• October 8, 2015
How to Carve Out a Powerful Brand Style Guide

A brand is so much more than a logo. In most cases there is a story and every good brand creates some form of emotional connection with their audience.  We recognized the importance of using clear and consistent visuals and colour to communicate our brand. What better way to help us refine the elements used to strengthen and promote our brand than to create a brand style guide.

If you don’t have the budget to hire a design firm to create your brand style guide, you can still put one together.  Follow along below as we share a template, along with research, best practices and examples.

Why is a brand style guide one of the most essential documents any business can have?

A brand style guide ensures complete uniformity in style and formatting no matter where your brand is used or who created it. It is not only a key asset for your organization’s employees but a reference for external contractors, partners, your followers and potential customers.

Unlike a well-executed Halloween costume designed to transform you into a compelling character, your style guide must be authentic and should give your audience a clear understanding of your brand personality.

With both internal and external audiences in mind, a powerful style guide must:

1. Inform – it needs to teach everyone who sees your brand identity and how to effectively implement it.
2. Inspire – if your brand personality is well communicated and you make it memorable, your team and fans will be encouraged to share your brand’s voice and make it their own.
3. Enforceable – your identity guidelines need to be well-defined and easy to understand. Consider using visual examples and graphics to clearly spell out the dos and don’ts to ensure there is no mistaking your creative vision.

Keep in mind that you don’t want to come across as too controlling and startle your audience by being too brash with your regulations.

Residential real estate website Trulia had every intention of startling its audience in this Haunted Open House video but they were clearly communicating their brand identity –

home searching so easy, it’s kind of scary”. ~ source: Trulia


THE INGREDIENTS OF A BRAND STYLE GUIDE

Think of your style guide as a cherished family recipe that invokes fond memories. It is made up of ingredients that work well together and create a successful blend of flavours and tastes. Perhaps a savoury pumpkin pie!

WHAT TO INCLUDE:

Strategic Brand Overview

This section can include information such as brand history, brand promise, unique selling proposition, vision, and mission statement.

In easyGroup’s brand style guide, a personal note from serial entrepreneur Stelios instantly sets the tone of the document with a brief history of the brand and explains who the guide was written for.

Tone of Voice

Use this section to describe your brand’s voice, your style and how your messaging is communicated to your audience.

“Your company’s tone of voice is how the character of your business comes through in the words you write and speak”. ~ AcroLynx

Tone of Voice - InnovaMap Brand Style Guide Blog Post

It is recommended that you indicate 3-6 one-word values or traits that reflect the essence of your brand (they should be distinct but complimentary). Then provide actionable advice given your core values.

The following is a structure shared by Kevan Gilbert:

InnovaMap Brand Style Guide Blog Screen Grab_Kevan Gilbert
It is worthwhile noting that although tone and voice go hand-in-hand and are often interchangeable, there are differences. Many make sure to point out that your tone will change and it is your voice that is your brand personality and described by values or traits.

Tone adds a specific flavor to your voice based on factors like audience, situation and channel.

Few other companies are as thorough or transparent with their voice and tone guidelines than MailChimp who have an entire guide dedicated to it. Why not take their lead and describe your voice by what it is not.

Don’t miss the opportunity to gain control of your organization’s tone of voice as you aim to deliver great experiences for your customers. This will ensure you are giving your audience a consistent encounter that will make you memorable and help build loyalty.

Your tone of voice works hand-in-hand with your creative vision.

Typography

Typography entails everything from typeface choice (including leading, tracking and kerning) and the color palette to layout and design integration. Use this section to educate and rationalize your typographical choices and give examples of usage.

Typography can have a significant impact on the effectiveness of any communication message. There is a science behind choosing the right font as it directly impacts audience perception, interest and level of engagement.

Periodic Table of Typefaces - An InnovaMap Brand Style Guide blog post

A study found that font could change people’s beliefs about important medical instructions. This can be explained through cognitive fluency. When our brains have difficulty processing something like hard to read font,

that unconscious extra work can be transferred to something else and make the task seem more complicated or time-consuming.

Another study by Kevin Larson at MIT, details how font and layout affect our emotions.

If you have defined fonts and would like to keep your style guide simple, Typefaces is often a section found following Logo and Colour. In addition, if your brand font is known, provide it. If it’s available from a font library, give out the download link but don’t infringe on any copyright laws and distribute fonts you don’t have rights to.

If you don’t have set fonts or are considering a brand refresh and want to consider other options, you could be lead down the proverbial rabbit hole.

There are so many factors to consider and with its undeniable importance it can become overwhelming.

A few things to consider:

  • Typefaces have personality, what purpose or mood do you want your content to convey?
  • Serif or Sans Serif? The two main classifications of typefaces.
    – Serif: have “feet” at the ends of the letterforms and generally are more traditional
    – Sans Serif: don’t have “feet” and are considered more modern
  • Having a font with multiple weights with italics is so important (no less than four styles)
  • Combine corresponding or contrasting fonts to create impact
  • Keep it simple, try just 2 typefaces (consider website load times)
  • A recent study has also shown that larger font sizes can elicit a stronger emotional connection.
  • An ever-growing selection of professional-quality free fonts are available through Google Fonts and Typekit.

Some final resources to help in the daunting task of finding a formidable font pairing: fontpair.co, Type Genius, Fonts in Use.

Logo

Make sure you provide logo variations and clarify minimum sizes. In addition, include logos with different colours and specify which colours are allowed.

Include a spacing reference, especially for the logo. Rather than specifying inches or centimeters, use a portion of the logo (a letter or a shape) to set the clearance.

InnovaMap Brand Style Guide Blog Screen Grab_Easy.com

Firefox uses common mistakes instead of other harsh language and visually illustrates what to look for to ensure proper use of its logo.

InnovaMap Brand Style Guide Blog Screen Grab_Firefox

Colour

This section allows you to highlight your colour palette. Specify primary and secondary colours and when and where to use them. Include formats for both print and Web: CMYK, Pantones (if they exist) and RGB (or HEX).

The color pallet you choose for your brand is important because it not only helps identify your brand, but it also sets the tone for your brand visually. Simplicity is key. The use of only one or two colours conveys a consistent look which people are more likely to remember.

In a study shared by Piktochart researchers found that up to

“90% of snap judgments made about products can be based on color alone.”

A lot can be gained by understanding the science of colors for emotional marketing and brand identity. If you aren’t consistently using a few colours for your marketing messaging, find out which colors represent your industry or reflect the emotion you want your brand to convey.

It’s important to ensure you choose a collection of colors with enough contrast so that they will work well when applied as backgrounds, elements or overlays.

Below Boy Scouts of America detail their brand colours.

InnovaMap Brand Style Guide Blog Screen Grab_Scouts of America

Layouts and grids

By setting up templates and guidelines for grids, you will encourage best practices and promote consistency. For Web, preparing some generic templates can limit unwanted creativity regarding layouts and maintain your brand’s signature style.

Uber’s Design System

InnovaMap Brand Style Guide Blog Screen Grab_Uber Best

Imagery & Filters

Your use of visuals creates an essential element in the communication of your brand identity so you need this section to be as clear as possible.

Consider the tone of your brand, as you have with the typography and the colour palette, and apply the same to your images. Show the images within the context of your design, and explain why certain images make good choices. You can try and provide common attributes, colour choices or whether images are cropped.

For example, Skype explains that cloud imagery has become such a focus for them because they are such a great way to represent free conversation. They detail how the cloud image relates to their logo, how to build their cloud image, and provide a set of illustrations to incorporate with the cloud image with a download link on their corporate site.

They have clearly provided the framework necessary to build images that reflect their brand identity while still allowing their audience some creative license.

InnovaMap Brand Style Guide Blog Screen Grap_Skype

 

Great images may be just a small part of your overall branding strategy but since we are genetically wired to respond differently to visuals they are a crucial part of how successfully your brand invokes an emotional response with your audience.

It would be wise to also recommend using templates. Regardless of what visual you are creating (quotes, infographic, and photograph) having a template will ensure consistency. Your audience will be able to associate the visual with your brand and know it is you before seeing your name.

We recently created a template for our Marketing Brain Tips that we share regularly on Facebook.

InnovaMap Marketing Brain Tip Template for Facebook_Momentum - Brand Style Guide

Filters are an excellent way to enhance and elevate your graphics. Apply a consistent filter across all of your imagery for a cohesive style and defined brand personality.

Web Guidelines

It is important to include style guides for the Web. Just like branding guidelines, Web guidelines keep everything consistent, from button styles to navigation structure.

You may want to consider incorporating an icon set that matches your visual brand identity. Websites such as Fontastic let you create your own icon fonts but also have thousands available.

FORMATTING YOUR STYLE GUIDE

Your brand style guide is an extension and expression of your creativity. There is no hard set rule that it needs to be in PDF format. You could leverage a company like Frontify to create and maintain your guide online. Some turn it into a book but for most that expense is not practical.

Regardless of what form your brand style guide takes or how you chose to share it with your audience, the following are some best practices regarding formatting:

  • Include a cover
  • Make it visually appealing
  • Include contact details
  • Make it easy to access and open
  • Make it printable
  • Make it easy to change
  • Provide print templates whenever possible

Your brand style guide should be true to your brand, consistent in voice and relevant. It doesn’t have to be perfect. If you are short on resources and time, be sure to include the most pertinent and helpful information.

The new brand guide can only make a positive impact if it is used consistently and correctly. You might want to consider offering some training to employees; building a process for contracting, editing, approving and publishing your content; and share your success stories to build ownership and momentum.

As you carve style into pumpkins this season or are out admiring fall and Halloween decorations, let it remind you of the importance of a brand style guide.

Follow these tips and best practices to update and polish your existing brand style guide. If you don’t have one, let other brand guides inspire you to create and implement one that will mesmerize your audience!

Jennifer Dalcin, Visual Content Marketing Manager at InnovaMap - The Science of Content Marketing

 

 

Jennifer DalCin, Visual Content Marketing Manager, InnovaMap

InnovaMap – we use the science of marketing to connect you with your target audience.

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