Many entrepreneurs start out thinking, 'I want my product or service to be known in the market, but I don't know where to begin.' Marketing experts recommend starting with an analysis of your market and target persona and then commencing your branding journey. The bare minimum - a name, and brand guidelines.
To understand how to use brand guidelines, it's helpful to define what they are:
What Are Brand Guidelines?
Brand guidelines conceptualise the persona of the business, ideally mirroring the desires of your target audience. For example, Nike sells a 'strong you', eBay a, 'bargain hunter success story', and Bunnings, 'a problem solved'. Branding has never been 'just a logo', and likewise, brand guidelines underpin the articulation of your brand, but are not the end game when it comes to brand development. Rather, they are just the beginning.
What Should Be Included in Brand Guidelines?
Your brand guidelines should translate your unique value proposition into a visual identity. Some brand guidelines are more comprehensive than others, but all should offer concise visual instructions to communicate your brand. As a given, brand guidelines include:
- Your primary logo and its variations
- Font pairings
- Usage permissions
- Examples of use
More comprehensive guidelines may cover:
- The brand's story
- Tone of voice
- Market positioning
- Social icons
- Letterhead design
- Assets / asset links
Are Brand Guidelines a Waste of Money?
No. Brand guidelines are foundational to brand development, the beginning, not the end.
Most small businesses start out with brand guidelines crafted by a creative freelancer or agency. The founder of Nike for example paid a student $35 to create their famous swoosh. Budget limitations may constrict initial brand development to the most critical brand components: a logo, colours, and typeface selection. Brand elements such as tone of voice are sometimes evolved later, meaning initially some small businesses can undervalue their brand guidelines as a 'pretty document'. The brand has essentially only been crafted in part, the rest left to default or open to interpretation. The branding is then revisited at a later stage when the business identifies a need to evolve from transactional-based marketing.
Fortunately for the designer behind the Nike swoosh, those implementing the branding understood that brand guidelines were critical to business success. They later rewarded her work with a party in her honour and shares in the company.
Why Should You Have Brand Guidelines?
Your brand guidelines lay out instructions to define your organisation's representation across touchpoints, helping your audience identify you efficiently across mediums. They're foundational to building brand awareness, establishing visual parameters that will make you recognisable when used consistently in market.
Investment in brand is credited in studies as foundational to ongoing and sustainable growth for SMEs. Failure to build a brand successfully is often attributed to complacent use of the brand. Your brand guidelines aim to mitigate this.
For small business entrepreneurs, in particular, a clear link between the entrepreneur's character and the brand identity has been found to be of importance in supporting the personification of the brand. That said, it doesn't mean because the entrepreneur likes kittens, that there should be a kitten mascot unless of course, you are selling something relevant such as cat treats. Brand components should have some relevance to the product, service and/or customer, forming part of its personality or story.
For example, Compare the Market, has a Meerkat, but this brand addition has a story behind it. The character is paired with stories that built brand memorability. Stories that made the website the most visited insurance website in the UK at the time of the campaign.
Compare The Market uses Meerkats to build memorability.
A note to creatives: Trend gently. Because branding can be much more closely integrated with the entrepreneur in an SME, debate on how the brand should be applied can be felt like an attack on the entrepreneur because they are (basically) the brand. That means, if they already have what you perceive as an irrelevant mascot, you may not be able to convince them to let it go (at least not straight away).
How To Use Brand Guidelines
Apply your brand consistently across touchpoints to increase recognition and awareness that your business exists.
- Distribute your brand guidelines to creative stakeholders - marketers, designers and agencies - and get everyone singing from the same song sheet. Brand guidelines are designed to inform the articulation and application of your brand across mediums. They should be concise, and easy for external parties to understand and apply.
- Use your guidelines to apply your brand consistently - over time your brand will become more recognised, every brand impression counting towards your brand recognition. Repeat, repeat, repeat.
- Appoint a brand guardian aka: brand manager to lay down the 'law' throughout your organisation or manage third-party applications.
For many smaller sized businesses, an understanding of what brand awareness can do for the company needs to develop before brand can be given a greater role within the organisations. Some companies can exist for years and years based on transactional campaign revenue, but fail to transition beyond this to experiencing a market with greater demand for their brand. The exception to this is entities so old that they have a historic reputation built up over time, for example, Rome's Colosseum. Yes, that's right, you better be pretty amazing to depend on reputation alone to secure awareness that you exist. Oh, and have lots of time to wait. Tik, tok.
Most entrepreneurs don't have the luxury of time. Yet, when investment in brand stalled, the value of the brand in the market usually stalls too. Organisations that fail to distinguish a greater role of brand management within their organisation get stuck around about here. Their sales reps for example can take a longer time to close deals, because people may have a need for your product or service, but they've never heard of you. So why should they trust you? They need more convincing because, unlike the colosseum, your reputation has not (yet) proceeded you. This impacts your lead times, and ultimately your growth forecasts.
Pained by a lack of recognition, competitor growth and ever-increasing costs of acquisition, brand development is reconsidered, brand guidelines revisited, brand investment, reevaluated. A brand strategy, required.
That's where brand consultants like myself come in. I help small businesses scale their reputation and move from a dependency on sales or discounts, to a market that's happy to pay a premium for a product or service like yours.
5 Impressive Examples Of How To Use Brand Guidelines For Maximum Impact
Ok, so now that you have them, how do you use brand guidelines? Usually, brands include their use guidelines with a media or developer kit. Here are some impressive examples of how some brands apply their guidelines for maximum impact.
1. Use Your Brand Guidelines To Showcase Brand Characteristics
Powershop markets itself as a carbon-neutral electricity and gas provider. They carried their name into a powerful brand manual that packs such a punch it has won some impressive design awards, and, for good reason - it's a next-level showcase of brand personality.
The guidelines include detailed explanations around the Powershop logo. Understanding the thought behind icons helps third parties carry your brand character through to content creation. Page after page in this brand manual reinforces how the brand should be conveyed.
Powershop initially shook up the electricity sector with a level of customer service that differentiated them from the typical power company. They presented themselves as a customer-focused, user-friendly, environmentally conscious alternative with an app to match. Their mission is articulated throughout their brand guidelines with key messaging like, 'Power to the people'. We see the guidelines come alive in marketing campaigns such as their 2021 campaign: Use your power to save the planet.
2. Create An Emotional Connection
Brand guidelines can link an emotion to the brand. For example, when Coke released no sugar Coca-Cola, they created a mood board around, 'what does coolness taste like'...
The design team created imagery that fosters a desirable attitude, rather than just a desirable flavor.
Social messaging platform Discord aligns itself with a sense of belonging and fun. Their tone of voice is prescribed as a conversation between friends or a playful twist on product value.
3. Claim The Future As Now
Some entrepreneurs and small business owners can experience a disconnect between the vision that they have in their head, and what they have been able to outwardly present. Brand guidelines can visually portray an evolving look and feel of the brand, and claim it in the form of a rule book. The guidelines say - this is who we are now. This vision is no longer the future, it's today.
4. Showcase How The Brand Image Can Be Broken
Netflix has a dedicated brand website where an account can be requested to access brand assets. The website details in-depth how, as well as how not to apply the brand. Successful branding is all about consistency of use, and breaking consistency essentially 'breaks' the brand. Check out how broken the examples below look...
All brands need this, but perhaps Netflix especially as their old branding looks almost like a parody of the evolved brand...
Netflix's old advertisements contrast against the new brand.
All brands evolve over time. Including the old branding in your brand guidelines helps ensure the evolved brand is implemented successfully.
5. Clarify Your Brand Positioning
You can use your brand guidelines to clarify your brand positioning. Tesla's editorial guidelines specifically ask users not to use the word 'luxury' to describe Tesla. "Tesla is a premium, performance brand... our technology makes us great, not our egos."
Hopefully, this gives you some solid examples on how to use brand guidelines for your business. If your brand is already well established, but you feel like you lack brand strategy, it's not too late. Your guidelines are normally created after the logo and other brand elements have been developed. Without guidelines it's nearly impossible to keep your branding consistent, and consistency is key to building a well-recognised and influential brand.
You may also be interested in: Branding services for small business.