Imagine this… an awe-inspiring ad, a wow-worthy Instagram feed, a show-stopping website, jaw-dropping packaging, gorgeous products nestled inside, and happy customers falling in love with your brand.
Now, imagine these things are all yours and they’re all consistent.
Your messaging, identity, and experience are all tied together beautifully and professionally across every single interaction that your customer has with your brand, leaving them feeling amazed, inspired, and a fan of your brand.
Now, imagine that all of these things are possible (because they are!)
All you need is a clear, cohesive and consistent brand.
💡 Why consistency is important
When it comes to branding, you’ve probably heard that consistency is key, and that’s because it is! It takes 5 to 7 impressions for people to remember a brand, so if you want to build a recognizable brand, each of those five to seven impressions needs to be as compelling, cohesive, and consistent as the next.
If a customer encounters your brand five times, and each time has a completely different experience with a mixture of messaging, an array of mismatched designs, and a messy customer experience, they’re going to leave those interactions confused. They’ll be unsure of what you actually do or what your brand is about, and feel overwhelmed by all of the different things going on.
However, if each time a customer interacts with your brand they encounter clear copy in a distinct brand voice that’s consistent across each touchpoint and cohesive design elements used creatively throughout the brand, they’ll feel confident in purchasing! They’ll know exactly what you do and what you’re about, and leave feeling excited to buy from or recommend you!
Plus, when you pay attention to your brand consistency, not only are you crafting a better, clearer experience for your customers, but you’re also creating more income for your business. Consistent presentation of a brand has seen to increase revenue by 33 percent, so it’s great for your brand and your bottom line.
Pro tip: Creating brand guidelines will also help you craft custom packaging that's consistently on brand, as it helps you establish regular colors, fonts, patterns and imagery to use. 🎨
✅ How brand guidelines help with consistency
If consistency is key for building a successful brand, how do you make it happen?
The answer: brand guidelines.
Brand guidelines are a set of instructions, usually in a PDF or online format, that explain how to apply your brand. They cover all of your branding, including messaging, visual elements, and more.
Effective brand guidelines will make things easier, faster, clearer, and more creative.
Instead of starting everything from scratch, guessing what colours to use, and letting your contractors go wild with fonts and patterns that don’t match, brand guidelines keep everyone on the same page with clear instructions that they can follow again and again to easily create on-brand assets every single time.
They’re a go-to guide for everyone involved in your brand to use to keep things consistent.
💯 What makes good brand guidelines?
1. They're shareable
Unless you do absolutely everything in your business, it’s likely that you have employees, contractors, or other outside help to make things happen. Whether you’re hiring a copywriter, getting someone to run your social media, or working with a designer to create your packaging, these people need access to your brand guidelines so that they can make their work consistent with your brand. Your brand guidelines should therefore be easily shareable so that everyone who needs access can have it.
2. They're collaborative
As you’re working with your team, you want to be able to collaborate and communicate with them about your brand easily. Ideally, your brand guidelines should be something that everyone who needs to can open and use at the same time, leave comments and questions throughout where necessary, and make changes where relevant.
3. They're scalable
Branding is an iterative process, and your strategy and identity are likely to grow and evolve over time. As your brand is updated, so too should your brand guidelines. Effective brand guidelines will be easily updated and added to without having to start from scratch or resend to everyone who needs them.
4. They're up-to-date
As your brand guidelines are updated, it’s important to make sure that everyone has the latest, most up-to-date, accurate information. A PDF or printed document is hard to keep updated, and versions can be easily confused. Instead, a live, online document that tracks changes in real time is the best way to keep things organized and accurate as you grow.
5. They're clear but not constricting
Lastly, the best brand guidelines are clear but not constricting. The point of brand guidelines isn’t to restrict your creativity, it’s actually to encourage creativity while keeping things consistent. They include clear rules and guidelines for specific elements of your brand, but leave room for those rules to be interpreted and implemented in creative ways across your business.
💭 What to include in your brand guidelines
1. Context (Brand mission, vision, values)
Before you dive into the details of your brand identity, it’s important to provide some context to the rest of your guidelines. Having this understanding of who you are and what you do helps to explain why you have certain rules or guidelines about your brand, and empowers the people using your brand to do so with care.
When you’re putting your guidelines together, start with your vision, mission, values, and any other information that you think is important for people to know before they use your brand assets.
2. Business logo
The brand asset that usually requires the most instructions is the logo. There’s less flexibility and creativity on offer with the logo than there is with colours and patterns and other elements of your identity, because it shouldn’t be altered in any way no matter what you’re creating.
In your brand guidelines you’ll want to make it clear:
- What logos are available to be used
- Which logos should be used where
- What the minimum size of the logo should be
- What spacing should be left around the logo
- What backgrounds the logo should be used on
- What not to do to the logo (such as warp, stretch, or change colours).
3. Brand colours
Colour increases brand recognition by up to 80%, so when it comes to consistency, you really want to focus on your colours.
Your brand guidelines can outline:
- What colours to use
- The technical information for each colour (ie. Hex codes, CMYK values, pantone numbers)
- Ratio of colours in your brand (ie. if pink is just for highlights and used sparingly)
- What colour combinations to use
- Examples of colours in action.
4. Brand fonts
Just like colours, the more consistent your fonts are, the clearer the brand message you’ll communicate and the more recognisable your brand will be. You will have a suite of 2 to 3 brand fonts, and should include them all in your guidelines.
When talking about your fonts in your guidelines, make sure to cover:
- What typefaces are included in your brand
- Which specific fonts from each typeface can be used (ie. bold, light)
- Which fonts should be used in which situations (ie. just for headings, body copy)
- What size and spacing should be used for each font
- Examples of the fonts in use.
5. Brand patterns
Not every brand will have patterns, but if you do, you’ll want to include them in your brand guidelines so that you can ensure they’re applied appropriately.
You’ll need to make sure you’ve explained:
- What patterns can be used
- What patterns should be used where
- What colours the patterns can be used in
- How the patterns can be altered, if at all (ie. can they be scaled, cropped, etc)
- Examples of how they can be used.
Imagery is a big, broad term that can include many different elements from photos to video, illustrations, icons, and more. Whatever imagery your brand uses needs to be included in your brand guidelines and have clear instructions for anyone creating or using that imagery.
For imagery, it’s important to consider:
- How the imagery should feel
- The colour schemes that should be used in the imagery
- How lighting and framing should be used
- The style of imagery
- How the imagery should be applied in different situations
- How different kinds of imagery work together
- Examples of imagery in action.
7. Layout and Templates
One of the best ways you can keep things consistent is by providing templates that people can grab and easily update. Whether it’s for social media, packaging dielines, presentations, email signatures, posters, or other designs, you can explain and provide example layouts for each one.
When it comes to layouts and templates, you’ll want to mention:
- The size of the design
- The spacing around the design
- The placement of specific elements within the design.
8. Voice, Tone and Messaging
As well as all things visual, it’s important not to forget about the words that go alongside all of the design work. Your voice and messaging are huge parts of your brand, and shape a lot of how your brand is perceived, so you need to include it in your brand guidelines to help whoever is writing for you.
You can cover this part of your brand by outlining things like:
- What your brand voice is
- What your brand tone/s are
- What taglines to use
- What key words to include
- What words to avoid
- What grammar rules to follow (such as use American English, contractions, and single quotation marks).
9. Contact information
Lastly, whether you’re sharing your guidelines externally right now or not, it’s helpful to include contact information at the end of the document to future-proof for when you do. Identify who you would like to be in charge of managing your brand and responding to any enquiries about your guidelines, and include a name and email address that they can be reached at.
Having someone to contact ensures that if anyone is ever unsure about how to use your guidelines, or unclear on a specific part, they can reach out for clarification rather than blindly guessing and risking creating something that’s not consistent.
📝 How to create your brand guidelines
Now that you know why you need brand guidelines, what they are, and what they need to be in order to be effective, let’s dive into actually creating yours.
What tools do I use?
Knowing that your brand guidelines need to be shareable, scalable, collaborative, and up-to-date, here are a few tools that are specifically designed to facilitate those things.
Canva is a free, easy-to-use design tool that allows you to create anything from Instagram graphics to contracts, posters, and more. It’s a collaborative tool you can use to craft, share, and collaborate on any design project, including brand guidelines. There’s even a whole collection of over 50 brand guideline templates you can use to get started creating your own. All you have to do is drop your content into the template and you’re good to go.
If you or someone on your team has some design skills of your own, you can create your brand guidelines from scratch using InDesign. InDesign is an industry standard design tool used for laying out documents and other print material. Using Adobe’s review feature, you can share a live, up-to-date version of your brand guidelines when they’re done with your team that they can then comment on.
If you’re not quite ready to start from scratch, you can download templates from various designers and branding experts online.
Some of my favourite templates are:
- South Co Studio’s Brand Guidelines Template
- The Futur’s Style Guide Kit
- One6Creative’s Brand Style Guide.
Corebook is an online brand guidelines platform that allows you to create live, interactive, online guidelines for your brand. You can add text, images, videos, download links, and more to craft a space for all of your brand guidelines and assets to live in one, easily accessed place.
Similarly to Corebook, Frontify is an online brand management platform that connects everything and everyone important to the growth of your brand. Using this software, you can add your brand guidelines, assets, and templates all in one creative, collaborative place that everyone can access.
Where to get the information
When you’re ready to start putting together your brand guidelines, you’ll need to gather the information that needs to be included. The three main sections of your brand guidelines are likely to be your brand strategy, identity design, and voice.
If you’ve crafted all of these things yourself, you can grab what you need and pull it all together into your brand guidelines document. Otherwise, your brand strategist, designer, or copywriter will have the information that you need.
How to start
To actually start putting your brand guidelines together, you’ll first need to identify what you want to include. Using the list of eight categories above (context, logo, colours, fonts, patterns, imagery, templates, and voice,) write down what you have to include underneath each one.
For example, under context you might list:
And under imagery you might have:
Or for templates you might include:
- Thank you cards
- Market signage.
Once you have listed everything out, you can open your document and create pages for each item and start filling in the details until you have a full brand guidelines document.
🤝 How to use your brand guidelines
When your brand guidelines are done, they will become the one source of truth for everyone who works with or on your brand.
You can use them yourself, with your internal team, or with any external suppliers and contractors. All you have to do is share the document with them and you’re good to go!
Everyone can then use the guidelines to make decisions, craft designs, and create assets, information, and experiences that are aligned with your mission and consistent with the vision for your brand.
Consistency is key, and with your guidelines in hand, you’ll have the blueprint for crafting that key.