You have a business plan. You have a product strategy. Your company has a name. But do you have a brand style guide? Sometimes called a brand guide, your brand style guide explores and defines the critical elements of your brand, how they work together, and how to implement them for business growth.
What Is a Brand Style Guide?
A brand style guide is the Rosetta Stone for brand development, keeping your creative assets and messaging consistent across all media and channels. It builds out your visual identity and persona with target-audience insights and messaging guidelines based on deep research and competitive analysis.
Your brand style guide delves into the marketing pillars of your company, including your purpose, personality, positioning, perception, and promotion.
Though your brand is customer-facing, your brand style 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.
Brand Style Guide vs. Editorial Style Guide: What’s the Difference?
It’s also important to note that your brand style guide is distinct and different from your editorial style guide documents. Your brand style guide explores the big picture of your brand. It includes everything that goes into creating a consistent look and feel for your brand. For instance, your brand style guide may include information on competitors, customer personas, customer problems, and the unique features and benefits of your company’s offerings.
On the other hand, your editorial style guide only shows how to convey these elements through word choice. The material in your editorial style guide will be influenced by what’s in your brand style guide, but won’t dive into your thought process in the same way.
Think of the brand style guide as the who and the why of your brand, and your editorial style guide as offering the how to your creative team.
Editorial Content Style Guide
Your editorial style guide depicts your brand’s voice, as well as specific guidelines for writers. It should outline what style guide your company uses (AP or Chicago). It may include grammatical and stylistic nuances specific to your company, such as whether you capitalize titles, or whether you use a serial comma. It should also indicate voice preferences — such as using short, scannable paragraphs — and may include tips on messaging or words you prefer that writers not use to describe your offerings or your brand.
Why Does Your Company Need a Brand Style Guide?
Your brand is how the world perceives your company. Inaccurate or inconsistent 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. Research shows that presenting a brand consistently across all platforms can increase revenue by as much as 23%. Your brand style guide shows your creative team how to present your brand uniformly.
Think of it this way. If your brand were a restaurant, you’d want to deliver consistent food each time. Customers want to know that if they order the same meal once, twice, or 10 times, it will taste the same each time.
Your brand style guide is like the recipe book that helps everyone on your creative team deliver a consistent experience to consumers. 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.
What’s in a Brand Style Guide?
Every brand is unique, so every brand style guide should be too. Yours will depend on what matters most to your company, its mission, and its vision. However, some common elements should appear in most brand style guides to help steer your marketing team down the right path when developing your marketing strategy or creating content.
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 don’t need to be included 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. You’ll want to keep your brand pillars in mind as you write this story, to ensure consistency. 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 markets — to humanize your target customers. These personas help you remember who you’re talking to, so you can make your messaging personal.
List the relevant customer problems — immediate, future, and lifetime — for your personas and how your products or services solve them.
Your message should focus on the benefits of your brand and convey the value proposition clearly — identify what sets your brand apart from competitors and makes it attractive to consumers.
With your value proposition cemented, build a brand pyramid. Your brand pyramid should include:
- Brand essence — a one- or two-sentence thought that captures the essence or soul of the brand
- Persona/voice — how the brand comes across to consumers; describe which tones to use and which to avoid
- Values — beliefs or attributes the brand stands for that resonate with the target audience
- Emotional benefits — how the product makes the customer feel
- Functional benefits — what the product practically accomplishes for the customer
- Features — tangible aspects and facts about the brand/products
You don’t need to get into specifics of phrasing and word choice at this point, just the overall message you want to convey with your marketing materials. The specifics will go into your editorial style guide later.
The visual elements of your brand style guide reflect how your brand appears across media. Just as your messaging will be reflected in your editorial style guide, the following aspects should be conveyed in simple, clear-cut ways in your visual style guide, inspired by your brand style guide.
Logo: Your logo is a simple, recognizable visual representation of your brand. Your brand style guide may include secondary logos and variations of the logo in different configurations, including horizontal, vertical, and small badge styles. The logo design process includes research, sketching ideas, and vectorizing full logo concepts. But once it’s done, you can share it in your visual style guide to help contracted artists or your in-house creative team understand exactly how they can — and can’t — use your logo.
Typography: Fonts 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 them across all branding, with examples.
Color Palette: A color palette is a set of predefined colors that will be used across all branding. Colors are 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.
Brand Elements: 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.
Visual Standards: Use a mood board for inspiration and outline the characteristics that should be found in any brand photography. This may include colors, layouts, and other elements.
Media Guidelines: Provide instructions on how to use visual elements in media, like sample ads, social posts, and so on, with suggestions on accompanying messaging, like words to use in captions, hashtags, and more. Although most aspects of your brand style guide won’t be available to the public, your media guidelines should be shared with any publication or website covering your brand.
It’s one thing to create a brand style guide with specific instructions for executing creative across a variety of channels. But the application section of your brand style guide shows specifically how your branding may appear in the real world.
This section can include business cards, T-shirts, billboards, and product packaging, as a few examples. These examples will drive the creation of future visual content as well.
Need Help With Your Brand Style Guide?
Your brand is a careful balance of ingredients. As it expands and evolves, you can’t leave changes up to fate or open 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 style 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 communication skills.
Many companies benefit from collaborating with experienced professionals, such as a marketing consultancy, to help build out their brand style guide. Hawke Media is here for you and your brand. Contact us today for a free consultation.