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How to make brand guide­lines for your business


Ryan Tay­lor

Every­body from free­lancers to large cor­po­rates need a brand book. Here’s how to make a brand book that lays out the look and feel of your business.

It’s a cliché, but as a busi­ness own­er or even if you’re the solo in-house cre­ative at your work­place, your brand real­ly is your biggest asset. As a com­pa­ny grows and evolves, as cus­tomers make mul­ti­ple inter­ac­tions with you and your team, your brand — the way your com­pa­ny looks, feels, and inter­acts — becomes a defin­ing asset of the com­pa­ny, the thing that binds cus­tomers to you and the con­stant that makes you recog­nis­able among the competition.

Get­ting your brand right is as much a sci­ence as it is an art, encom­pass­ing research, design, tone, and let’s face it, a huge amount of graft. Get­ting every mem­ber of the team to buy into your cul­ture, to pro­mote your mis­sion and val­ues, to imbue the company’s per­son­al­i­ty into every cus­tomer inter­ac­tion — that takes graft. The pay­off, how­ev­er, can be huge. So, ensur­ing your brand doesn’t become dilut­ed, lost, or for­got­ten, is an impor­tant skill. Luck­i­ly, you don’t need to hold it all in your head and hope for the best. There’s a bet­ter way. Some­times called the brand book, brand guide­lines, brand man­u­al, or sim­ply, the Bible — what­ev­er you pre­fer, cre­at­ing a set of _​rules of the road_​for your brand is an impor­tant step in ensur­ing that every­body under­stands what they should be doing, how they should be using it, and (if you decide to make changes in the future) what they are, and how they should be incorporated.

Why Is a Brand Book So Important?

Here are four rea­sons to sup­port intro­duc­ing a brand book into your company:

1. Con­sis­ten­cy

You see, a brand with­out a con­sis­tent look, feel, and tone, isn’t real­ly a brand at all. Every time you inter­act with a cus­tomer, be that in per­son, through the web­site, when you hand over a busi­ness card, or via mar­ket­ing mate­r­i­al sent out in the mail, you want to ensure that the expe­ri­ence or per­cep­tion that the cus­tomer gets is con­sis­tent. Not doing so leads to mixed mes­sages, and ulti­mate­ly erodes con­fi­dence, which is the last thing you want.

At its most basic lev­el, it shows that as a com­pa­ny, you sweat the details, a per­cep­tion that will aid the cus­tomer rela­tion­ship no mat­ter what type of com­pa­ny you are.

2. Rules of the Road

Although you prob­a­bly know your brand inside-out, any­body new join­ing the com­pa­ny won’t. Equal­ly, every new cus­tomer is expe­ri­enc­ing your brand for the first time. Hav­ing a set of rules as to when cer­tain visu­al ele­ments or cus­tomer inter­ac­tions are used over oth­ers, and in what cir­cum­stances or ori­en­ta­tions visu­al assets are imple­ment­ed, is important.

For exam­ple, say you have a large team and there are no rules on which font, col­ors, or tone to use — each of those team mem­bers will send out emails in their style and tone, mean­ing every cus­tomer will receive a com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent expe­ri­ence. Then, say the cus­tomer writes back in and com­mu­ni­cates with a dif­fer­ent team mem­ber — chances are they’ll receive a wild­ly dif­fer­ent expe­ri­ence to the first one. At best, this will feel a lit­tle dis­joint­ed to the cus­tomer. At worst, it could lead to that cus­tomer mis­un­der­stand­ing or becom­ing frus­trat­ed, which could lead to the cus­tomer walk­ing away entire­ly. Not good. A brand book solves all of that by pro­vid­ing spe­cif­ic instruc­tions for how that entire process should work, from the design to the tone to the num­ber of interactions.

3. Brand Awareness

Think about all the prod­ucts or ser­vices that real­ly mat­ter to you — cars, elec­tron­ics, home gro­cery deliv­er­ies, taxi apps, hair and beau­ty prod­ucts, fash­ion. What do they look like? What colours do they use on their pack­ag­ing or in their app? What is their logo or their slo­gan? Can you recall the tune they use on TV com­mer­cials? I’m going to bet that for your favourite brands, you can bring to mind at least one or two of those elements.

We call this _​brand awareness_​, which the process where­by cus­tomers start to asso­ciate cer­tain attrib­ut­es with the expe­ri­ence that you’ve cre­at­ed. Should these be pos­i­tive attrib­ut­es, then the hope is that they push aside all the oth­er alter­na­tives, and your prod­uct or ser­vice becomes asso­ci­at­ed firm­ly with that expe­ri­ence. This is hard to cre­ate, and takes a long time to devel­op, how­ev­er, hav­ing brand guide­lines allows that process to hap­pen more quickly.

4. Brand Value

There’s that say­ing: _​perception is reality_​. With brand, it’s almost an empir­i­cal truth. If you have a con­sis­tent brand, it presents your com­pa­ny as a pro­fes­sion­al and reli­able out­fit, one that has a jus­ti­fied place in the minds of its cus­tomers. Main­tain­ing a per­cep­tion of integri­ty and appeal is much more eas­i­ly achieved through the imple­men­ta­tion of brand guide­lines, as it ensures that every­body is singing from the same hymn sheet, no mat­ter how they’re inter­act­ing with cus­tomers. Get­ting to the point where the brand itself is cre­at­ing val­ue for your cus­tomers is an extreme­ly advan­ta­geous posi­tion in which to be.

What Is a Brand Book?

Now you know the why, it’s also impor­tant to under­stand the what. It’d be easy if there were a uni­ver­sal­ly recog­nised for­mat for brand books, but that isn’t the case. Sim­ply put, brand­ing isn’t a one-size-fits-all sce­nario. As such, it real­ly does depend on what stage your com­pa­ny is in, how big it is, what the com­pa­ny is try­ing to achieve, and what is impor­tant to it. Hav­ing said that, brand books are usu­al­ly split into two sec­tions — iden­ti­ty (the look and feel of your brand) and assets (the actu­al ele­ments that make up that look and feel).


Aeromex­i­co takes a holis­tic approach, incor­po­rat­ing all aspects of colour, typog­ra­phy, imagery, and sym­bol recog­ni­tion for their fleet of aircraft.

Brand iden­ti­ty can cov­er a lot of ground, how­ev­er, the fol­low­ing are the major ele­ments that should be con­sid­ered in any brand book:

Mis­sion Statement

Your company’s mis­sion state­ment is the start­ing point of any brand and should describe, very sim­ply, why your com­pa­ny exists, what its goals and aspi­ra­tions are, what prod­ucts or ser­vices it pro­vides, and what groups of cus­tomers it hopes to sup­port. Keep it sim­ple and clear.

Brand Val­ues

The val­ues that the com­pa­ny pos­sess­es should sup­port the mis­sion state­ment and sit at the very core of the com­pa­ny. It’s impor­tant to think about what the key facets of the com­pa­ny are or what it holds dear to its heart — integri­ty, hon­esty, account­abil­i­ty, pas­sion, pre­ci­sion, or fun — but don’t just pick them off the shelf, they’ll be dif­fer­ent for every com­pa­ny and try­ing to retro­fit them will be self-evi­dent, as team mem­bers won’t believe them, and there­fore, won’t feel inclined to sup­port them when com­mu­ni­cat­ing with cus­tomers. Keep the list of val­ues short and ensure you pro­vide insights into why they’re impor­tant to the com­pa­ny so oth­ers under­stand the direc­tion being taken.

Per­son­al­i­ty or Tone of Voice

How does your com­pa­ny inter­act with its team and its cus­tomers? Is it strict­ly cor­po­rate or is there an air of infor­mal­i­ty? Are inter­ac­tions fac­tu­al and pre­cise? Do you poke fun at your­self? What­ev­er it is, it’s impor­tant to mark down the per­son­al­i­ty with some exam­ples so that all team mem­bers can inter­act in the same way. A great sup­port tool for team mem­bers (espe­cial­ly new com­ers) would be to include tem­plates or exam­ples of com­pa­ny emails or mar­ket­ing lit­er­a­ture that have already been created.

Key Ele­ments to a Brand Book

Exam­ples of how key ele­ments — such as mis­sion state­ment, val­ues, brand ele­ments, and typog­ra­phy — can be described and laid out in a brand book. Image by Umlaut.


If iden­ti­ty is the the­o­ry, then assets are the appli­ca­tion. The com­pa­ny logo is an obvi­ous start­ing point, but it’s usu­al­ly much more wide-reach­ing than that. Here are a few exam­ples to get you started:


So, let’s start at the begin­ning. The com­pa­ny logo is the sin­gle most impor­tant aspect of your brand, as it’s the most promi­nent visu­al ele­ment and will be seen on every­thing from busi­ness cards to web­sites to the side of the office build­ing or fleet of vehi­cles. The brand book shouldn’t just dis­play the logo, it should tell peo­ple where it can and can’t be placed, how it should be manip­u­lat­ed, what col­ors it can be repli­cat­ed in, and how close to oth­er ele­ments it’s allowed to be. Also, bear in mind that your logo will poten­tial­ly be dis­played on every­thing from mobile devices to bill­boards, so includ­ing rules on the small­est and largest repro­duc­tion is impor­tant. Giv­en its impor­tance to the brand, the main thrust here is to ensure the logo is only ever seen by the pub­lic in the ways that you wish it to be perceived.

Col­or Palette

Lay­ing out your company’s brand col­ors in a palette and show­ing which col­ors can be used in var­i­ous sit­u­a­tions, ensures that the whole team under­stands when cer­tain things are accept­able, and when oth­ers are not. Focus­ing on what the col­ors mean to the com­pa­ny, and includ­ing exam­ples on how cer­tain com­bi­na­tions can increase leg­i­bil­i­ty, are impor­tant ways to sup­port your deci­sions with mean­ing­ful outcomes.

Lead­ing with Imagery and Messaging

Bac­ar­di leads with imagery and mes­sag­ing, ensur­ing their dis­tinc­tive logo and pack­ag­ing are per­fect every time.

Typog­ra­phy and Layout

When dis­cussing typog­ra­phy, it’s impor­tant to dis­close the type­faces your brand uses and why. For exam­ple, if your brand uses over­sized typog­ra­phy to cre­ate impact and imme­di­a­cy in mar­ket­ing mate­ri­als, then show exam­ples of how it can be used, and impor­tant­ly, why it’s done that way. It’s also wise to include exam­ples of how the lay­out works across all the dif­fer­ent mar­ket­ing chan­nels that you may use. For exam­ple, lay­ing out a leaflet is like­ly to be dif­fer­ent to lay­ing out an email or a page on your web­site. Show­cas­ing those var­i­ous sce­nar­ios with rules around lead­ing, grids, sen­tence lengths, and how images inter­act with text, col­or, and oth­er visu­al ele­ments, ensures a greater lev­el of con­sis­ten­cy, no mat­ter what’s being cre­at­ed or by whom.

The Impor­tance of Visu­al Elements

Describ­ing how to use visu­al ele­ments is an impor­tant facet of any brand book. Here, you can see how fam­i­lies of icons are incor­po­rat­ed, how to and how not to use the logo, and sug­gest­ed gaps between the logo and oth­er visu­al elements.

Make It Real with a Brand Book

Hav­ing a brand book is a fan­tas­tic tool for pre­serv­ing the legit­i­ma­cy of your com­pa­ny. It’s a great resource to share with new­com­ers, and some­thing that should con­stant­ly be referred to by all team mem­bers, no mat­ter how long they’ve been with the com­pa­ny. Organ­is­ing brand work­shops and refresh­ers that keep the brand at the top of people’s minds are also great ways of get­ting team buy-in and eking out sce­nar­ios that per­haps the brand book doesn’t cov­er. It’s also impor­tant to remem­ber that a brand is a liv­ing thing — gone are the days of set­ting and for­get­ting. As new mar­kets open up and com­pa­nies piv­ot to meet those demands, so the brand should mutate and evolve, as well. There­fore, updat­ing the brand book reg­u­lar­ly is an impor­tant aspect.

The dan­ger, how­ev­er, is that in cre­at­ing the brand book, you devel­op some­thing that’s incred­i­bly com­pli­cat­ed and tech­ni­cal — a brand book that reads like a text­book won’t gath­er inter­est, just dust. To over­come this, writ­ing the brand book in the style and tone of the brand itself is a great way of show­cas­ing what you’re try­ing to devel­op, as this will be sub­con­scious­ly picked up by those read­ing it and will, hope­ful­ly, make their jobs as brand cus­to­di­ans that much easier.

At the end of the day, cre­at­ing a brand, then legit­imis­ing it with a brand book, ensures that cus­tomers have the expe­ri­ence you want them to have, every sin­gle time they inter­act with you. A sol­id brand book that’s easy to read, sim­ple to under­stand, and quick to imple­ment, is a must-have resource that will take time and patience to devel­op, but will, ulti­mate­ly, pay off in the long run.

First writ­ten by our Cre­ative Direc­tor, Ryan Tay­lor, for Shut­ter­stock on June 202020.

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