Brand Guides and Style Guides: Why You Need Them
A strong brand works for an organization both externally and internally. Externally, brand shapes the public discussion about an organization through its direction of image, public perception, and place within a competitive landscape. Internally, brand simplifies questions and tasks by providing employees the tools, processes, and knowledge to maintain control of that external, public image.
Brand guides and style guides are the primary tools through which marketers manage the external image of your organization. While these guides often go by different names at different companies, for the purposes of this article, we’ll be using them the same way we use them in our design and communication practice:
- Brand Guide: a guide to direct designers and programmers to a consistent visual presentation of your core assets, including logos, taglines, photos, templates, and more
- Style Guide: a guide to direct writers and public presenters to a consistent written and spoken presentation of your industry vernacular, product nomenclature, and preferred vocabularies and spellings
Here’s Where the Trouble Starts
You can assess the maturity of a marketing group by its brand and style guides. When working with new clients, our charge is often to bring together the range of visual styles and written messages that emerge from organizations where these guides are lacking. The need for guides can be tied to three trends: business growth, expanded offerings, and employee turnover.
During the early days of your business, guides didn’t seem like a need. You probably outsourced to designers and writers who understood the need for consistency in brand, message and language, thus delivering consistent brand products to you. If you were lucky enough to have a designer and a writer on staff, they became, by default, your set of de facto guides.
As your marketing activity grows from outsourcing, to a limited number of employees, to a full department, the need for these guides becomes more apparent. Marketing employees across geographies, business units, and even the hall, need a common set of standards to ensure a consistent public image in all communications.
While new product designs, product innovations, and enhanced collaterals can bring excitement to your organization, if they aren’t introduced within the context of your brand, they bring the risk of confusion.
When it comes to ensuring brand consistency, expanded offerings bring the same challenges as growth…and more. New offerings benefit from the context of your established brand; building on the look, feel, and tone of your established offerings will infuse your new products with the confidence consumers have already placed in your brand.
Employees come and go. Your brand and style guides are insurance that this turnover will not affect the public presentation or perception of your brand. When armed with these guides, new designers and writers who join your marketing team can begin producing designs and copy quickly.
Without these guides, your new employees churn valuable hours trying to discern styles from previous projects or, worse yet, they will bring their own personal style (not your corporate style) to their projects. Repeat this with every new employee, and you’ve wasted weeks of productivity while delivering volumes of inconsistent work.
What’s In a Guide?
Brand guides are much more than fonts and color codes. Style guides tell us more than how the company prefers to spell “email” (or is it e-mail…or E-mail…or Email?). They include everything you need to ensure consistency across your deliverables and messages – no matter who creates them!
Brand guides may include detail on:
- Logo appearance guidelines: color codes, black and white treatments, distance around the logo, placement on the page, placement over images, etc.
- Tagline appearance guidelines: proper placement in relation to logo, stacked and horizontal layouts, etc.
- Font guidelines: prefered print and online fonts, headline styles, preferred sizing and more
- Iconography: define the types of images approved for use – this includes the use of filters, text overlays, approved image banks, etc.
Style guides may include detail on:
- Industry vernacular: does your medical or insurance organization refer to your services as health care, healthcare, or both depending on the situation?
- Product and executive title nomenclature: how do you prefer your print and spoken-word communicators to refer to your products (e.g., “The <company x> Solution” or “The Solution” or “Our Solution”?)
- Tone: what is the voice of your communications? Is it helpful, empathetic and understanding, or does it challenge your customers?
- Grammar support: which standard writing guides and style books will your company defer to for common questions such as how your company will abbreviate states and present addresses?
Don’t Underestimate the
Importance of Guides
Brand and style guides will enable your organization to stay on brand and on message in each and every communication!
They create consistency across writers, designers and employees tasked with disseminating your message and values. They also save money and time by getting new employees up to speed quickly and reducing review, revision, and editing burdens.
As marketing consultants, an ideal world would be one in which all of our clients invested in the development of these guides. After all, they provide the legacy documentation and guidance needed to support our clients in maintaining our prided work!
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