Brand Standards Guide

Man looking at brand book. Brand Standard Guide.

How to create an effective brand standards manual.

The purpose of the brand standards document is to align the outputs of employees and external vendors so the company can present a consistent, coherent look and voice.

Brand books are exciting and aspirational. They may not be exactly how you are right now, but how you want to be and present your company. Think of the company you would like to present yourselves as in the next six months to two years, and that company should be reflected in your brand standards. Be bold.


Getting started.

Take a user-centric approach to the brand standards manual. Think of the people that will be reading the guide and what they are looking to get out of it, and what excites them.

The traditional primary users of brand standards documents have been the graphic designers, but times are changing, and more professions in the organization are making content that will be viewed by customers and making business development deals that affect the brand.

It is advantageous for all employees to read the document because the company will appear more consistent and authentic if the brand standards are followed internally as well as externally, particularly the company mission and tone. We know from our definition of brand that our brand lives in the minds of our customers and potential customers, but it starts in the heart of the company employees and is carried out by them.

Let’s talk to some users of your brand manual:

designer manDesigner.

“What logos, colours, and graphic elements can I use? It would be great if there is a personality or a tone I can strive towards.”

copywriter manCopywriter.

“I can convey information in many different styles. What style would you like for your company? I also need to know what terms I can and cannot use.”

Marketer ladyMarketer.

“I am going to be bringing this brand to the masses; I need to understand it thoroughly. It will affect where, when and how I showcase the company.”

Business development professional manBusiness Development Professional.

“I don’t want to waste time on deals that aren’t a good fit for the brand. I need to know why this brand will result in more sales. I need to share this document.”

front line staff ladyFront Line Staff Member.

“What are we building with this company? Why am I here? How should I present myself? I hope I am working towards something bigger than just money.”

External Vendor ladyExternal vendor.

“Help me help you! We need to get on the same mission so that our company can help yours.”

Keeping in mind those professions will be reading your brand standards manual, it needs to be:

  • Explain not only the what, but the why
  • Jargon free
  • Easy to navigate
  • Start with information everyone should know
  • Finish with more specific information.
  • Be consumable in less than 15 minutes
  • Very visual
  • Include a change log at the end

Plan it out.

Decide what pages need to be in your brand book. We have a list of pages below, and I have gotten you started by suggesting what pages are essential, sometimes helpful and never useful.

After you have decided on a list of pages, quickly mock up each page very basically. Doing this on paper or in an unformatted Powerpoint presentation is all that is required. Straightforward and quick. It does not have to look good; that will come later. Just focus on the information you need to convey.

Get feedback on your mock up. Any change you make at this stage will be far easier, less time consuming and cheaper than when you are further down the process.

Decide what format you would like the final document should be. Powerpoint is a fine choice, as people of any skill level will be able to make edits in the future. PDF is preferable because the file size will be lower, it will look better, and you can make chapter links to set up a table of contents that people can click. The drawback to PDF is that it is only editable by a graphic designer, and thus is only a good choice for company’s that have a staff designer or a great relationship with a freelance designer.

acrobat-icon

powerpoint-symbol


Pages you need:

brand-standards-pages-01-mission-statement
01. Mission

A one line mission statement. This states what your company is accomplishing, beyond making money.

Example from Nvidia Example from Intel
brand-standards-pages-02-mission-why
02. Why this mission?

This explains why this mission is the right mission for your company and it’s employees, vendors and customers should get on board.

Example from Cisco Example from Intel
brand-standards-pages-03-personality
03. Personality

What personality descriptors would you want a customer to use when describing your brand? This helps designers, copywriters, and human resources.

Example from Intel Example from Cisco
04. Why this personality?

Why is this personality strategically positioned to better complete the mission and make more sales?

Do you know of good examples of this slide? I couldn’t find one. Please comment.

05. Mood board

Images of objects and scenes that represent the personality of the brand.

Do you know of good examples of this slide? I couldn’t find one. Please comment.

06. Logos

All of the approved logos. Logos for on light backgrounds, and dark backgrounds. Note which are preferred logos for sponsorship or co-branding.

Example from Nvidia Example from Cisco

brand-standards-pages-07-logo-dos

07. Logo Dos

Best practices around using the logo.

Example from Umbro Example from Intel

brand-standards-pages-08-logo-donts

08. Logo Don’t

Examples of how the logo should not be used.

Example from Nvidia Example from Umbro

brand-standards-pages-09-symbols

09. Addition icons / graphics.

This is the place for sub-brand logos, symbols and other graphic elements associated with the brand.

Example from Barnes and Noble Example from Nvidia

brand-standards-pages-10-colour-palette

10. Primary colour palette

These are the preferred colours shown in swatches and defines in values for RGB, CMYK, Hex, and Pantone. Note here if any of the colours is out of gamut for CMYK (ie. note printable with 4 colour process), as graphic designers and printers will need to know.

Example from Intel Example from Umbro

brand-standards-pages-11-typefaces

11. Typefaces

These are the names of the fonts to be used.

Example from Barnes and Noble Example from Intel

brand-standards-pages-12-headline-subhead-body

12. Headline / Sub-Head / Body copy

These are the fonts in use as a mock paragraph with a headline, sub-headline and body copy. This page should also define what colours the type should be in what instance, and if the letter spacing (kerning) is modified.

Do you know of good examples of this slide? I couldn’t find one. Please comment.

brand-standards-pages-13-photography

13. Existing photography

These are examples of photos that are already taken or purchased that can be used in designs.

Example from Barnes and Noble Example from Sony

brand-standards-pages-14-new-photography

14. Choosing new photography.

This should be a guide on how to take or choose new photos so that it is consistent with the old photos and the brand personality.

Example from Cisco Example from Nvidia

brand-standards-pages-15-copyright

15. Legal and copyright.

This page includes the required legal lines to protect the company’s trademarks and copyrights. Make sure you can copy and paste it!

Example from Sony

brand-standards-pages-16-contact

16. Contact

Who do you call if you have questions? This is a list of contact information to the people responsible for the brand.

Example from Bombardier Example from Intel

brand-standards-pages-17-change-log

17. Change log

This page is a list of changes in the document and when they occurred so that a user of the brand book can know if anything they previously have done has changed and is out of date. 


Pages you may need:

brand-standards-pages-g-01-brand-promise

01. Brand promise.

This is a statement that defines what a customer expects from any product from the brand in question.

Example from Barnes and Noble Example from Cisco

brand-standards-pages-g-02-brand-fantasy

02. Brand fantasy.

A lifestyle, a feeling, a place that the customer aspires to when purchasing and using the brands’ product. For example, the carefree surfer for the brand Quiksilver.

Do you know of good examples of this slide? I couldn’t find one. Please comment.

brand-standards-pages-g-03-secondary-colours

03. Secondary colour palette

These are approved colours to be used when the colours of the primary colour pallet are not appropriate to use. They should be defined in the same ways as the primary colours.

Example from Barnes and Noble Example from Cisco
brand-standards-pages-g-04-industrial-design
04. Industrial design guide.

This is a list of preferred materials, forms, and ways the logo appears on the design of the product. This is challenging because it becomes out of date quickly.

Example from Barnes and Noble Example from Umbro

brand-standards-pages-g-05-packaging-guide

05. Packaging guide.

The guide should make product packaging look consistent across the entire brand’s product line.

Example from Intel Example from Umbro

brand-standards-pages-g-06-terms

06. Preferred industry terms.

This is for copywriters to know which terms to use consistently for the brand’s industry.

Example from Nvidia

brand-standards-pages-g-07-illustration

07. Illustration guide.

If the brand features illustrations, then there should be a guide aligning illustrators on the artistic style.

Do you know of good examples of this slide? I couldn’t find one. Email me at colin@brandmarketingblog.com.

brand-standards-pages-g-08-mascot

08. Mascot guide.

If your brand has a mascot (as we do with Fen), then you need a guide to what poses he / she / it are pre-illustrated and what is acceptable and not acceptable uses of the mascot.

Do you know of good examples of this slide? I couldn’t find one. Please comment.


Pages you don’t need:

01. Letter from the president / chairman / CEO

The brand book is not an opportunity to have people read a 1000 word essay on why the companies brand is so important. People are using this document for a specific purpose, and this page offers no information anyone is looking for and thus noone reads it. You could argue that this page increases adherence through an endorsement the practices in the book from upper management, but that endorsement should be assumed. Upper leadership should communicate the importance of the companies brand, but in venues like all hands meetings, retreats, and internal communique.

02. Logo spacing.

You see almost brand standards document include a page with a letter in the logo used to show that the logo should not be close to any other element, i.e., have room to breath. I would venture to guess that less than 1% of graphic designers have ever used this. Good graphic designers understand things need space, and a poor graphic designer is not going to go through the exercise of moving and rotating a letter out of the logo to see if they are too close. This page helps no one. And there are better ways in Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Illustrator to show minimum space requirements.

03. Co-branding guidelines.

In our experience, co-branding projects are rare, unique and supervised, and thus do not need to be in the document. Co-branding restrictions may be so limiting that they place an undue burden on the partner brands and kill the opportunity. Instead, we suggest mentioning which are the preferred logos for sponsorships / co-branding on the logo page.

04. Brand voice.

This part is typically a page to align copywriters on a writing style but is never effective. A copywriter who is good enough to follow such a style guide will already know how to write from the “Brand Personality” page. A poor copywriter is not sufficient to write copy AND follow a style guide, so it helps no one. The only thing a quality copywriter will need clarification on is preferred industry terms (e.g., should I refer to the products as a “smartphone,” “mobile phone” or just “phone”?)


Designing and Finalizing

You can give your mock up to a graphic designer, and they will be able to do format it. You shouldn’t need a copywriter as a brand book is most effective when there is not a lot of text.

You probably need some approvals or consensus around the finalized standards. These approvals can be challenging.

It is far easier if you do two things. One, keep the whole process collaborative. If people feel a part of the process, listened to, and valued, then they will sign off on the result. Second, be able to explain why you made all the choices in the book, from font choices to legal lines. You are going to be unconvincing if there is no reasoning, and decisions just came down to your personal preference.


Distribution

The brand standards document should be a living document meaning that it will change. Nothing is set in stone. We do not recommend printing out many of them and distributing them. We do recommend keeping it in a digital format stored in a place that is easily accessible to all employees. Some companies release their brand standards externally, but we do not

Some companies release their brand standards externally, but we do not recommend this.We have worked with brands who set up their brand standards as a password protected website in an easy

We have worked with brands who set up their brand standards as a password protected website in an easily editable content management system like WordPress, and this is a fine solution but unnecessarily complicated. A Powerpoint presentation or PDF will suffice for 99% of companies.


You’re done!

Congratulations, you now have a document that will align the company’s efforts and build a reliable brand. Now comes the hard work of keeping people aware of the brand standards, and using them.


Come along our journey.

We are going to show you how to make an effective brand standards manual by creating our own! We will do this as a multi-chapter series where we create the Brand Marketing Blog brand standards guide and share everything from start to finish.

Black and white photo of Colin FinkleColin Finkle is a brand marketer and designer with ten years of experience helping Fortune 500 companies tell their story at retail. You can see his work at Colin Finkle’s portfolio site. You can connect with him on LinkedIn or Twitter. He is also the author of the book series, the Neverborn Saga.

 

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