Want to win new customers and build customer loyalty? They have to feel good about your brand. That kind of positive brand awareness can come from a quick Instagram post or a memorable personal experience with your company products – either way, there’s important behind-the-scenes work to do.
First, ensure you have a solid foundation to build on by including everything you need in your brand style guide. People need to know who your brand is, what it stands for, and where its values line up with theirs. A brand style guide ensures everyone in your company (and external partners, too) know this story well and have the tools to tell it consistently across all channels and touchpoints. Your style guide houses all the information and resources your teams and partners need. By developing clear instructions on how to use all your brand assets, you can foster and maintain brand consistency.
Let’s take a quick look at why brand style guides are important and how you can add this brand identity checklist to yours (or use it to start a style guide from the ground up).
Why Do You Need a Brand Style Guide?
If you’re a brand manager, you already know that a brand style guide documents how your brand should be presented in written, visual, and audio communication. It ensures consistency across marketing, sales, product, and customer service communications by providing all the specifications your teams need to create a cohesive brand experience.
If you’re not a brand manager, you’ll find that a style guide helps clarify brand expectations and makes it easier for teams to maintain consistency. For example, a brand style guide helps everyone answer questions like:
- What’s our brand promise?
- What are the Hex values of our brand colors?
- Should our writing be formal or informal?
- Which logo should I use?
You might believe that a “brand promise” is important but have never heard of Hex values. That’s OK. You don’t need to, but designers and creative directors do. Everyone is going to use your brand style guide for different purposes, so be sure everyone’s needs are met.
Here’s a checklist of all the common elements that brands need to present a consistent experience across every step of the customer journey.
Your Branding Checklist
When you’re producing a lot of content and marketing material, you need a reliable internal approval process to guard against brand-damaging content blunders. Healthy approval processes need standards for teams to quickly agree on. Add this checklist to your brand style guide to give everyone a way to monitor brand consistency. Or, if you don’t have a style guide yet, use this checklist to start one.
And remember to keep these crucial guidelines top-of-mind by making them easily accessible to all team members. You can house them in a digital asset management (DAM) platform, for example, or as a page on the company intranet.
Brand Tone of Voice
Your communication style, whether visual, written, or verbal, is your brand's lifeblood. Your music and voice-over choices for branded videos and the photography you feature — even the ebb and flow of your words — tells your audience who you are as a brand. Take Mailchimp — the email service provider maintains one of the best brand style guides around. Take your time to identify the elements that are crucial to your brand and teams.
Below are good principles to keep in mind for your branding checklist.
- Tasteful — they don’t overwhelm, distract, obstruct other components, or detract from the impact of communications
- Approved for use from an in-house image collection or DAM platform
- Only used from outside sources if legally licensed and approved for purchase
Written or audio components are:
- In active, not passive voice
- Actionable and include practical advice
- Concise, using the least amount of words required to convey meaning
- Simple and direct but still use interesting and powerful words
- Void of jargon and buzzwords
- Consistent with your intended brand voice and tone
- Customer-centric, not self-serving
- Free of typos, grammatical errors, and inaccurate information
- Responsive and address the needs of your target audience
- Using approved boilerplate copy, if applicable
- Scannable, using quotes, graphics, and bullets to break up text blocks
Your brand has to use approved logos consistently and correctly to present a unified brand experience. These hard-working visuals personify who you are as a brand and the personality of your people, products, and culture. Getting them right is critical.
Logos should be:
- True to original form (color, scale, and orientation)
- Visible and legible against backgrounds
- Correctly sized for space, with adequate clearance around the logo and tagline
- Placed in the right location for the type of content (e.g., bottom left corner for slide presentations)
- Compliant with registered trademark guidelines
- An optimized file format for the medium (e.g., EPS for master files and graphic or print designs and JPG or PNG for when load time matters)
3. Brand Colors
Brand colors are one of the most crucial aspects to define. You always need to use the same shade of whatever color defines your brand. People will notice if the red you use is dark on one channel and almost pink on another. Something as small as this could lead to lost trust; your company might not seem very professional to them. Develop standard rules for your brand colors so that internal and external teams create consistent brand assets.
Be sure colors are:
- From an approved palette
- Used tastefully and don’t overwhelm, distract, or detract from the impact of communications
- Optimized for the medium (e.g, typically, RGB is used for digital while PMS is used for print)
- Consistently applied, such as a certain Hex code for headers and another for subheadings
Font usage gets complicated quickly, so you want to draft strict rules on how your brand uses them. Do you always use the same font for headlines and body text? Do you have rules about capitalizing the brand name in your main font? Are designers allowed to add their own style to fonts? Have answers to those questions and come up with your own. These are just a few of the long list of rules you’ll need to ensure your brand fonts are used consistently.
- True to the original form, without added type effects (e.g., drop shadow, outline, texture)
- Used correctly at approved point sizes across headlines, subheads, secondary heads, and body copy
- Optimized for the medium (e.g., web vs. print)
- Always the same in headlines and body text. If you use a certain font for the headlines and another for the body copy, then be sure they’re applied consistently.
- Never stylistically altered from approved font files
5. Other Visuals
In addition to these elements, your brand will undoubtedly include other visuals like icons, photography, illustrations, videos, and more. These elements also need their own guidelines to ensure they’re flexible enough to fit specific content needs but consistent enough to be recognized as your brand no matter where they’re used. Each element will require its own set of guidelines depending on your brand, but here are some ideas to get you started.
- Natural and not overprocessed
- Candid — avoid using staged photos
- Literal and bring clarity to their subject
- Simple and easily understood
- Rich in color, brightness, and texture, creating layers and dimension
- Show stories and convey ideas without leaning on words
As a whole, content should align with these elements of your brand:
- Mission. Clarifies who you are and what you’re all about. Your content should support the core purpose of your company.
- Vision. Identifies what your company is going to accomplish. Your content should use language consistent with your aspirations.
- Values. Guide and direct your culture and how to approach your work. Embrace these foundational motivators and treasured principles.
- Promise. The value your customers expect from you every time. Always live up to your customer pledge.
- Traits. These keep you unique, different from competitors, and personality-packed.
From here, you could evaluate brand assets, like potential stock images for a marketing campaign, and see if they match up. If you’re an enterprise software company, it’s unlikely that an image of a child’s birthday party could ever fit in a marketing campaign – unless you build payroll software services and want to highlight the benefits of your PTO features. Your visual style always depends on how you define your brand, mission, target audience, and the story you’re telling at any given moment.
Here are more brand guidelines to use to round out your checklist and style guide.
With a brand style guide and brand checklist in hand, you’ve already started the practice of brand management. Producing a consistent brand experience is an ongoing process that happens across multiple teams and requires attention at every step of creating, managing, and distributing your content. With this checklist and the power of a DAM solution, you can dynamically enhance the way your entire organization protects, manages, and improves your brand along each of those steps.
You’ve just read through a crash-course on brand management 101. If you want to learn more about facilitating a positive brand experience at every step of the customer journey, read this in-depth guide on brand management.