Brand Style Guidelines: Creating A Brand Style Guide

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Behind every effective brand is a set of creative guidelines. Also known as a brand style guide, brand guidelines create a standard for what it means to be “on-brand” when it comes to communication, messaging, and visuals. 

A brand guide is essential for your marketing, advertising, public relations, and other creative content teams. In this post, I’ll provide an all-encompassing overview of brand guidelines including: 

  • What brand guidelines are 
  • The difference between brand guidelines and a brand style guide 
  • What you need to know before creating a brand guide 
  • The components of a brand style guide 
  • How to create brand guidelines for your business 
  • Why it’s important to have brand guidelines 

What Are Brand Guidelines? 

Brand guidelines are an all-encompassing set of standards, rules, and best practices defining what it means to be “on-brand” for your business. A defined set of guidelines ensures that every communication, image, or interaction reflects the brand you’ve built

Employees and other relevant stakeholders use a style guide to understand how your brand should be represented to the public. Guidelines are crucial in maintaining consistency in what your brand looks, feels, and sounds like. If you’ve read any of my other posts, you know how often I emphasize the importance of consistency in branding

Your brand style guide is based on your brand identity and personality. It serves as a way to standardize that identity across all communications and departments.

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Brand Guidelines vs. Brand Style Guide

The terms brand guidelines and brand style guide are relatively interchangeable. The specific terminology used depends on your organization. Some companies have separate guidelines and style guides for their brands which they refer to by their unique names. 

  • Brand guidelines is the term used for higher-level information regarding written and verbal communication of the brand. It essentially outlines a brand’s identity and story, explaining what it means to be on-brand. 
  • Brand style guides are used to describe more of the technical information used to help designers and other team members produce content and graphics that are stylistically on-brand. 

Most companies lump both terms into one all-encompassing resource with all relevant information for brand communication and messaging. Either way, the two sets of information work together to create guiding principles for your brand’s representation. 

Why Are Brand Guidelines Important To Your Business? 

While creating brand guidelines is a large undertaking, it’s incredibly beneficial for your business to establish them. Here are a few reasons why brand guidelines are important: 

  • Consistency: By defining what it means to look, feel, and sound on-brand, you’ll establish a more consistent brand no matter how many team members contribute to the messaging and communication. 
  • Work smarter: A brand style guide allows your team members to create branded content without wondering if they’re missing the mark. By following the guidelines, your team will create effective branded content in less time. 
  • Stand out: Along with consistency comes recognition. If you consistently put out content that is unique to your brand, you’ll stand out from your competitors.
  • Connect with your audience: Brand guidelines are developed for your target audience. By outlining the personality traits and characteristics that your audience relates to, you’re more likely to form an emotional connection with them and foster brand loyalty.

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What You Need BEFORE Creating A Brand Style Guide

Before you can create guidelines for employees and contractors, you need a clear understanding of your brand. As I mentioned previously, your brand identity holds the key to developing an understanding of your brand. 

At the heart of your identity are the factors that make your brand unique, including your: 

  • Core principles (Mission, vision, purpose, and value) 
  • Target audience 
  • Brand personality 
  • Visual branding 

Only after you grasp a complete understanding of your brand inside and out can you create a resource for others to follow. 

What Are The Components Of A Brand Style Guide

Several components make up a brand’s style guidelines. To ensure every person who refers to the guide comprehends the information, each component should be thorough and clear in its definition. 

Listed below are the core components of a brand style guide: 

  • Brand story: A summary of your brand that highlights who you are, what you do, how you got there, why you do what you do, how you do it, and where you envision your brand in its final state. 
  • Brand imagery: Icons, design elements, and photo types/styles that establish your visual brand identity. 
  • Logo: Full-resolution logos, secondary logos, and usage requirements for all logos. 
  • Voice: The language and emotion you use to communicate your brand personality (including grammar, abbreviations, acronyms, and slang/jargon). 
  • Typography: Specific font styles, sizes, and spacing
  • Color palette: Primary and secondary colors, defined by various color codes (HEX, RGB, CMYK, Pantone). 
  • Usage examples: Real-world examples of what it looks, sounds, and feels like to be on-brand for reference. 

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Creating Brand Guidelines

Numerous steps go into creating brand style guidelines. Not every company follows the same path to establishing guidelines for their brand. In general, here’s my high-level approach to creating a brand style guide: 

  • Open with your brand story 
  • Introduce your target audience 
  • Establish logo guidelines 
  • Select your core brand colors 
  • Select your brand typography 
  • Define your brand voice 
  • Set imagery guidelines 
  • Include usage guidelines 
  • Maintain and update your brand guidelines 

In the following sub-sections, I’ll break down each step to creating brand guidelines in greater detail. 

Open With Your Brand Story

To set the scene for your brand, begin your style guide with a compelling story that defines and describes what your company is all about. The story should include some combination of your vision, mission, and core values in a clear, concise narrative. 

Your story comes first in your guidelines as it sets the foundation for all of the elements that make up your brand. It gives employees insight into how to represent the brand at its core and sets the stage for all the components of your style guide. Every component should reflect your brand story. 

Utilizing information from your brand identity, your story should highlight what sets you apart from the competition and shape the consumer’s perception of the brand.

Introduce Your Target Audience 

With an overall understanding of your brand and what it represents, the next bit of information to provide is your target audience. These are the various demographics that you’ve targeted as the ideal audience for your brand. 

To effectively communicate as a brand, your team needs to be familiar with the audience they’re trying to engage. Organize groups of hypothetical customers with similar characteristics into buyer personas so they’re easier to understand. This creates a handful of “ideal customers” that your brand is targeting. It helps employees know exactly who the brand’s audience is and how to communicate with them.

If you run a senior living community, your target audience is not only prospective residents but also the family members and caregivers of prospective residents who are ultimately in charge of the final decision. Your team may not understand the nuances of who they’re marketing to if you don’t clearly define all buyer personas in your guidelines.

group of senior living residents play putt golf

Establish Logo Guidelines 

One of the best ways to become a memorable brand is an iconic logo. No matter how epic or unique your logo is, to make it recognizable you need to use it consistently. Again, consistency. 

Logo guidelines define how and when to use the brand’s logo. Equally as important, they define how and when not to use it. For example, your logo guidelines should ensure that it is never altered in a way that negatively impacts the perception of your message. 

You should include however many versions of your logo that have been approved and provide visual examples of each, including: 

  • Full logo: Your primary logo in a complete image locked in with the company name 
  • Secondary logos: Any other forms of the logo that can be used in different scenarios or when there isn’t enough space for the full main logo

For designers and contractors, it’s important to include the following information regarding logo usage: 

  • Size specifications: Minimum size and proportions that are acceptable to use 
  • Variations: The different variations of your logo (if there are multiple)
  • Space: The amount of white space required around your logo
  • Colors: The variations of colors that are acceptable to use with your logo 
  • Restrictions: Any size, color, space, or other alteration that you don’t want employees to use with your logo 

Select Your Core Brand Colors

Colors play a significant role in representing your brand visually. Utilizing brand color psychology, select and define the core colors that best represent your brand and generate the appropriate emotional response. Brands that use a signature color palette can increase recognition by 80%.

rocks on edge of water

Within your core colors, you’ll want to choose multiple colors that work together. Typically, I recommend breaking down your core brand colors into four distinct types: 

  1. A light color for backgrounds 
  2. A darker color for text 
  3. A neutral hue 
  4. A fourth color that pops 

In this section of your style guide, clearly define your color palette, appropriate combinations, and combinations to avoid. The more you emphasize, the more likely your team is to use the right combinations. 

When establishing your brand color scheme, there are two approaches you can take: 

  • Keep it simple: Limit your brand to one or two primary colors with a handful of secondary colors 
  • Spice it up: Add more complex and robust shade variations to provide more creativity in your brand color scheme. This involves breaking down all of your primary, secondary, and accent colors into various acceptable shades. 

To ensure that designers and other creative team members use the exact color, provide the necessary color codes in your style guide including: 

  • HEX 
  • RGB
  • CMYK 
  • Pantone 

To avoid any mishaps, call out any restrictions or examples of when not to use specific colors or shades. 

Select Your Brand Typography 

Your brand typography consists of the fonts, sizes, spaces, and other elements of your brand’s written language. The use of specific fonts across all brand communications creates a uniform, consistent look.

As with everything about your brand, there should be a purpose behind your typography decisions. A more playful brand can use more creative fonts. A brand that needs to establish trust and authority, such as a law firm, is better served using traditional, clean typography.

group of lawyers pose for portrait

If you don’t have a background in the creative field, you might not understand the importance of font sizes and the appropriate time to use variation. Typically, you want to follow this hierarchy: 

  • Largest font for headers 
  • Medium font for subheaders 
  • Smallest font for body copy 

Other elements to consider when establishing the brand typography section of your guidelines include: 

  • Color for fonts 
  • Font weights (bold, normal, light, etc.) 

The main purpose of a style guide is to instruct your employees on how to be on brand and explain why. When referring to typography, explain the process to your team with three main points: 

  1. Background: Explain why you’re using the typefaces you are, how they relate to the brand, and the use case for each
  2. Alignment: Touch on whether you want copy to align right, left, or centered in communications 
  3. Spacing: Cover the tracking and kerning ratios to maintain a consistent style when font size changes

Define Your Brand Voice

One of the most impactful ways to connect with your audience is through your brand voice. Essentially, brand voice is the way you communicate your brand personality to your audience through written and verbal communication. 

Your brand voice is made up of the following elements: 

  • Language
  • Vocabulary 
  • Grammar 
  • Punctuation 
  • Spelling 
  • Writing style 
  • Tone

A brand’s voice can vary from informal with slang, jargon, and humor, to formal with proper grammar and punctuation. If you’re an edgy eCommerce brand, you’re more likely to use slang and have a casual tone. A healthcare facility is wise to use formal language and proper grammar to create a trustworthy, authoritative brand voice. 

In your style guide, provide examples of do’s and don’ts when it comes to using brand voice. Consider including full writing samples to give employees a better idea of how to write on brand. 

man in fedora and jean jacket carrying crate of records

Set Brand Imagery Guidelines

Brand imagery establishes your visual brand. It includes photos, illustrations, charts, and infographics. Your brand imagery guidelines define what branded imagery is and include the following elements: 

  • Style 
  • Color
  • Content 

While brand imagery incorporates multiple types of visuals, photography is one of the most important. Professional photography allows you to represent your brand through images across your website, social media, print ads, online marketing, and more. 

For that reason, brand photography requires a separate set of guidelines, including: 

  • Level of complexity 
  • Compositions
  • Color schemes
  • Styles 
  • Technical specifications 

Within your style guide, you should also specify where and when to use infographics and data visualizations. As with photography, incorporate style preferences and technical specifications when applicable. 

To make it clear for your team, include examples of what branded imagery looks like. Include examples for each type of visual to be as clear as possible. You may notice a pattern here, but it’s for a reason. Examples help your team take the guidelines and apply them to real-world use cases. 

Include Usage Guidelines 

Your brand guidelines cover a wide range of assets and multiple teams. Include usage guidelines to clearly outline which assets are to be used when and where. 

You should set guidelines for all assets, including but not limited to: 

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Maintain And Update Your Brand Guidelines

While this isn’t a step to creating your guidelines, it’s important for longevity and consistency. Once you’ve completed your brand style guide, you must regularly maintain and update it. 

The document is a living document and you can’t become complacent just because you finished the initial version. Your brand evolves and so should your guidelines. 

Design trends, company values, or any other component of your brand can change. When it does, your guidelines need to be updated accordingly. 

Brand Guidelines Template

There are several downloadable brand style guide templates online that you can access. They provide plug-and-go PDF (or other file types) files that you can use to create your guidelines. 

If you prefer to create your own, I’ve outlined a template for creating a brand style guide. 

  1. Provide a summarized overview of your brand’s story 
  2. Introduce your target buyer personas 
  3. Define your brand voice 
  4. Set your logo guidelines 
  5. Share your brand colors and typography 
  6. Clearly outline your imagery guidelines 

Professional Photography That Incorporates Brand Guidelines From Casey Templeton

If you came here looking for a starting point for your brand guidelines, I hope the information I provided is beneficial. At the very least, I hope you understand the importance of creating guidelines for your brand. 

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As I called out earlier, one of the most important elements of a brand is professional photography. Finding a photographer who will take special care in following your brand guidelines is essential. 

Casey Templeton Photography offers professional business branding photography services to a variety of businesses in the greater Nashville area and beyond. Casey is experienced in photo shoots for all industries and business sizes. He works with clients to align brand guidelines and ensure that images are on brand. 

To learn more about photography brand guidelines or to get started on a project, fill out our contact form

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