Most business owners understand the importance of having a strong brand. It sends a message to customers about who you are and what you stand for. It tells them what they can expect when they buy your product or service. Plus, it helps to set your business apart from competitors.
What many business owners don’t understand is that to be effective, a brand has to present a consistent message every time people encounter it. In order to do that, every business needs a brand style guide.
When people hear different messages or have different perceptions about your brand on a regular basis, it confuses them about the benefits of doing business with you. An inconsistent brand is actually worse than having no brand at all because it breaks the bond of trust between you and your customers. Once that trust is gone, it can be very difficult to regain.
How do you maintain a consistent brand? By adhering to a carefully crafted brand style guide.
What Is a Brand Style Guide?
A brand style guide is a roadmap for your business. It establishes a set of rules that define how you want to present your company to the world. It contains many different elements – from graphic design to writing style to the tone and voice you use when communicating with customers, prospects, employees, financial institutions, and more. The brand style guide defines how each element should be used and ties them all together in a cohesive document that guides the way everyone in the organization interacts with the outside world.
Brand style guide design elements
From a visual standpoint, design is the most important brand style guide element. If your website and print marketing collateral don’t follow the same color schemes, font types, and other design elements, it significantly weakens the impact of the content, no matter how strong it may be.
Your brand style guide should include the following:
- The approved company logo. Some companies may have variations of their logo for different uses. But they are similar enough that anyone looking at them will know they represent the same brand.
- Graphic brand elements. These include textures, patterns, and other images or symbols used to represent the brand.
- A core color palette. This identifies which colors to use, how to use them, and why.
- Photo guidelines. These outline the rules for what type of photos may and may not be used, as well as how to size and position them in printed materials.
- Typography guidelines. These identify which fonts and sizes should be used and which are not permissible.
Be sure to include examples of correct and incorrect use of the design elements.
Brand style guide content elements
Design is what first captures the reader’s attention, although a compelling headline helps. From there, content has the task of telling the brand’s story in a way that moves the reader to the next step in the buying decision process.
Content elements should include:
- Headlines and body copy examples. Headlines typically focus on high-level benefits. Body copy addresses the pain points of your prospect and how the product or service resolves them.
- Tone of voice. Do you want a personal, one-to-one voice, or a more reserved voice? Should your tone be light or serious? Do you prefer an educational tone or a more persuasive one? The tone and voice you select will depend to a large extent on your audience and your product. No matter what you choose, they should be well-defined.
- Grammatical details. Do you want to use AP style? Do you want to use the Oxford comma or dispense with it? These days, grammar isn’t as big an issue for most people. However, as with all other brand style guide elements, the important thing is to be consistent.
- Content no-no’s. What your content doesn’t say is just as important to your brand as what you do say. For example, to imply class and integrity, never talk negatively about your competition. Don’t talk down to readers. Most important, never make promises – implied or tacit – that you can’t deliver on.
Why a brand style guide is important
Having a set of brand guidelines for everyone in the company to follow benefits your business and the people who buy from you.
Trust in your business
First and foremost, having a brand style guide helps show the general public that you operate a professional business that offers a reliable solution to the problem(s) they are looking to solve. This goes back to the all-important concept of consistency.
Without brand guidelines, your products and services can end up looking very different from each other. The same is true for your marketing materials. When everything looks different, it looks like you don’t know what you’re doing. When customers don’t know what to expect from your brand, they lose trust in it. When they lose trust, they start looking for another company they can trust.
Having brand guides in place enables your brand to remain consistent. Something as basic as using the same colors and fonts on your website and in your print marketing materials may sound like a no-brainer. But without brand guidelines, it can be easy to go astray on these and other brand elements.
From a design and content standpoint, it takes a lot to keep a brand consistent. A brand style guide keeps all the information in one place so that people don’t have to hunt for it. This is especially important for the creative people – the designers, writers, and website managers who use the guidelines every day. Whether you do all the creative in-house or outsource it to an agency, it saves time and money by having one source for the creative people to turn to.
Brand style guides are not just for the creative folk. Employees also need to know the company’s brand standards. They don’t need to understand every last detail as the creative people do. However, they should know the basic standards when communicating with anyone outside the organization via emails, letters, presentations, and other formats.
Brand guidelines should have all the pertinent details, yet should also be easy to understand. If employees struggle to make sense of them, it will be difficult for them to stay on brand. When an employee deviates from the brand style, the company’s image, in the eyes of the customer, will start to wander. Avoid this potential issue by keeping your brand style guide clear and easy to understand for all levels of employees.
Consistency for your target market
Marketing is the activity of leading prospects through the process of making a decision to buy your product or service. A brand style guide keeps all of your marketing materials consistent, so people can make the right choice about whether or not to do business with you.
Prospective customers want and expect you to lead them through this process in a consistent manner. This means your brochure looks like your website in terms of design, color, and use of fonts. All content needs to be well written and maintain a consistent tone of voice. Make sure that your content tells the same story – or parts of the same story – in every piece of collateral. When design supports content and vice versa, and they work together to present the same message, you know your brand style guide is providing good direction.
Let your brand work for, not against you
It takes hard work to develop a brand style guide. It requires knowing your customers and why they buy. Start with a clear vision of what you want your brand to represent. Then rely on experts who understand how colors impact the way people perceive things and wordsmiths who can tell your story in a way your audience needs to hear. The rewards far exceed the time and effort. Building a strong, consistent brand, will guarantee that you won’t have to work as hard to attract customers to your business because your consistent brand will do much of it for you.