Brand Guidelines A Step-by-Step guide post cover image
Identity | Branding

Brand Guidelines (A Comprehensive Step-by-Step Guide)

As a business owner, you face many challenges day after day. Most of them are focused on creating more business opportunities and providing your customers with the product or service you offer. Nothing in the business world could be possible without marketing and sales. But even if you take care of those two aspects without proper preparation, the whole effort could fall into nothing.

Why?

Even if your brand identity and all of your brand visual assets are on point, you cannot be sure they will be used in the right way if you don’t have a document called brand guidelines.

It doesn’t matter how great your marketing department is (if you have one of course), or how good is your understanding of branding—there’s still a lot of confusion about what the brand guidelines are, the true value that they bring, and the role they play in defining, maintaining and growing a brand.

To really get your brand guidelines right, you’ll need to first understand what they actually are, why do they matter, and learn how to create them and use them properly.

Let’s dive in!


What brand guidelines really are?

Brand guidelines sometimes referred to as brand identity guidelines, brand standards guide, brand manuals, branding guidelines, style guides, or simply brand books are documents used to help you build your brand, keep your assets consistent throughout different applications, as well as keep your vision safe and in line.

This document can then be used both internally and externally. And no matter how you call it, it represents roughly the same idea. It might be a physical book, digital file (usually in a .pdf format), or a page on your website including (in its basic version) all of your brand identity elements with the details about their construction and usage. Some extended branding guidelines include also a brand strategy and/or business plan.

When your company works by itself on a new branding project, or undergoes a rebrand, either on its own or with a help of creating agency, you should create or be given brand guidelines on completion of the project.

FarmHouse Brand Guidelines pages scene
FarmHouse Brand Guidelines | Project by Brandman Design Co.

Why are Brand Guidelines Important?

Brand guidelines are one of the most essential tools designed to give your brand the elementary consistency and some level of flexibility. They are often used by designers to be sure they’re using the right typography, color palette, or versions of your logo.

Brand guidelines are extremely important, at least because your company will not always be dealing with or working with its primary branding agency. During your business activity, some of your stationery assets could simply „get out of stock” or maybe you’d like to update your website or launch a new marketing campaign at some point. Then brand manual would be crucial for you and your new vendor to be certain your brand identity and strategy will be preserved exactly as designed.

Let’s bring up an example:

Imagine you’re going to launch a new advertising campaign using Facebook or LinkedIn and you’re about to prepare a set of ad sets for your brand to represent a new product to your audience.

Sure, your branding agency can create those ads for you, but maybe this time your budget is pretty short and you’re thinking about bringing that work „in-house”.

Your new graphic designer needs to be able to understand how the brand was set up and have a guide for using it properly. And that’s where the brand manual gets in place.

More than just visual style guide

Being honest, effective guidelines should be much more than that. In most discernible organizations, people use branding guidelines as a resource that everyone in the company uses to understand how to proudly represent their brand and follow its mission.

Starting from the „smallest” member of your team, working either in sales, marketing, customer service department, to the business development director who’s approaching networking events to introduce your company, everyone should have a great understanding of what certainly makes your venture unique.

At Brandman Design we’re always providing our clients with Brand Guidelines, either in a digital pdf file or by preparing a separate place for this purpose on their websites. So if you’re working with us, you can be sure you’ll get one too. But if your brand strategy and identity are already prepared and you don’t have one yet, drop us a line, we can help you with that.


What Should Be Included in Your Brand Guidelines?

Soo, far soo good. You know already what kind of document it is. Let’s talk about what should be included in your brand guide?

Just like anything else, you can take different approaches and either create a basic visual style guide, or the full comprehensive blueprint. It all depends on how far are you with your company’s branding and what are you going to need in the future. Often, startups and smaller companies, create something more basic and quick to read as spending to much time and effort on the piece which no-one will actually use makes no sense. You can always update your brand manual in the future, as long as you don’t order a print yet.

However, if you’re in charge of a huge corporation like BMW, LG, or British Airways, then you’ll probably need something more extensive, including more of your brand touchpoints to be sure no-one will hurt your brand, even accidentally, during new project cooperation.

I think it is the time to list up some elements from both approaches:

What to include in a Basic version of your Brand Guidelines

The most basic brand guideline documents will often skip the brand strategy part. We don’t necessarily recommend this approach but on the other side, we don’t judge or say it’s totally wrong.

You won’t find there any information about the company’s mission, vision, target audience, or this sort of thing, and these documents move straight to the visual aspects of the brand representation such as:

Starbucks brand logo design as element of brand guidelines

1. Logo Design

Right after a short introduction into who the company is, what it represents, sometimes listing a short structure (if applicable), we see the table of content. The first thing that should be placed after this in your brand guidelines is your logo design.

The main form of the logo, and the design that you expect to see 90% of the time in a typical, „easy” applications, including those on a monochromatic, mostly white backgrounds.

Your main logo should be described shortly but it could also include an explanation of what it represents and why.

2. Logo Variations

This section should include other variations of your logo. It usually presents a secondary logo—if the primary includes the symbol above the wordmark, the secondary will be set horizontally, meaning its symbol will be placed right next to the company name, on the left or right side.

It is a place where you should list the symbol itself, without the wordmark. In different variations (if appear), like different color sets, filled or outlined, you name it.

A lot of people get scared after hearing the phrase „logo variations”, which kinda makes me a bit surprised. It’s is the XXI century— the responsiveness times are here. Your logo doesn’t need to be used only in its basic form. There are applications or places that force adaptation, in a reasonable matter, of course. That’s why when we design a logo we should prepare also its vertical version, a version without the company name (only a symbol/mark), a version without the logo mark—the wordmark itself, and so on.

Think about NIKE and how they use their logo:

  • A simple swoosh on a small product
  • Swoosh and Nike text on the storefront window
  • Full or reduced versions of the logo on their packaging (depending on size and logo position)
  • Full Nike Air wordmark with a swoosh on a Nike Air shoes
  • Big white or black swoosh or Just Do It slogan standing alone on a billboard

It’s very important that your logo design is fully flexible as you won’t be limited to using it in the most basic positioning and application setups.

3. Logo Reversed & Monochrome

To keep the ultimate functionality of your brand logo it is important to have it prepared also in mono and reversed versions. Every logo is getting created first by having it designed in a black & white version. To preserve focus on details, not on the color itself. You should have your all-black logo version included in the brand guidelines.

It will be also good to have a logo exported in greyscale as some applications might use it and it might look much more clear in this form. There is a chance that you might need a small logo placed somewhere on the white background or use it as a watermark. Such a logo in a greyscale becomes very legible and works as a nice brand accent.

Monochromatic logo version (black or white) is required sometimes when you order advertising materials such as pens or pencils, clothing merchandise, or other assets that use embroidering techniques. Depending on the material’s color you might need a simple black or white version of your logo to be sure it contrasts well and stay visible.

4. Other Logo Lockups

Modern brands use different assets for identification purposes. If your company uses icons or other symbols that became associated with it, it might be good to think about different logo lockups to expand your creative assets and also put those in your brand guidelines.

Such logo lockups allow you to mark your products or marketing materials without a direct need of using your main logo, which overused could become, let’s be honest—boring. The most popular lockups have a shape of the badge, stamp, symbols locked in a circle or other shape, etc.

See an example of logo lockups in the form of badges created by Brandman Design for Brick Stone Brewing:

Brick Stone Brewing Company stickers
Brick Stone Brewing Stickers

5. Logo Dimensions and proportions

There is a reason your logo has been designed in this exact way and looks the way it looks. To be sure you and the vendors who are going to use it in your marketing materials understand it well, you should have the proportions of your logo also displayed in the brand manual.

This section might include only a raw sketch (for abstract logos) or a logo with the construction grid on it (if x- and y-axis or any important angles have been used in its design).

Such details as:

  • the distance between company name and logo symbol
  • proportions of symbol elements in regard to others
  • wordmark letters sizes
  • words baseline and/or cap height line

should be briefly described to help you with your logo positioning regardless of the application you will use your logo in.

There should be also a place for an indication of what is the smallest size of your logo, that could be used without losing its functionality. In most cases, 4mm is the smallest size for print and 6 pixels for digital appearance. Although it all depends on the complexity of the design as well as the designer or creative agency decision, because they, as a creator know the best in what sizes the logo will be the most legible.

6. Logo clearspace

The space around your logo design is as important as the logo itself, no doubts about that. If your company mark is surrounded by other graphic elements or set in a narrow place without space to „breathe” it won’t look professional and there might also appear some legibility problems.

Your brand guidelines should include your logo in all its versions with a clear space with some „x-height” guides (usually taken from one of the logo elements for easier proportion understanding) letting you know how much space should be free of other graphic elements at all times.

Novative logo with clearspace for brand guidelines
Novative logo clear space

7. brand Typography

A very important part of your brand guidelines. Your brand’s typography of choice should be documented in detail in here. You should see here all of the typefaces used by your brand—including primary and secondary as well as supportive fonts.

The last ones are something that every company should be aware of. All of the eventual typefaces used within the logo should be exported in logo files—outlined, but when it comes to other text (like in your email signature) you cannot be sure if your viewers’ computers have the same fonts installed on their devices. Your email signature might look completely different on other devices. That’s why we highly encourage you to use standard, google fonts in your email signatures.

Right next to listing the fonts you use, it is important to set the proper hierarchy and determine sizes and font styles. You want to know, obviously, what font and what point size to use in specific places.

This section should include:

  • Headlines/headings (H1, on the web)
  • Sub-headlines/subheadings (H2, H3, H4 and so on, on the websites)
  • Paragraphs/standard copy
  • Quotations

If you work with many vendors, you should, by all means, have your fonts prepared for them to download or at least point out where to get them from, within current license for usage that you possess of course.

8. brand Color palette

The colors your brand uses on a daily basis have to be chosen with care and set in your branding style guide too. They split into two parts:

  • Primary color scheme/or color palette
  • Secondary color scheme/or color palette

It’s not about telling that your company is red, or blue, or green. It’s about preparing a set of colors working together on your brand’s behalf. The colors from your primary palette are often the colors found in your logo or different versions of your logo design. They are used across your main marketing and advertising media such as print collateral, website, and more.

All color palettes set in your brand guidelines should be displayed visually and evaluated with a different color mode: CMYK, RGB, HEX, and Pantone (if applicable). You want to be sure that no matter where your brand assets will be presented, they will use the right colors.

Pantone Palette | Photo by Mika Baumeister on Unsplash

Secondary color palette is defined to add depth to your brand’s color scheme.

These might be used in different forms of marketing or advertising, such as flyers, brochures, or websites. You might also use a secondary palette to differentiate separate departments of your brand.

9. Brand Imagery

It’s very important to use consistent photographic and illustrative content to keep your brand’s messaging coherent. Images play a vital role in the identification of your brand, that’s why it’s style should be established as early as possible and the imagery section should be set in your brand guidelines.

This section of your brand manual usually features a set of appropriate images and those which aren’t appropriate for your brand as well as custom color overlays (if applicable).

The crucial details of your brand imagery include the light, composition and subject matter.

Brand imagery chapter of your brand book is particularly useful for illustrators, photographs, or other vendors using images in your brand marketing efforts, as well as advertising agencies if you use their services for creating Facebook or google ads for example.

10. Business Stationery

Even though we live in a digital era where most of the professional engagement happens online, companies are still using stationery. It is a great way to build brand awareness and increase trust within customers. Such elements like business cards, envelopes and letterheads are absolute minimum every brand should have designed and set in its guidelines.

Those assets pretty often get out of stock and we are in need of printing them over and over again. Setting brief details about your corporate print collateral in brand guidelines can ensure the brand consistency across all of the company printed materials.

It might also happen that you add new team members. By this, your company might need to get additional business cards printed. If you hand over your brand document, created by creative agency, to your vendors, you should have them done quickly and without unnecessary questions about sizes, colors, or other elements from the cards.

Land Sea Air media stationery
Land Sea Air Media Stationery set

11. Social Media

It honestly depends on how many assets your brand have for representation purposes, although having social media assets listed and described in your brand guidelines can definitely help you with keeping the consistency.

Elements like:

  • Profile images/Avatars
  • Background//Header/Cover images
  • Specific Content Style
  • Social Media profile names (tag handles–@)

should reflect your brand in the same way, no matter which platform you use. It’s true that your messaging could be slightly different on different social media channels, although the base has to be consistent. It is important here to establish the main style and build up from this point.

We have worked on some Instagram and Facebook content for a few companies. A great example of setting an IG post style could be found in our project for WokoLoco:

WokoLoco instagram social media assets
WokoLoco Instagram Design

Consistency in approach (I know you’ve read this word multiple times already) helps your brand with getting recognized, especially in a current noisy social media world full of clutter and new „brands” popping up every single day.


extended VERSION OF BRAND GUIDELINES

Every single brand guidelines should include the above listed elements. It is a base that ensures you that your brand identity will be used properly and won’t hurt your brand in any way while your vendors, creative and advertising agencies, printing houses, and so on, will use your brand assets.

More comprehensive brand documents include all those elements determining the brand identity but also a few positions more, touching upon your brand strategy, like:

1. Your Brand mission

The starting point of your company’s strategy is your brand mission.

Your brand’s mission is what defines you as a company and gives you a trajectory. It is the “what” and the “how” of your business.

To be more precise, especially when it comes to defining the brand mission in the easiest but clear way and set further in the extensive brand guidelines you can shape it this way:

[What we do] by [How we do it] for [Who it’s for] to [Value we provide]. 

It is wise to include this part of your brand strategy, together with your brand story, at the beginning of the brand style guide. Right before you get into the brand identity or any other aspects of your brand image.

2. Reason to exist, or your brand purpose

At the core of the whole brand strategy is the brand purpose, the reason for being. And it’s not just about making money—which is the purpose of every business, but it has rather be much more than that.

It could be a personal reason why you’ve started your business, and why you do what you do. Or where you find the passion to work long hours when there’s a need. Why do you recommend your business to your true friends and family as a place to buy from or to work with? It’s what makes you proud of being a part of your brand. What would you do if you wouldn’t have to care about money at all?

3. Brand Attributes

These are the collection of words (mostly adjectives) treated as the main facts about your company. They define what an observant prospect or potential employee would notice when researching you or interacting with your brand.

These aren’t random things you’re choosing, but they rather are just natural parts coming from within your business and you as a founder.

There are many approaches to this section. We use to split brand attributes into the following groups (but use whatever works best for you or whatever framework your creative agency uses):

Brand definition tabel
Brand Attributes Table

4. Core Values

The values are things that your brand celebrates and promotes within the organization. It’s more of an internal message rather than something you’re going to put in front of your customers (but you can also do that if you feel like doing so).

The core values are what you’re striving for as business equity, as well as individuals within it, the behavior standards, soo important to your business, and describing what you stand for and believe in. 

Ultimate Brand Strategy worksheet mockup
Brandman Design Co. Logo white

USE OUR free WORKSHEET IF YOU NEED HELP WITH defining your brand strategy

5. Voice & Tone

The voice and tone of your brand are all that you can say about the language you use (within the company as well as how you communicate with your audience and customers. It helps you define the proper terminology or eventual jargon or other specific types of language, clear for your audience as well as reflecting your brand’s culture and attributes.

In this section you define how your emails are signed; if you use „Thanks”, „thank you”, „regards”; do you begin your messaging from „Hello”, or other specific greetings.

It also set communication standards for customer service or situations while your team members interact with other companies on industry events.

There are many more elements of brand strategy that you can include in your brand guidelines although we will write a separate article about it to not get away from the main topic.


Additional elements that could be set in your brand manual

You should have all of your brand assets, called also graphic elements (including logos, typography, icons, colors, etc.), clearly outlined in your brand guidelines. Those are things that don’t change and help you keep consistency throughout all media you use to build awareness, spread your message, or do business.

There are also some other parts that could be defined and set in this document, such as:

  • Car/Truck wraps
  • Website (architecture, grid systems, imagery, etc.)
  • Email signatures
  • POS/other marketing stands
  • Event/tradeshow stands
  • Instore/office or other environmental designs
  • Merchandise
  • and more…

The decision about including those or not you have to make yourself, keeping in mind if you’ll use them for a longer period of time, or just once.


top 6 Brand Guidelines examples

Knowing what we know already, it is time to see some examples of great brand guide books.

We’ve gathered some of the best publicly available brand guidelines to help you brainstorm what should go into your own brand guidelines and how they may look like. Whether you’re looking to create a document that’s straightforward and complex, you should find a great resource below:

1. LinkedIn brand guidelines

LinkedIn is mainly web and mobile app gathering the professionals, they also make sure to cover any print materials their brand might use. They have one of the cleanest brand guidelines packed in a very easily accessible webpage – full of resources, including logos, downloadable print, and web color palettes, and more, split into user-friendly sections.

LinkedIn Brand guidelines
LinkedIn online directory with brand guidelines

2. Uber brand guidelines

Everyone knows Uber. It is another great example of an online brand guide. The way their branding has been set up allows the user to find what they need quickly, without having to run through multiple pages. Every page you land on is very clean and legible.

Uber brand guide
Uber online brand guidelines

3. Spotify Brand Guidelines

Spotify uses a pretty simple style guide which is also available online, but there’s more to the brand than just a green circle logo. Their style guide allows you to download a logo, making it easier to represent the company without the need of manually recreating it. You can also learn about colors and other brand assets over there.

Spotify brand guidelines
Spotify Brand Guidelines

4. I Love New York Brand guidelines

If you’re looking for an extensive brand guide, check the one created for I Love New York brand. This manual in a pdf file begins with a thorough explanation of the brand mission, story, target audience, and tone of voice. After understanding the strategy you can move forward to reading about the brand’s logo positioning on various merchandise, colors they use, and typography of choice.

I Love New York Brand Guidelines

5. NASA Brand Guide

NASA has created a “Graphics Standards Manual”, an official and very complex physical book about its brand, available for purchase. The 220 pages of their guide describe countless logo placements, color and typography uses, and supporting designs. All that NASA uses to represent its brand in one place. There are also NASA’s space shuttles with their own branding rules. This very extensive brand manual is a brilliant example of corporate branding.

NASA Brand Guide Book

6. Audi Brand Guide

As Audi is a name well known around the world, it means that the brand is often replicated and promoted in thousands of places and by dozens of vendors. They definitely need a cohesive and user-friendly guide allowing them to keep the consistency and avoid hurting the brand image.

The company’s online brand guidelines are very specific because they’re split to different chapters ordered by different brand appearances, like user interfaces, communication media, corporate branding, corporate sounds, motion pictures, motorsports, and dealer facilities.

Audi brand guidelines
Audi online brand style guide

Conclusions of our Comprehensive Step-by-Step Guide to Creating Brand Guidelines

Your brand guidelines are one of the most important documents in your company. It is the complete guide to your brand. Touching both upon strategy and all of the identity, and marketing materials your brand possesses and uses.

It’s crucial that your brand guidelines don’t live only on the shelf, but rather live and grow with your brand.

Every time when you communicate with new suppliers, introduce your brand to a new audience, or bringing people into the company you should use it.

Expanding this book should take place every time you add or change something as your company grows. To be sure your brand will be represented properly and will keep essential consistency, you should use these guidelines whenever you run a new campaign, either marketing, advertising, or any kind. And make sure you keep those up to date whenever you update a piece of your brand.

How important are your brand guidelines for the success of your business? Drop us a line! We’d love to hear your insights!

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