Last Updated on 24 January 2013

POINT: Paul Williams

There are two types of information that may be included in a Brand Style Guide. I’m going to refer to the entire package of tools as Brand Identity & Standards Guide. The first type of information has to do with the brand identity elements – logo, color scheme, font usage, etc… The second documents corporate guidelines – mission, values, etc…

Based on your company size, you may have some or all of these bits of formally documented. If your company is smaller, this information may only live in the brains of the founder and the person who does your design work.

The more people your company employs, the more formalized and distributed this information needs to be.

Brand Identity

  • Logo Guide – Guide for size, colorization, and proper placement.
  • Color Scheme – Specific primary and secondary colors and combinations.
  • Font Guide – What typestyles to use, and when they’re appropriate.
  • Company Template Design – Positioning of logo, address information on letterhead, business cards, press release,
  • Web Guidelines

There may be a section within Identity dedicated to Communication Tools. Those elements used in press releases and other company templates.

Communication Tools

  • Voice & Style Guide – Guides the tone of your company. Formal, stuffy, casual, approachable, technical? Describes what you call employees, how you may capitalize (or not) product names. Where to put the TMs and Rs if any.
  • Advertising & Communications Guide – Provides templates and guidelines for creating advertising collateral.
  • Social Media Guide / Policy
  • – Describes policy regarding social media tools and usage. Critically important if you have multiple locations with independent operators. If you have multiple units who is responsible for blogging? Can individual locations have their own Facebook page or is it operated by the corporate office.

Corporate Guidelines
What is the formal purpose, philosophy, and goals of the company. Again, as the company gets bigger, this information needs to be understood / accessible by all employees. If you run a franchise or multi-unit brand these guidelines are critical so you operate with one voice, as one brand.

May include:

  • Core Purpose, Mission Statement, and Values
  • The Brand: Positioning, Characteristics, Promise, Differentiators, Expession
  • Brand Guardrails / Filters – May detail what types of businesses with whom you do and do not business. May outline your pricing policy; do you discount? Offer %-off? May describe Who We Are / Who We’re Not.
  • Target Audience / Customer Information

As I mentioned earlier, the size of your business will determine the level of detail needed in a Brand Style Guide. Small businesses need less detailed style guides while big businesses need more detailed style guides. That said, for any business, big or small, I recommend creating a Brand Style Guide that includes three sections:

1. Identity
2. Personality
3. Authenticity

1. Identity

It’s important for a brand’s identity (it’s exact look) to be visually consistent everywhere people see it. In this section, clearly show examples of how your company’s logo should look in all types of situations from color to black & white to print ads to menus to business cards to t-shirts to anything where the company’s logo can appear.

Also show examples of incorrect uses of the logo, like an obviously stretched logo and a logo with mismatched colors. Sometimes it’s easier for people to understand how to correctly display a logo when seeing bad examples.

2. Personality

Every brand has both a look and a feel. The look is its visual identity. The feel is its emotional identity. Every brand has both. To help ensure you are consistent in showcasing your brand’s emotional identity, I recommend creating a list of personality traits you want the brand to always convey. (Learn more here.)

In your Brand Style Guide, list out and detail five personality traits you want your brand to always convey.

For example, some personality traits we attached to the Starbucks brand back in the day included: Delightful, Quick-Witted, Encouraging, and Welcoming. By outlining these personality traits, it served as guardrails to help us design and deliver marketing activities that were true to the emotional identity of the Starbucks brand.

3. Authenticity

Being authentic and true the brand is easier said than done. Compromises always happen as a brand grows and evolves. To help ensure a brand stays authentic, a Brand Style Guide should include a DO NOT COMPROMISE list of activities. This list should be revisited every time your business is making a major (and minor) marketing decision.

Back when Paul and I were Starbucks marketers, we had a DO NOT COMPROMISE list we referred to often. This list included the following pointers:

ALWAYS elevate the theatrical, drama, ritual and human nature of our business
ALWAYS say who your are, never who you are not
NEVER communicate like we are a fast food company
NEVER communicate a new and improved mindset

We used this DO NOT COMPROMISE list to help guide us in designing and delivering better marketing programs that stayed true to brand while also driving sales and increasing the emotional connection people had with the brand.

Of course, there is much more to consider when crafting a Brand Style Guide. We would love to consult with you on how best to craft a Brand Style Guide for your business.