A brand style guide is a document that compiles rules for the use of creative assets and messaging across all media and channels, providing consistency and clarity to the visual components of marketing. It is an internal document that makes sure everyone represents the brand visuals well, so that you have a consistent and recognizable aesthetic for external audiences.
Usually a brand guide doesn’t change unless the company undergoes a full rebranding. However, you may find your company making frequent edits to your visual style guide if the original documents weren’t built for brand growth.
There are a few reasons a brand guide needs revising as a company grows. The bigger the company gets, the harder it is to monitor and enforce the guidelines in the document.
- The company has grown significantly, and now the brand guide has to be more specific because everything can’t be routed through a single gatekeeper for approval.
- Your brand now relies on freelancers or contract workers (brands like Lyft, Uber, Airbnb, etc.) who need to understand brand representation and boundaries.
- Your brand now has franchises or different boards and stakeholders, who need to understand where they can implement individual identity versus what is mandatory.
How can you keep your brand from getting unwieldy, even in these circumstances? The answer is to write the original guide with future growth in mind. We’ll outline how to build your brand guide so that the integrity of your brand identity never wavers.
Tips on Writing a Brand Guide for Company Growth
No matter how the creative assets of your brand will be leveraged in the future, these tips will ensure that your brand style guide is built for scale.
Keep It Simple
The more often a use case can provide clear black-and-white, yes-or-no solutions, the better. If you find yourself coming up with a bunch of exceptions to the rule that you have, it may be worth reconsidering having the rule in the first place.
For example, if your style guide says that the brand logo should be used in color in all circumstances except for X, Y, and Z, and there’s the possibility that further exceptions could be made if your brand expands to new social platforms or media channels, then just cut the rule entirely. Have a limited, permanent list of brand logos and let the designer or publisher use whichever one makes the most sense on a case-by-case basis.
Keep It Specific
A brand guide should be direct and firm. One scenario is allowed, this other scenario is not. As already mentioned, it’s detrimental to list out a bunch of exceptions; however, it is also unhelpful to be too broad and leave room for interpretation. The bigger your company gets, the more the boundaries of the brand and style guides will be pushed. If the guide is not explicit, CEOs and executives will see the brand misrepresented. This isn’t just a threat that CEOs will be peeved; misrepresenting the brand confuses customers and diminishes trust.
For example, a lot of brands merge different style guides so that their messaging best represents the tone they’re trying to strike. The inclination to do this is perfectly understandable; a brand doesn’t want to look stale or too similar to its competitors. However, merging styles such as AP and Chicago leads to too many case-by-case scenarios where the writing and grammar can get muddled in outbound communication. Picking a specific writing style may make some leaders squirm, feeling like they’re writing a term paper, but it will prevent confusion and rogue communication as your brand grows.
Keep It Flexible
Time for yet another tip that sounds like it goes counter to a tip already listed, but stick with us. As your brand grows, it will be represented in more and more places. You may think you wrote your brand guide to be as comprehensive as possible, but as marketing and public relations teams grow, you’ll see your brand represented in media you couldn’t have anticipated. One of the most obvious examples is that social media channels will pop up that literally didn’t exist when you wrote your brand guide. When an issue keeps butting up against the brand guide time and time again, it is OK to change things. Give yourself permission to keep up with the times.
It goes without saying that generally if something violates the brand guide, it should be removed or recalled to maintain brand integrity. Furthermore, a brand guide should be as evergreen as possible; no one wants a guide that seems to be perpetually revised. That said, if there is a cadence to the updates and they’re strategically implemented to expand the brand, not restrict it, then it will always be in the company’s interest to keep the guide nimble.
Eliminate High-Risk or Low-Reward Scenarios
As your company grows, more and more people will want to speak on its behalf. Allowing more voices or channels for communication only increases the risk of muddying the brand, but in many cases this is a calculated and worthwhile risk. Your company can’t grow without entrusting the vision to a larger circle. Leadership needs to be clear-eyed about which channels and voices are worth the expansion.
The most obvious example of this would be a franchised brand with different locations, and those locations’ relation to social media. You may have noticed that fast-food chains often have a social media presence for individual locations. In some cases, this can make sense. Perhaps that franchise participates in a lot of community events and outreach, and it’s necessary to speak more directly to the locals. However, this is also putting official, sanctioned communication in the hands of as many people as there are franchise locations. This leaves room for a lot of compliance issues. It can be maintained with proper training and supervision, but the brand will have to decide for itself if the reward justifies the risk.
Vision and Mission Should Guide Decisions
Every brand guide starts with your brand history, purpose, and philosophies. These pillars won’t change, no matter how the company grows or circumstances change. The vision and mission of the company are foundational. When it comes time to decide how specific a rule should be, whether a guideline should be revised, or whether a branding scenario is too high-risk, these principles should guide those decisions.
If an expansion or revision to the brand guide will help your brand achieve its mission, it’s worth making. If not, the guide is a reminder to get back to basics. Have faith in the vision of your brand.
Next Steps for Your Brand Guide
If your company doesn’t have a brand guide yet, these tips will get you off the ground and empower you to grow in the future without compromising your guide. If you need help developing your brand guide, or assistance with any of your branding efforts as your company grows, Hawke Media is here to help.