Your business needs a brand style guide – here’s how to create one
Your brand is who you are and what you represent as a company. It is the promise you make to your customers and the values you stand for. A brand style guide captures your brand and makes it understandable and replicable throughout any products and marketing materials you produce. This post is for you if you want to understand why a brand style guide is so important and find out how to create one.
This is one of a series of blogs intended to assist you in growing your online business. To prepare to create a winning e-commerce website, you need to address 4 key elements.
4 elements to create a website for growth
In related posts, we discuss the other elements:
- How do you establish and align business, digital marketing and website goals?
- Creating customer personas is vital to targeting your customers accurately.
- Mapping customer journeys helps identify potential improvements in how you interact with your customers, whether via the website or other initiatives.
Why do I need a brand style?
It’s human nature that we’re attracted to and trust people and companies that seem to be like us. And when we trust someone, we’re open to being influenced by them. In this case, that translates into customers buying from you.
Your brand style gives your customers an immediate sense of who you are and what you’re all about. If your look and feel resonates with them, you’ve already moved them several steps along the journey of buying (into) what you have to offer.
The key here is making sure that you put the same message out there every single time. Going back to human nature for a moment, we all like to know exactly what we’re getting – it makes us feel safe and comfortable.
On the flipside, deviate from what your customer expects, and you may well be sowing seeds not only of confusion but also of mistrust. Imagine if Coca-Cola or Pepsi suddenly changed their brand colour and logo font too. They would instantly lose that brand recognition that has taken them so far.
That said, it’s true that brands do evolve – even Coca-Cola. Any changes need to be carefully considered and implemented though, making it clear why the new version is better.
How do I maintain my brand style?
Think about how many people need to know how to represent your company to your customers. At a bare minimum this list will include:
- Your product designers and manufacturers
- Your website design team
- Your marketing team
- Your customer service team
Some of these may be the same people fulfilling a variety of roles. Even if it’s just you doing everything in your business though (and perhaps especially in that case), the chances of remembering exactly how you did something last time are small.
Of course, you could try to cast your mind back, go and find the previous piece of work, and then highlight that particular element and check its size, colour, font, etc.
Or you could simply look it up in your brand style guide.
So, what is a brand style guide?
Your brand style guide is a document that lists how absolutely everything to do with your company is put out there so that your brand is consistently represented.
It’s true that putting this together takes some time. You can share that guide with every current and future person in your team though, saving you a great deal of time, energy and frustration in the long run.
This document is especially important if you are considering creating an e-commerce website. Give it to your website development company to help them stay on-brand from the start.
How do I go about creating my brand style guide?
A. If you don’t have a look and feel yet, you’ll need to get your brand style in place first:
- Spend some time considering the elements mentioned above – your business mission, vision and values as well as who your customers are – to make sure you’re clear on your brand story i.e. what you want to put out into the world.
- Make a list of words that describe your brand’s “personality” e.g. trendy and fun, practical and down-to-earth, or traditional and stylish.
- Search for images, colours and fonts you like and that fit with that personality, and save them all in one place e.g. on a Pinterest board.
- Take all of this information to a designer you’re comfortable with and ask them to help you put it together into your brand style.
B. If you already have some kind of brand style:
- Go through all your various company products, documents and marketing material, including your website (if you already have one).
- Consider what has been working and what needs to change – in which case go to Step A above to find a new look and feel.
C. Once you’re happy with your brand style:
- Document all the elements you can think of – see some suggestions below.
- Format it so it’s easy to read and to find elements, grouping similar ones together – tables or columns work well.
- Then every time you come across another element that is used regularly, or that people keep asking about, immediately add it to the document.
What goes into my brand style guide?
Your guide should contain information, with examples, about every aspect of your brand and how it should be used (and in some cases, should not be used – negative examples are often very useful).
Some of these elements may change depending on context and application, so the specs for each potential use need to be clearly documented. For example, on:
- Product packaging
- Company signage
- Business cards
- Company letterhead
- Marketing material, including on- and offline advertisements
- Social media updates
- Your email signature
- Staff uniforms if applicable
Documenting the following elements is a good place to start:
The following detail could be added under each element in your corporate identity guide:
1. Your brand purpose and positioning
This should include your mission, vision and values, and your brand personality.
- Colour/s (including for different backgrounds)
- Minimum and maximum size
- Proportions i.e. height vs width
- Positioning e.g. top, bottom, left-aligned, right-aligned, centred or a certain distance from a margin
- White space required around it
3. Colour scheme
This is usually derived from your logo colours – include colour swatches and describe them exactly:
- Pantone colour matches
- CMYK values for printing
- RGB colours for use online i.e. the exact hex code
Here are some handy online tools to help you choose a colour scheme:
- Material palette puts together a palette based on two colours you want to use
- Spectrum selects dozens of images based on a colour you chose
- TinEye Labs allows you to refine your image search by choosing up to five colours
- Coolors helps you to mix and match colours until you find your perfect palette.
This describes the fonts for different levels of headers, body text, image captions, etc:
- Alignment – left, right, centred, fully-aligned
- Kerning (space between letters and words)
- Line and paragraph spacing e.g. single, multiple, double, so many points before and/or after
These font-pairing websites may help you find your perfect font combination:
- Type Genius helps you choose a font to start with and then suggests best possible pairs
- Typespiration shows text examples given by designers from their designs
- Often-used images or photos
- Style, shapes and mood of new images, if required
- General graphics styles
- Where they should appear on the page
And specifically for online elements:
- Page layouts e.g. home page, information pages, product pages
- Banner sizes
- Navigation bar
- Writing style and tone e.g. formal or conversational (this should align with your brand personality)
- Words to use or avoid
- How to write often-used words e.g. in lower case or title case, as one word, hyphenated or two separate words
- What default language to use (the US uses a lot more z’s than the UK or SA)
What do I do with it now?
You’ll be making revisions and additions to this document, especially at first, and it also makes sense to plan to review it regularly. So once you’ve got it up and running, it’s a good idea to store it somewhere central and simply let people know where to find it. That way only one, hopefully the most current, version will be available at any given time.
The bottom line
Taking the time to think through the various aspects of your brand style guide is a useful exercise in itself, as it helps you get really clear on what your company is all about. And once you have your style guide in place and everyone knows how to use it, your brand presence out in the world will be that much stronger, translating into higher returns all round.
Does your business have a brand style guide? Can you share any tips and tricks with us?