How to Write a Brand Guidelines Document
Your brand guidelines is a living, breathing document that will help keep your brand consistent and recognisable across all touchpoints. It’s an essential resource for anyone working with your brand, and is something every company should have, whether small or large.
Your brand guideline documentation can be used both internally and externally when outsourcing, making it easy for anyone to pick up and understand how to effectively implement it and communicate your brand to consumers.
A brand guidelines document requires some work, but it’s a necessary resource for ensuring consistency and continuity of your brand’s visual identity and messaging. This article covers the key points to consider when creating your own brand guidelines document, in terms of messaging and visual identity.
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What is a Brand Guidelines Document?
A brand guidelines document outlines in detail your company’s visual identity, styling, and the tone of voice. More specifically, this document will dictate:
- How to display the logo
- Any logo variations and how to use them
- Which fonts to use and where to use them
- Brand colours
- Composition and layout design
- Iconography design
- Illustration style
- Photography usage
- Signage styling
- Tone of voice
Typically, the brand guidelines are created by a designer or brand strategist who produces a document that can be replicated both in print and digitally, so that it can be easily shared. The document can also be updated as needed.
Why Do You Need Brand Guidelines?
Your brand guidelines will help you to stay consistent, no matter what part of your company is creating content. By having a document that clearly outlines the visual language and messaging of your brand, you can make sure that your identity is consistent across all channels. This helps to avoid the following:
- Brand confusion: When branding various across channels, customers might be confused about who they are dealing with. For example, when the graphics and colours on your website aren’t the same as on your newsletter e-mails, this can lead customers to doubt that they’re dealing with the same company.
- Branding misalignment: This happens when the design choices one department makes don’t align with the choices made in another department. This can lead to your brand looking unorganised, disjointed, and unprofessional.
- Inefficiency: If your staff constantly have to consult a designer on how company materials should look, then it takes up more time and slows productivity. Having all the design rules in one place provides staff with a resource to refer to when needed.
- Weak identity: When a brand is inconsistent, it can make it look unsure of itself. Having a set of clearly defined guidelines helps maintain a coherent image and a strong brand identity.
In general, a brand guidelines document is needed to determine the design of:
- Your website and/or blog
- Marketing materials
- Social media posts
- Company documentation
- Signage and wayfinding
- Product packaging
- Video and television graphics
- Any other assets related to your company or organisation
Defining Your Company’s Visual Identity
Once you’ve decided that you need to create a document for your brand guidelines, the next step is to define your brand’s visual identity. The visual identity is an important aspect of your brand’s foundation, so it’s important to put a lot of thought into it. The visual elements are the first thing that people will notice—so they need to be displayed right in order to make the correct first impression.
Below, we’ll go through the main sections of your brand guidelines document and what you need to cover in them. Of course, this list may vary depending on your organisation and the channels you use to communicate with customers and the public overall.
The logo is often the first thing people think of when they think about your brand; it’s the symbol that people associate with your company and the most important visual element of your branding. If you were to ask people to draw a picture of your brand, the logo would probably be what they would draw.
By putting a lot of time and thought into the design of your logo, you will make sure that it not only looks good but also represents your company in the right way.
In your brand guidelines, you will need to define:
- How your logo should and should not be displayed (with examples)
- Logo size and spacing
- Logo variations and combinations
- How the logo design looks reversed and on a single colour
- Some examples of how the logo looks when implemented in real documentation, marketing materials and other relevant materials
The colours in your visual identity are the second-most important element of your visual design. You want to make sure that the colours you choose are not only consistent but also have meaning. Some questions you might want to ask yourself as you define the colours in your visual identity are: What do my brand colours represent? What do my brand colours mean? How do they make people feel?
In this section of your guidelines, you need to display the colour swatches and their values in each of the main colour models:
- CMYK for printed materials
- RGB for screen displays, social media, and most digital content
- HEX for website-based content
It’s also important to decide which of your colours are primary and secondary brand colours. Primary brand colours are usually the ones found in your logo and are the most prominent throughout your branding. Secondary brand colours exist to add more variation to your brand’s colour palette.
Typography is the art of arranging type so that written text is effective, legible and visually appealing when displayed. This involves selecting typefaces, fonts, weights, text size, and adjusting the tracking (letter spacing), leading (line spacing), and kerning (the spacing between pairs of letters).
You need to select fonts that reflect the look and feel of your brand, as an incorrectly selected font can look out of place. Also, it’s important to select fonts that are clear and legible. Typically, most brands have just one main font and its various weights such as light, regular, italic, bold, and so on. However, some have a second or third font; for example, the title and body fonts may be different.
The typography used across your brand should be documented in full. You should at least specify the fonts, weights, and sizes for the following:
- Body text/paragraphs
Illustrations, Icons, and Photographs
Layout Structure and Composition
In this section, you need to provide guidelines on how graphical elements and text should be positioned across brand touchpoints and materials. Here, you can provide grid guides and layout templates with specific dimensions or just simple block structures to show where everything goes.
Examples can also be provided to demonstrate how the layout structure should look when implemented with actual content. This section isn’t just for page layouts; it can also provide guidance on the design of social media graphics or online videos.
Tone of Voice Guidelines
As you know, brand guidelines are not only about the visual elements; standardising the way you interact with customers across all channels is equally important. Establishing your tone of voice ensures you can effectively communicate your identity, values, mission, and vision, ensuring your audience and the general public know what you stand for.
Having tone of voice guidelines ensures that all employees, no matter what department they work in, can confidently create content in a consistent way, ensuring your audience perceives that content to be coming from the same entity every time, across all touchpoints. It also ensures that new hires can easily pick up the correct methods of addressing your audience.
In this section of the guidelines, you can indicate which language should be used and which should be avoided. There may be certain words or phrasing that are inappropriate and should be avoided at all times – this is the place to list them. You may also want to incidate whether it’s appropriate to use emojis and if so, which ones.
While you want to communicate your brand identity in a consistent way across all channels, there may be variations in the way you address followers on different channels – for example, your social media posts may require a more casual tone than your web content. Including a section for each channel to explain these variations is good practise.
As with the visual elements, it’s essential to provide tone of voice examples for clarity. As well as listing what language to avoid, you can also include longer samples to demonstrate the type of tone to avoid.
Consistent and effective branding is a vital component of any company. Creating a brand guidelines document codifies your brand and is a key part of its implementation, helping you and your staff stay consistent, no matter what part of your company they work in.
By having a document that clearly outlines the tone of voice and visual language of your brand, you can make sure that your brand is recognisable and consistent across all touchpoints – and remember, a brand guidelines document is a living, breathing document that needs to be kept up-to-date as your brand evolves.
If you need help with your content or any other aspect of your marketing, feel free to get in touch here – my team and I are happy to help.