Brand guidelines. Whether you’re a large corporation, small business or online influencer, every marketing team knows they need them. But what exactly are they, and what should they include to make sure your brand is presented correctly?
Brand guidelines are a set of rules, or standards, that explain how your brand works. They help align diverse teams to present a consistent, cohesive brand. And they should be used by anyone involved with brand management or creating marketing communications for your organization — from internal creative and production teams, to outside vendors, freelancers, consultants, PR firms or the media.
Without brand guidelines, organizations run the risk of a renegade brand experience, conflicting messages and visuals, and a confused audience. Consistency breeds believability. The more consistent you are presenting your brand to the world, the more the world will believe who you are and what you stand for.
What every set of brand guidelines needs
Guidelines can range from a simple logo guide to a lengthy and comprehensive brand book. They can cover your corporate and product brands — individually or separately — and be shared in print, web and/or mobile formats.
Whatever style, format, or execution you choose should be determined by the people using your guidelines. Start by asking them what kind of rules and guidance they want for your brand. Then create a length and format(s) that will satisfy their needs.
Here are some sample questions you can ask your audience about what they need from brand guidelines:
- What team do you work on at our organization?
- Are you a content creator or promoter? What will you be doing with our content (writing, design, PR, web development, etc.)?
- What kind of communications are you creating for our organization?
- How will you be distributing those communications? What channels and devices will you be using?
Some audiences may have a solid background in design and can hit the ground running to create communications on their own. Others may have no creative background and could use help from internal creative experts when developing your communications. Regardless of the content creator’s experience, your guidelines should clearly instruct the creator of how to represent your brand.
An overview of basic and not-so-basic brand guidelines
Basic elements that need to be included in your guidelines:
- Color pallette
- Logo do’s and don’ts
- Brand typefaces/fonts
- Examples of final marketing communications that follow your brand guidelines
Beyond the basics:
- Photography/Illustration style
- Boilerplate copy for key messages (who you are, what you do, why you do it, how you do it)
- Brand tone and voice
- Brand attributes or characteristics
- Mission, Vision, Values
- Headline size/color versus body copy size/color
- Optimal copy length for print vs. web copy
- Optimal time length for videos
- Slide deck templates
- Video slates
- Trademark language
Control the brand, but be flexible
Your organization is likely to change over time. As a reflection of that change, your brand should evolve and flex over time, too. Guidelines are a great way to ensure that evolution is handled with precision and care.
Brand management and image style — stock vs. proprietary photography
Let’s think about stock and proprietary photos for a moment. What’s the advantage of using one over the other?
Many organizations use stock photos in their marketing communications because of cost. They feel shooting their own photos with a professional photographer would be too big of an investment. But there are ways to capture authentic photos of your people, culture and products without spending a lot of money.
- Source user generated imagery (from your employees, customers or your social media channels)
- Shoot high res photos with your phone
- Shoot video footage of your people at your office, on a company outing, or at an industry event, then repurpose the video as still image shots (repurposing gives you two, or more, for the price of one!)
- Use a GoPro
Recommendations if you use stock photos:
- Take the time to find unique stock photos that don’t appear in other company communications (in your industry or others), so you don’t confuse your audience or genericize your brand
- Be careful not to dilute your brand by using too many photos with different styles, color tone, or subject matter; Try to stick with one theme or group of people.
- This includes using photos on social media too.
Remember, your buyers are smart. They can tell if the story you present is real or contrived. Authenticity makes your brand more relatable and, ultimately, more believable. With ownership of photos, you can present your organization the way you want, avoid licensing fees, and have more control over your brand.
Recommendations if you use proprietary photos:
- Show your true, authentic self by photographing your own employees, partners and vendors in action, instead of hired talent
- Create a shot list in advance to cover groups of photos and include a range of shots that represent product/culture themes or concepts
- Photograph on a regular basis (bi-monthly or quarterly) to keep your brand image fresh (show people in different seasons and different locations, represent new products)