Branding Best Practices: Brand Guidelines

November 10, 2010



This article was excerpted from OPEN Book: Branding, which provides tips and advice for building a Booming brand. Follow the evolution of a Cardmember brands featured in our new web series.  Project RE:Brand in which small businesses undergo brand makeovers by design experts. 


You’ve done the work: you’ve got your fantastic new brand and you’re thrilled with it. Now you’ve got to start implementing it. No matter what your venture, chances are you’ll be communicating your new brand in several different places and ways. If you have a restaurant, your brand will need to be applied to menus, packaging, and interior and exterior design. Or, if you’ve developed an e-commerce website to support your product line, you’ll want to consider a fan page on Facebook, and e-mail newsletters. To make sure that your brand has maximum impact, and that it is presented in the best possible light in all occurrences, you need to create guidelines. 


Your Brand: A User’s Guide

Whether you’re a go-it-alone establishment or a rapidly expanding enterprise, you need to make sure that you’re applying your brand consistently – otherwise there’s little use for having it at all. 

Your newly created visual identity will be rolled out across the business, and you need to have a clear understanding of how to do that while preserving its integrity. Plus, at some point in the future, other people will need to use your brand assets, be it a supplier, a partner, a vendor or a colleague, and most especially, your employees. Guidelines offer a simple, practical tool kit that will make your brand consistent and easy to incorporate across many channels. Here are five steps to establishing guidelines and launching your brand. 


1. Cover All Bases

Your guidelines should cover all the key assets of your brand. This will vary from business to business, but some basics include:

  • Your brand name and any variations (when to use the full registered trading name, for example)
  • Your brand proposition
  • Your brandmark – including color and examples of correct and incorrect usage
  • Choice of fonts (including relevant uses)
  • Color palettes (and relevant uses)
  • Use of illustration, photos or imagery
  • Tagline (and when and how to use it)
  • Tone of voice (the personality of your brand and any key phrases you use)

If you’re working with a design team on other aspects of your brand, they may be able to create these for you, or, if not, to at least provide input into how the visual identity should be applied. 


2. Need-to-Know Basis 

Next up, think about who will need to refer to your guidelines. The answer could be everyone – there’s certainly a benefit in making sure that every staff member is well-versed in your brand. Your employees constitute your most important ambassadors, seamlessly reflecting your brand with each interaction. 

Think beyond the business, too – do you have partners or suppliers who will use your brandmark? The local printing company who produces your business cards? A PR agency that needs to speak in your voice? Non-executive board members or spokespeople? Newspapers or TV stations you advertise with? Contractors or freelancers? All these people effectively make up your core team. Use them to your best advantage. 

Once you’ve considered who will be referring to your guidelines, you should have a good idea of any specialized information to include, such as Pantone® color references for printing, or a detailed tone-of-voice section. 


3. Choose a Format 

Deciding what format your brand guidelines should take depends on who will need to use them. If you only need a few copies, a loose-leaf binder gives you the option of easily updating later. If your employees are in several different locations, your intranet or website might be a more effective format. If suppliers and partners need high-resolution images or files, think about a CD or DVD, or a printed brochure for mass distribution. 


4. We Have Liftoff 

Now that you’ve got your brand, and you’ve created your user guide, the only thing left to do is to introduce it to the world. It doesn’t have to be a big, glitzy affair – unless this is “on brand” for your company, of course. It could be as simple as an open day, or a special offer to entice customers to discover your new look. It’s simply an opportunity to talk about the new brand, share your plans for the future, and seek feedback on the identity. 


5. Taking Responsibility 

Looking after your brand is a process as long as its life span. Once launched, it’s critical to make sure it’s having the desired impact and also that it’s being used correctly. Take steps to ensure new employees and partners are properly inducted into the brand. 


You might discover that people are discussing your brand online. This might suggest that social networks and forums could be logical brand extensions for you, which in turn could create new implications for design and tone of voice. If you extend into mobile or websites for the first time, you might need to revisit your typefaces to ensure that they display properly. A brand guardian, tasked with keeping a watchful eye on the brand, can answer any questions that arise, and elicit crucial feedback to gauge the brand’s success. They can also identify opportunities to expand or finesse your brand identity to maximize its effectiveness. Following these basic tenets can yield a return on investment in the form of new prospects and stronger engagement, not to mention a fresh perspective on why you started the business in the first place.


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