Why does your company need a branding style guide? The simple answer: a style guide can save you time, money, and frustration. This important document gives anyone who uses your branding a clear set of rules for how marketing materials should look both online and off. It even gives instructions for exactly how things should be done, how the end result should appear, and sometimes explains why.
This document can be for internal purposes or public use, depending on your company's needs. Say other companies use your logo for a promotional documents - would you trust them to present your logo in a way that represents your company? This is where a branding style guide comes in handy. Your style guide can be as simple or complex as you want to make it. It's all up to you!
What's included in a branding style guide can vary a lot. Beyond the basics discussed below, you can choose to include your mission statement, information about company, a description of your visual identity, examples of proper (or improper) use of your branding, etc.
Including items like your company's mission statement can give insight into your company goals and motivations, and inform readers about the meaning and context of the visual elements you choose. You can also turn this document into a one-stop shop for everything about your company, which is particularly helpful if people outside your organization will be using it.
Why You Need a Branding Style Guide
Branding style guides are helpful whether you are a small company with only one designer, or are well over 100 employees. They ensure that every visual element produced by or about your company is consistent, so a new hire doesn't decide to take their own creative spin on your brand.
Every guide is going to be different depending on how complex the brand presence is, but here are a few basic elements you need to think about when creating a branding style guide.
Logo, Company Name, and Slogan
You have a logo, great! What's next? If you had a design company create your logo, they may or may not have provided alternative logos or marks to use. Logo variations can include grayscale, light and dark versions, isolated logo, logo with company name or slogan, isolated company name and slogan, and what the logo will look on a light background, dark background, or photo.
The important thing is to be explicit about what alternative marks and treatments of your logos are considered acceptable. Many branding style guides go beyond just listing acceptable marks to address whether the logo and marks may be altered in any way, including orientation, color, typography, and the use of individual elements of the logo or marks.
The colors used by your band and company should be spelled in as much detail as possible. Your logo has a defined color scheme; for example, in the VIEO Design logo, we use a specific shade of orange and pair it with black. You can play off of those base colors and choose secondary colors that should be used with your branding. For a website, these secondary colors can be used for calls-to-action and various visual elements. I broke down different color combinations in one of my previous posts, How to Use the Psychology of Color for Your Website.
Choosing colors to use for and with your brand takes careful consideration. The colors you choose has to represent your company and what your brand stands for. Need help? Check out my How to Choose Colors for Your Brand blog post.
Make sure to include all color modes of your scheme in your branding guide, including hex codes for web use, CMYK for print, and Pantone color values. You may also want to define whether different shades and opacities may be used with those colors (for example, as a watermark in an ebook).
Every brand should be consistent with the fonts they use in all of their marketing materials, both online and off. I highly suggest listing approved fonts and including examples in your branding style guide.
Think about what fonts you want to use for your headlines and body copy, and be cautious of awkward font pairings.
- Headlines and Subheadlines: What font are you going to use? How do you want headlines and titles to be displayed (Sentence case, title case, all uppercase, all lowercase, etc.)?
- Body Copy: The body copy fonts are particularly important, because they appear most frequently on your website and in print materials. Legibility is the primary concern, so you may want to choose different fonts for web and print. Whatever you choose, make sure it's easy to read in large paragraphs.
- Specialty: These are fun, more stylized fonts that you can use in your materials. They're not always needed, but they're fun to have around and can add a little bit of personality to your branding.
Photos, Icons, and Other Imagery
Some brands even choose to define a specific style for photos used in their materials. Many companies have to use stock photos because they don't have a photographer on staff. However, there are a lot of weird stock photos out there, so there's something to be said for creating official guidelines.
To help your employees choose images, you may want to clarify whether you're comfortable with posed photos, your preference for warm or cool color schemes or color saturation levels, and what feelings you want the images to evoke. If you use icons or other imagery in your marketing materials, you can also define the use of those graphics.
Copywriting Guidelines (a.k.a. Words Words Words)
Not every branding style guide necessarily needs to address the style of the content you produce, but some do. This could cover such things as the capitalization and usage of your name, slogan, product or service names, events, and affiliations, and where trademark symbols will appear.
It can reflect poorly on your brand when your materials are inconsistent with the spelling or capitalization - so consider clarifying, for example, whether you'll be using "ecommerce," "eCommerce" or "e-commerce." You can be as general or specific as you want, and you can even create a separate content style guide if you need to. If you want to keep it general, consider including a description of your "company voice" to give your team an idea of how you want your content to sound, and let them make choices about how to execute it.
The point of a style guide is to simplify and expedite the design process for everyone that is involved. You can make it as simple or complex as you would like it to be.
Are you reviewing your branding as a part of a website redesign?