What is a Brand Styling Guide and why does your business need one?

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Creating a brand is more than just designing a logo. It is creating a voice and a vision for your business that is recognizable, relatable, and retainable to your customer base. It conveys exactly who you are, what your message is, and what your overall vision is every time your brand is displayed. Consistency is key in Branding, and without a guide, it can easily be open to interpretation and artistic license in its use.

In approaching the creation of a new brand, you need to first establish exactly what message your business is trying to convey. Are you service based or product based? Are you a Business to Business, Business to Consumer or a Business to Industry? Are you trying to instill a sense of trust or corporate structure, are you a manufacturer of industrial parts or supplies, or are you more a lifestyle brand? Is your message one of luxury and elegance, trendy technological, minimalistic, rustic nostalgia? These are all important factors that need to be determined before brand development can begin. I understand how overwhelming this part of the process can be for those of you just starting out (or trying to reinvent yourself), so I’ve created a Brand Questionnaire that can help you through it with a series of easy questions that you can download here. Think of it as your basic blueprint you can go over with your Marketing Team to help narrow down the scope and reach your ultimate brand vision.

Once you and your Marketing Team have determined what message and vision you’re going for, then the next important step is the Creative Brief with your Designer or Design Team. It’s their job to fully understand your direction and to conceptualize visuals that will be used in the execution no matter what platform – from business cards and letterhead, to your website, to social media across the board and everywhere else that will display your brand.

Although each Designer’s process differs, generally branding will start with the logo. Concepts are drawn, rounds of edits occur, and there will be several back and forth communications until you sign off on a logo you and your team feel best exemplifies your company’s core values. After the logo has been approved and finalized, your Designer(s) will create a “Brand Style Guide” – a document containing not only your gorgeous new logo, but also all the associated supporting graphics that will be used in various ways (like patterns and icons), and all the technical information like font usage, color formulas, sizing and spacing, and other info that can be referred back to for clarification any time your brand is displayed, in any given scenario.

Why do you need a Brand Style Guide? Anytime you begin a new project, no matter which designer will be working on it, you need to retain consistency. A Brand Style Guide is a way to clearly map out all the parameters the Designer will need when developing visuals. You may have one person doing everything, or you may have one person doing web design, one doing social media, one doing ads, etc. You may have them on-staff or they may be freelancers. Especially in the case where there are multiple Designers involved, a Brand Style Guide is indispensable. In a perfect world, you would have a Creative Director who sets these parameters, an Art Director who trains and leads the team within these parameters, and a team who executes visuals based on these parameters. But life isn’t perfect, and not everyone can afford to keep these professionals on staff at all times, so at least with a guide in hand you’ll be able to pass on information that can be used by anyone you bring onto the team.

Many Designers will also create something called a “Brand Sheet”, “Brand Board” or “Mood Board” to assist in visually explaining the Guide and telling your story in a more “one-sheet” way. Below is a sample of one I created for a client, and I’ll break it down section by section. Please keep in mind that not everyone sticks to this structure, and your Designer may create one a little differently with different sections, but in the end the results are the same – you will get an overall look and feel of how your brand will be designed, developed, and ultimately used.

Laurel Cachet Home Decor Branding

Logo and Tagline: This is where we show the main logo in all its gorgeous glory, and your tagline if you have one.

Alternate Logo: Occasionally there will be an altered version, sometimes due to size restrains, sometimes another orientation (a horizontal version vs. a vertical version) or sometimes stripped down to its bare essentials.

Mark: This is your icon, or mark, used when a full logo isn’t necessary but you still want your brand recognized. For example, like when used as your website icon in the header bar of a browser window.

Colors: This is your approved color scheme. It will show all the colors used in your logo plus any additional supportive or secondary colors. These should be displayed with its PMS (Pantone) number if used, it’s CMYK breakdown, its RGB breakdown, and it’s HTML hex number.

Typography (fonts): All the fonts used for titles, body, body headers, etc.

Patterns and icons: These are supportive graphic elements that will be used as icons for your website, callouts, backgrounds, etc.

ID: Here is where they will display a representation of business cards, web design, social media, mugs, t-shirts – anywhere your logo will be shown. These don’t necessarily have to be final, they just show how the brand can be used in various applications.

Inspiration: An important section to show the overall look, feel and voice of the brand through the use of other elements – whether it’s a shot of an interior decor or maybe a bouquet of flowers with champagne glasses – the design team will compile imagery that will exemplify the feel of the brand overall.

The Brand Style Guide:

Your Brand Style Guide will be a more in-depth version of the board. It will document things like:

  • When and how the logo, alternate logos and marks can be used.
  • Exact logo sizing and spacing within certain areas.
  • Typography: the how, where and why of the fonts chosen, the sizes, ratios against other elements, and how they will be used.
  • Colors: How and where the color scheme will be applied.
  • Imagery: how images are displayed, if filters have been applied and which ones, official images, etc.
  • Layouts: How images, copy and other graphic elements will work on the page together in different variations for different scenarios.
  • Graphic Elements: Their style, their look, borders, shading, sizing and spacing in comparison with other surrounding elements.
  • Usage Samples: Here is where real-world scenarios are represented – your business cards, banners, website, etc.
  • Throughout the guide there will be lots of measurements such as how big the font can be within the space it’s displayed in, or how far away other elements have to be surrounding it, font sizes, ratios of images to copy, etc. This is all the technical jargon that will be used when creating any visual not specified in the guide already.

I cannot stress enough the importance of a properly thought out and well written guide when developing your Brand. When consistency is key and there is no one Brand Ambassador to keep things this consistency (and even if there is), your Brand Style Guide is your “bible” and your blueprint to keeping your look, your feel, your vision, your voice and your core values the way you want it to appear, always.