You have a business plan. You have a product strategy. Your company has a name. But do you have a brand?
It takes much more than just a name and logo to develop a recognizable brand. You need a comprehensive document based on performance branding - an approach that explores and defines the critical elements of a brand, how they work together and how to implement them for business growth.
You need a brand guide.
A brand guide is the Rosetta Stone for brand development, keeping your creative assets and messaging consistent across all mediums and channels. It builds out your visual identity and persona with target audience insights and messaging guidelines based on deep research and competitive analysis.
Though your brand is customer-facing, your brand guide is not. It’s an internal set of rules to guide you, your employees and any third-party freelancers or agencies involved in building your brand.
Your brand is how the world perceives your company. As the old saying goes, you only get one chance to make a first impression. Bad branding will hurt consumers’ perception of your company, hampering your ability to grow, even with the best products or services.
What makes good branding? Consistency, for starters. Think of your brand like a restaurant. It’s one thing for the chef who founded the restaurant to know the recipes, but as the restaurant becomes more successful and the kitchen staff expands, can that chef expect the new cooks to replicate the signature dish just by looking at the finished product? They might come close, but a restaurant whose signature dish tasted different every time wouldn’t be in business long.
Your brand guidelines are like the recipe book that chef would create for his line cooks to follow, listing the exact ingredients and specific processes that guarantee consistency. With respect to branding, this type of uniformity is critical to developing brand recognition among your target audience. This recognition is the foundation of consumer trust.
Every brand is unique – every brand guide should be, too. Each one will require a different combination of elements. Still, they should focus on the same areas of branding, which are:
Perform in-depth research on direct and aspirational competitors to identify opportunities for differentiating your brand from the others out there. The results of this analysis aren’t necessary to include in your final deliverable but should be kept somewhere for reference and inspiration.
Tell the story of how the brand was founded, explaining what your brand aims to do, for whom and why. Articulating the mission will give your brand development purpose, resulting in a stronger overall brand that resonates more with your target audience, as long as your mission is aligned with their values.
Define the hierarchy of your brand’s target audiences based on demographics, behaviors and interests. Most brands should have at least primary and secondary target audiences.
Create detailed customer personas – profiles of the major types of customers in your target market(s) – to humanize your target customers. These personas will help you remember who you’re talking to so you can make your message more personal.
List the relevant customer problems – immediate, future and lifetime – of your personas and how your products or services solve them.
Now that you know who you’re talking to with your branding, figure out what to talk about and how.
Start by listing your value propositions (aka value props) – the unique factors that make your brand and/or products attractive to customers. Most, if not all, of your messaging should either directly or indirectly refer to these value props.
With your value props cemented, build a brand pyramid. Your brand pyramid should include:
How will your brand will appear across visual mediums? These are the key visual elements:
A simple yet recognizable visual representation of your brand. Include secondary logos and other variations as well as usage rules, like spacing and proper/improper usage examples.
The logo design process includes research, sketching ideas and vectorizing full logo concepts. Modify your final logo to create additional horizontal, vertical and small badge versions.
Fonts matter. They create a consistent, distinct and identifiable reading experience across all written communication, from ad copy to web headlines to emails and so on.
Put some care into making your primary and secondary font selections – choose fonts that align with your brand and complement your logo.
Once you’ve made your primary and secondary font selections, provide directions on how to implement the fonts across all branding, with examples.
A color palette is a set of predefined colors that will be used across all branding. Colors are deeply associated with mood, helping to evoke an emotional response in your target audience. They also contribute to familiarity.
Choose colors that represent your brand’s personality well, harmonize with each other and are unique, but versatile.
This section outlines how to present your brand visuals. Start with a moodboard for inspiration and outline the characteristics that should be found in any brand photography.
Provide instructions on how to use visual elements in media, like sample ads, social posts, etc., with suggestions on accompanying messaging, like words to use in captions, hashtags and more.
Brand elements are any secondary elements that can be used to enhance your brand, like patterns, gradients or photo treatments. You can also include illustrations and custom icons.
This section will provide examples of your branding as it will appear in the real world, including business cards, T-shirts, billboards and product packaging, among others. You’ll need a graphic designer to create these images, as you won’t actually have any of these physical items created yet.
Your brand is a careful balance of ingredients. As it expands, you can’t leave it up to interpretation. Solidifying clear brand guidelines is crucial to charting the proper course for brand development.
In addition to time and patience, creating a brand guide requires inspiration, a clear vision, an understanding of your target audience based on research and data, proficiency in graphic design, knowledge of brand-building theory and strong communicative skills.
No single person is competent enough in all of these areas to tackle a brand guide on their own, nor should anyone rely on their singular opinions when it comes to making the key decisions involved. We recommend collaborating with experienced professionals to put your brand guide together.
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Annika is a Senior Graphic Designer on Hawke Media's creative team, specializing in branding, brand strategy and design.