to see if your design needs a boost:
- Do you have opposing design styles (ex. 5+ fonts)?
- Are your color schemes all over the place?
- Do new customers feel confused when they look at your brand’s content, advertisements, or website?
- How easy is it for customers to navigate your brand?
- In one word, what image do your brand documents portray?
How can I build a brand book?
Now, for the most important part of today’s post. Building a brand book is a bit time-intensive. Before you get started, start tracking your time with Toggl, which will help keep you on track.
If you’re not much of a designer, go find one who you think is a good match, and ask them to get on board.
If you’ve got a team of designers at the ready, call them in for a team meeting. The guidelines that you want to set in your brand book should be reflected by the document–so focus on making it easy to read and visually appealing.
Get the copy done first:
Okay, so creating a brand book is so much easier once you’ve got the copy/content done. Write that first, so that later, once your designers have finished with the layout, you can simply drop the copy in.
Ideally, you should create your logo at the same time you’re creating your brand book. That keeps everything cohesive. However, it’s okay if you already have a logo! Just find an experienced graphic designer (or, preferably, the same one who made your logo) to develop one that flows well.
A good brand story hooks your customers, and pulls them deeper into the funnel you’ve lovingly crafted for them.
Customers like brands that they can relate with, and they love brands who can help them solve their problems.
Link those two together in this section.This is where you help your employees understand why they’re even working for you in the first place.
The brand story should be clear and easy to understand. Many businesses make the mistake of presenting their business in a very boring, monotone way–that’ll prevent your employees from feeling truly connected to your brand.
- What’s your history?
- What are your values?
- What’s your mission and vision?
- Who is your audience?
- What’s your brand personality?
The logo is the aspect of design that often gets the most focus, and for good reason: done well, it can become iconic. Just think of Apple’s…well, apple, or Microsoft Word’s classic W. Because it’s so crucial to your brand’s image, it’s important to address misrepresentations of your logo.
To take a look at one great example of logo guidelines, check out 99designs’ brand asset page.
- How big should it be displayed? Is there a minimum size?
- What are the proper proportions?
- What are permissible variations (black and white? reversed?) and when is it okay to use them?
A strong color palette helps tell your customers, “Hey, this is Team Rocket!” (except..for your brand). A simple color palette consists of four main colors: a light color for backgrounds, a darker one for text, a netural hue, and one that pops. Include these swatches in your brand book. With the help of a seasoned designer, choose colors based on how you want your brand to be interpreted. (You could try reading up on color psychology).
To make sure that your brand’s color palette stays consistent, include information that helps your teams reproduce those colors.
- What are the Pantone, CMYK, and RGB/hex code equivalents of the colors you’ve chosen?
Powerful images grab your customer’s attention. If your brand focuses on the bold and dramatic, then include photos that are…bold and dramatic. Aim to provide at least 8 images that capture your intended style.
Whether you have a team of photographers or want to use a third-party photog, it’s important to let them know how you want your final images to appear. Think about filters, saturation, temperature, and the overall mood and tone of the images you plan on using for your brand’s content.
- What images have performed well for your brand?
- How does your company communicate visually? A catalogue? An Instagram?
- What does your mood board look like?
- What are examples of on-brand images?
The everlasting power of Helvetica and the laughingstock that is Comic Sans illustrates just how weighty your font scheme will be.
Certain fonts imply trustworthiness and reliability. Others reflect childishness and playfulness. The fonts you choose depend on your brand needs.
Most big brands stick to 3 fonts or less to keep their visuals from looking cluttered.
- Why did you choose those fonts? How do they relate to your brand?
- What are the fonts used for? Headlines? Cursive? Body text? Image captions?
- How should the text be aligned?
- What tracking + kerning ratios are you using, and why?
Voice and Language
The way you talk says a lot about who you are. Different audiences will require different tones, and it’s important to also consider the different languages your brand uses to communicate.
What abbreviations are okay? When you’re thinking about language, you’ll also need to think about capitalizations, numbers, acronyms, times, and titles.
The way you phrase your sentences and convey messages also plays a big factor in reflecting your brand. Is it okay to make jokes, or are they something to avoid?
- Who is your audience? What’s the best way to speak to them?
- What words should you avoid?
- What kind of words are you aiming for? What’s on-brand?
- Do you follow a specific format? MLA or APA?
- What’s your tone? (Logical vs. emotional, distant vs. intimate).
Okay, now what?
You have a general outline, plus a draft of the copy you need to make your brand book a reality. But are you forgetting anything?
For example: If you deal with printed documents like stationery (business cards, invoices), brochures, or packaging, then you’ll need to create sectioned guidelines for them. If you have a website or different social media accounts, it’s a great idea to create sections for them, too.
Maybe all tweets should be lower-case, with a very specific type of image to accompany them. Perhaps all of your Instagram posts need to be colorful and bright, with a specific tagline or caption.
Your finished brand book should be a PDF document (or actual booklet) that you can give to people who need to understand your brand.
New employees? Third party advertisers or designers? Photographers? Printers who you rely on to produce your documents?
All of these vendors will need to understand your brand to create the best work possible.
By supplying possible coworkers or vendors with your brand book you’ll be able to keep your company cohesive–and reduce the risk of costly revisions. Plus, it helps your employees know how far they’re allowed to go.
Ultimately, you should aim for clear guidelines (not necessarily rules) that are flexible and allow for creativity, but aren’t so flimsy that wildly different brand interpretations can pass through. One senior art director says,
Continuity is key, especially if you need the brand to run across multiple media platforms.
Brands, just like humans, are capable of great change and growth. It’s important to revisit your brand book at least once a year to ensure that it’s up to date with your current standards and guidelines.
Which companies and organizations come to mind when you think of strong brands?