Blog header image: Understanding Brand Guidelines article.
Brand Management

Understanding Brand Guidelines

January 22, 2024 9 minute read
The essential elements to creating brand guidelines start here
Blog header image: Understanding Brand Guidelines article.

Your brand is your company’s most important asset. It’s more than just words on a page or images on a screen ⏤ it’s how you communicate with and attract your audience. From your logo to each customer interaction, it’s the identity of your organization.  

To stand out in a competitive market, consumers need to easily understand who your company is and what you provide. Brand consistency helps consumers feel confident in their decision to become a customer, because they know exactly what to expect from interactions with your organization.

So, how do you ensure  consistent experiences that build brand loyalty? Develop strong brand guidelines.

What are brand guidelines?

Brand guidelines are the standards and rules an organization uses to maintain brand consistency across channels. They define the framework for visual, verbal, or written communication, and they set the foundation for a solid brand to grow and thrive.

What should you include in brand guidelines?

Brand guidelines standardize color and font usage, logo application, tone and voice, image styles, graphics usage, brand sentiment, and more. While brand guidelines might seem limiting at first, they can actually allow for more creativity in your work. With guidelines that establish what you can and can’t do, teams can create within a framework instead of starting from scratch each time.

While brand guidelines will differ for each organization, they typically include: 

  • Guidance on logo usage
  • Brand essence and characteristics
  • Writing and copy guidelines, including tone, voice, and grammar rules
  • Links to other brand resources and ways to contact the brand team
  • An overview of the brand’s visual expression and how to use visual elements
  • Typography rules (e.g., fonts, type size, and line height)
  • Illustration, icon, and photographic style overview
  • Color palettes
  • Grid templates and white-space rules

Why are brand guidelines important?

Brand guidelines define who your brand is and how you present what you do. Iconic brands don’t just happen by chance. They know exactly who they are. They’ve created a clear, cohesive, and seamless experience across every touchpoint. This ability to deliver an omnichannel brand experience makes them stand out among competitors.

Documenting your brand guidelines protects your brand from misinterpretation, misunderstanding, and inconsistency. Plus, creating brand guidelines helps clarify details that people were unsure of as well as retire outdated practices.

Once established, brand guidelines should be treated as a living, breathing part of your business. As your company changes and grows, builds new products, and reaches more customers, your brand guidelines should also adapt.

How to create brand guidelines

The timeline for developing brand guidelines is unique for each company depending on resources, current structure, and brand goals. Whether you’re creating brand guidelines for a new or existing organization, both require a clear picture of what your brand stands for. The biggest difference comes in applying the new standards when you relaunch your brand.

Creating brand guidelines for a new company provides a blank slate to work with, which can be both exciting and daunting. Establishing guidelines at an existing company, on the other hand, helps provide structure to current standards or may be part of a brand redesign.

The challenge with an existing brand update is that the organization is already out in the world. Updating its brand requires remembering and revising all of the existing brand touchpoints to reflect the new guidelines. But with detailed brand guidelines, you’ll know what needs to be updated when and how. 

So, where do you start? 

1. Clarify your brand essence

Build the foundation for the rest of your guidelines by clarifying your brand essence. Brand essence defines the key characteristics of your company and embraces its mission, vision, values, and purpose. It defines who you are, what you stand for, and how you want your audience to feel when interacting with your brand. Your brand essence guides more concrete elements like visual, written, and verbal style and gives your teams something tangible to refer to during every project.

How do you want someone to feel after interacting with your brand? What do you always do? What do you never do? Knowing the key characteristics of your brand helps you deliver consistent experiences and connect with consumers in a way that leaves a positive lasting impression.

2. Develop the rules

Rules guide the use of brand elements and should be established for things such as:

  • Logos: Which logos are acceptable to use where? How should they be applied to branded items? Can they be placed on other graphics?
  • Typography: What is the brand’s font? Can other fonts be used? Are you able to use bold and italics? Which font sizes should be used?
  • Illustrations: When and why do we use illustrations? How should illustrations and photography be used together? How do illustrations and text work together?
  • Icons: Which icons are acceptable to use? Should they be kept at a certain size? Do they need to be a certain color?
  • Color: What are your brand colors? What sentiment do your colors convey? When and how should your colors be used?
  • Grids and white space: How should items be placed within a design? When is nothing better than something?

These concrete standards keep everyone aligned when creating any visual and written communication and provide the clarity needed to work quickly and confidently.

3. Train people how to use them

Once you’ve developed your brand guidelines, they need to be communicated to your team. Plan an official launch so everyone is aware of what’s changing and why. To gain buy-in and adoption, make it exciting. Create and promote regular training, and make your guidelines available in an easy-to-access location. This creates a united internal front that helps keep your brand approachable and top of mind.

You should also create a brand identity kit to share across the organization and with external partners. Include your brand guidelines, the most business-critical visual assets, and information on how to use them. This gives your teams and partners across the globe (or the hall) easy access to the right logos, approved color palettes, and typography styles. Put the resources into shaping a comprehensive brand identity kit and doing it right. It’s well worth the long-term return you’ll see in brand consistency. 

4. Plan for growth and change

Your brand is a living, breathing part of your business, and so are your guidelines. As your business grows and changes, your guidelines need to evolve as well. To change and implement them consistently, you’ll have to hire and develop a team of marketers who are hungry to grow with your brand. Start by taking a strategic approach to assembling your team and choose a competency framework to help them build the right skills for the future.

Clear brand guidelines and a dynamic team will take you a long way, but you’re still missing one big piece of the puzzle. You need to centralize storage of all your brand assets with a solution that scales. Having an accessible, flexible system in place makes it easy to keep your guidelines updated and helps manage all of the brand assets you create without going crazy.

5. Adopt technologies that support brand consistency

We’ve talked about the more visceral identifiers of branding, but technologies play a crucial role in how the world experiences your brand digitally. The digital experience platform (DXP) is a modern solution to unifying technologies that power your brand’s digital experiences across whatever channels you’re on. Acquia DXP has a few great tools that work in tandem at keeping your brand consistent wherever it’s on display. 

Acquia DAM and PIM: digital asset management (DAM) system provides a centralized and secure place for your assets — like graphics, photos, videos, and documents — to live. Using a single storage location ensures that everyone can find and use the most recent and on-brand assets, making it easier to manage your brand. Similarly, a product information management (PIM) system is a central hub for product descriptions, specifications, etc. It’s where the text that goes with the media lives. Having both DAM and PIM platforms (bonus if they’re one and the same platform) to house and manage visual and written brand elements is crucial to maintaining brand consistency.

Acquia Site Factory: A lot of brands manage more than one website. Whether they’re for different products, audiences, or subsidiaries, they’re still part of the same overarching organization and need to be consistent with brand guidelines. Site Factory allows you to create, manage, edit, and deploy multiple websites from one place. It’s a great platform for enforcing brand governance at a technical level when your brand has a whole portfolio of product sites. 

Protect your brand with brand guidelines

Is providing a consistent and seamless customer experience a top priority for your business? Start by developing clear brand guidelines that give your teams the direction they need to build trust and loyalty with your audience at every touchpoint. With a defined plan and the right technologies to help manage it, your brand guidelines will bring clarity to your work and evolve with the success of your organization.

Whether it’s a place like Acquia DAM to house and manage your brand assets or Acquia DXP to unify your brand’s digital experiences across channels, we’ve got you covered. Get in touch, and we’ll set up a time to help you get your brand where you want it to be.

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