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A branding guide is a critical business document that gives an overview of how a brand comes to life. It outlines the use of a brand’s visual design elements and also covers the core values and principles that are fundamental to a brand.
Essentially, the branding guide serves as a rule book. It tells you what to do, what not to, and brings all the stakeholders of a brand to a single point of reference. It handles your brand’s representation, perception, and communication consistently and confidently.
Creating a branding guide is easy if you have clarity of thought of what your brand is all about. It covers 6 critical components that are easy to describe, display, and explain if you know what you are doing.
To make it easy for you, we are sharing a general format of a branding guide. It will help you understand what a branding guide is, how to cover its various aspects, and what goes into making it a great reference book.
The Functions of a Branding Guide
If you don’t have a branding guide, you have no control over how other people choose to understand or interpret your brand. A branding guide gives you control over narrating your brand story.
A solid branding guide protects and elevates your brand in three substantial ways:
The most important role of a branding book. It gives a single point of reference to everyone who has anything to do with communicating, marketing, or designing your brand. When everyone knows the brand philosophy, its central vibe, and how to present it, very little room for error remains.
Gives you control
It allows you to choose words, feelings, and emotions that people associate with your brand. You take charge and present your brand to the public on your terms, in your language, and with your interpretations.
Improves your communications
When everyone knows what your brand is and how to present it, communications become clearer and more confident. Instead of everyone doing things a little differently, everyone comes on the same page to communicate a single, solid, and streamlined brand message.
Components of a Branding Guide
A branding guide is an evolving document that remains flexible and dynamic. As your brand grows and its canvas widens, this guide can be revisited to add more details, remove what doesn’t apply anymore, and streamline what’s already working.
Simply put, your branding guide can be as concise or as in-depth as you want (or preferably, as your brand requires). As the needs of your brand grow and its image evolves, you can choose to alter the length and depth of your branding guide.
1. Your Brand Story
How your brand came to be? What was the Eureka! moment? What do you hope to accomplish with your brand, and how does it serve your target buyer?
Some brands choose to skip this part. But since your brand is still in its infancy, we recommend keeping this section in the document as it outlines the philosophy, vision, and values of your brand. It helps everyone understand the context a little better.
This section contains three important parts: mission, vision, and core values. If you choose, you can also outline points that explain your brand personality, share who your target audience is, and core brand promise.
This addresses the future of your company. Where do you see it heading, what do you hope to achieve with it, and what are your objectives. Use clear language to write a simple statement of your brand vision and help people understand what you are all about.
This is all about the present. Outline the purpose and goals of your brand. Describe the steps you are taking to accomplish your goals.
This is all about principles. What do you stand for? What do you hold dear? What are the values that symbolize your brand identity? Use verbs and adjectives. Be sincere, reflective, and authentic. This is the portion that will help you establish your brand tone and other parts of its visual identity. This is where you build connections with your audience.
2. A Consistent Signature
Your brand signature is your logo. It is the visual identity of your brand and carries its core message. Ensuring consistency in its use is essential. Even slight changes in how a logo is displayed, sized, or aligned can create confusion in people’s minds and render your logo almost useless when it comes to brand recall.
Therefore, dedicate a sizable chunk of your branding guide explaining how you want your logo to be displayed and reproduced across multiple channels. Using visual examples outline the correct size, spacing, color, alignment, and layout. Cover all bases to make sure that there is no room for any logo design mistake whatsoever.
Medium’s branding guide is a great example to follow. It showcases the logo and also uses expressive words to announce the personality of the brand.
Here are a few aspects of the logo design that you must address in the brand guide.
This is your main logo. The grid helps clarify the spacing and the sizing of the logo. If you want to keep your logo reproduction error-free, showcase it on the grid.
There will be times when you will need to use only the mark (shape/symbol) and not the whole logo. Favicons and app icons are the places that don’t support large logos. Therefore, create your logo mark and specify its uses.
Make sure to include all the variations of the logo that you think you might need. These variations can be based on colors, size, style, and background space. Display all the variations and attach a list of dos and don’ts with each.
You also need to specify your logo treatment when the background is changed. How should it look on the transparent background? And what about a black background? What if the background is a solid block of color or a picture or an image?
Show examples of each use so everybody is clear on what you allow and what you don’t.
Image: Smashing Magazine
A responsive logo changes its size, style, or color depending on where it is placed. When there is less room for display, these logos adapt to become less complicated and much simpler. In wide-open spaces, we see the most complete forms of the logo.
To ensure your responsive logo is treated according to your brand requirements, outline those requirements in your guide.
3. Core Brand Colors
Image: Uber Brand Guidelines
Figure out what are going to be your brand’s core colors. Most brands stick with a limited palette to keep things simple and also to add a sense of interconnectivity to the brand. Your color palette will always include your logo colors and a couple of secondary ones that you can use as a background or accent colors.
Try not to use more than four colors in your brand, at least in the initial stages. As your brand grows, so can your palette in its complexity. A good rule of thumb is to stick with a restrictive palette and add variety by using relevant hues and tints.
In your brand guide, include color swatches for every shade and hue to show people your core colors. With each color, mention digital and print codes so color reproduction can be correct and exact. These codes include:
- PMS (Pantone Matching System): For color matching
- RGB: Digital color code
- HEX: Digital color code
- CMYK: Print color
4. A Typeface System
Typography is another important asset of your brand. Whether you create a custom font or use one from the market, describing in detail how it is to be used is important. To explain your choice of the fonts, give a little background and share why these specific fonts make sense for your brand.
State the type hierarchy in your system – which fonts are for headings and which for the body. If you are keeping a certain font for special buttons, such as CTA, state that too. Illustrate everything with the help of examples.
Audi, in its branding guide, not only explains the philosophy behind its type system but creates extensive visuals to showcase the many different ways its type system can be used across the brand.
Depending on the needs of your brand, you can use all fonts from the same font family or mix and match to create a more elaborate look and feel. The variety can help you communicate your brand more richly and with more complexity.
Whichever way you go, keep your style guide updated. Document the size, spacing and kerning, and alignment of your fonts. The thoroughness will help you introduce consistency across all the branding materials.
5. Iconography & Imagery Guidelines
Every brand uses photography, illustrations, and other imagery. Depending on the nature and the goals of the brand, this use can be a lot or very little. Whichever is the case though, reserve a section in your brand guide to talk about imagery guidelines.
Talk about the concept that drives your style. Share the compositions in which you want to present your images. Use expressive words to further describe the thought process behind your chosen style.
Take Slack for example. The SaaS brand has separate guidelines for its photography, illustrations, and other images. This distinction enables all these different styles of imagery to carry a different aspect of the brand, yet remain interconnected with each other.