5 Steps to Build a Brand Style Guide

Your name represents you. There’s a story behind it, whether it’s a name passed down in your family for generations, a name that your parents fell in love with, or a name that you’ve chosen for yourself. When someone says your name, they think of you — exactly how you are and everything you encompass. And when someone says your name, everyone else knows exactly who is being referred to. When your name is mispronounced, you politely correct it or smile through it even though it slightly pains you to do so. You want people to respect your name, to say it how it’s meant to be said, and to have it be thought of as an extension of yourself. 

The same goes for companies. Just like your name, a company name has a story behind it. Not only does the name have a story behind it, but so does the company, the logo, and the colors chosen to encapsulate the brand. Each element making up and representing a brand deserves the same respect and consistency that you expect with the pronunciation of your name. And so, to help company employees and the world know exactly how to display their logo, use the precise shades of colors, and pronounce the company name, organizations create a brand style guide to lay out all of the details.

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Table of Contents

  1. What is a Brand Style Guide?

  2. Why Do You Need a Branding Guide?

  3. How to Build a Brand Book

    1. Step 1: Start with Your Brand Story

    2. Step 2: Highlight Your Logo

    3. Step 3: Cover Your Brand Colors and Fonts

    4. Step 4: Address Your Brand Voice

    5. Step 5: Share your Branding Guide

  4. Effects of Using a Brand Book

What is a Brand Style Guide

We all understand that consistency and recognition are good, especially for brands. But how does a book help ensure consistency? A branding guide is a handbook that details all the preferences and specifications that contribute to a company’s image. It opens with a combination of the company’s story, the values it holds, and a general mission statement to start off strong and convey the core of the company itself. This gives anyone reading the branding guide a real feel for the company, which helps immensely when it comes time for a reader to create an asset that represents the brand. 

A company style guide then lays out the do’s and don’ts of everything from the spacing of the logo, to color combinations, to brand voice. It’s a thorough playbook that communicates the precision of all elements that make up a brand image, ensuring consistency throughout everything a company puts out into the world. Having one place that specifies exactly how each element of a brand should appear is what creates a sense of brand familiarity and allows people to have a clear mental image of a company — more specifically, the mental image a brand wants people to have.

Why Do You Need a Branding Guide

If a company were to just vaguely say, “our color is pink”, employees could go about making one company flyer pastel pink, an Instagram post magenta, and a banner on the website neon pink. Customers and potential investors likely won’t realize that all of these assets are from the same organization and will be left confused with no distinct, clear image of the company. 

What if, instead of saying “our color is pink”, a company were to say “our color is pink, with hex code FFC1CC.” Anyone creating documents or assets on behalf of the company would know to use the exact shade of bubblegum pink. There would be consistency across everything viewed by the public, and a clear image of the brand is easily formed in customers’ minds. With a little specification, the company’s marketing has drastically changed, and they can now put out a clear, curated brand image at no extra cost. 

As a business, you are trying to sell products, but you also need to sell yourself as reputable, and having a consistent, clean image and brand recognition helps achieve that. A branding guide to a company is like a cookbook to a chef, it allows the recipe for success to be used each and every time something is produced — and keeps consumers happy, too. You’ve probably been to your favorite restaurant enough times to immediately recognize your go-to dish from the first taste, since the chef uses their specially crafted recipe each and every time. The same should be true for your company. You want a consumer to see your logo, your banner, or whatever it may be and instantly recognize your brand at a glance. Recognition skyrockets companies and brand books build recognition.

How to Create a Brand Style Guide

Now that you’re sold on needing a brand style guide, you’re probably wondering how to build a brand book. Don’t worry, just follow these five steps, and you’ll be well on your way to creating the perfect branding guide.

Step 1: Start with Your Brand Story

Let’s go back to a key point: a company needs to sell itself before it can best sell a product. There are thousands of companies offering similar, and even the same, products and services. So how does a consumer choose one over all the rest? Yes, sometimes price comes into play, but assuming we’re talking about similar products with similar prices, the decision comes down to the company itself. Would you rather buy a new table from a brand you recognize and feel you can trust or a seemingly identical table from a brand you’ve never heard of?

More often than not, when a consumer is deciding on which brand to buy, they’re going to consider a company’s reputation and values—whether that’s being eco-friendly, high-quality, or a great workplace, for example. So, when building a brand book, include something personal about your company and its values.

Highlighting your company story is a must in a brand style guide. There is no better way to put your brand on display than by going back to the roots and sharing how it came about. A company’s origin story–the passion and purpose behind why your company was created–is one of the most compelling differentiators to set each brand apart from the competition. If you’ve ever listened to How I Built This, you’ll know that the company story sells.

If you really want your brand to be portrayed precisely right in each and every asset produced (which is the purpose of a branding guide), share your company story with those who are doing the creating. They’ll have a much deeper understanding of the company and the feeling of the company, which will help to ensure they use each and every color, logo, and voice correctly.

Your logo is, in essence, the face of your company. You may think that presenting a logo is simple enough, but really you need to lay out every detail of the logo usage, otherwise people will find a way to distort it. Your logo is a cool smiley face outline in white? It’s practically invisible when put over bright yellow (or any other light color). And before you think to yourself that no one would ever put your beautiful white logo over a pastel color that makes it invisible – trust us, they will. The same can be said for squishing your logo until it’s no longer a circle-shaped smiley face but instead an unsettling, stretched oval that probably should not be smiling. 

The more explicit you are and the more bases you cover, the better your brand will be presented everywhere. In your branding guide, be sure to lay out a clear set of rules for anyone using your logo. Again, you can include the story behind how your logo came about to build a connection between the reader and your logo to ensure it’s treated with respect. Then, begin outlining a guide for each aspect of your logo: spacing, layout, colors, font, and secondary logos. 

Step 2: Highlight Your Logo

When it comes to logo spacing and layout, be sure to clarify everything, from the exact spacing between letters to which words are connected to which letters, and the capitalization. It will be best to include visuals here so that there is absolutely no room for confusion. Be as thorough as possible, and point out how you want the words and symbols arranged. For example, if your company name is two words and you want those words stacked on separate lines in your logo, you will need to clarify that in your brand book. Or, if you want the logo to always be one straight line of words with a symbol at the start, explicitly say so. There is no detail too small or seemingly simple to include; lay out everything and cover all of your bases. 

To dive into colors, let’s bring back the white smiley face example. It may seem obvious that white can’t be seen when it’s over certain light colors, but that’s still something you’ll need to clarify. Lay out guidelines of what colors your logo can be paired with, and it’s best practice to include specific hex codes, RGB values, and CMYK color codes.

It is also advised to offer an alternative main logo color and an accompanying set of colors that this version can be used with. For example, a secondary logo color scheme where the smiley face is navy blue instead of white, and in turn is paired with lighter colors that the white logo version wouldn’t work with. Give examples of what is and isn’t acceptable to meet your logo guidelines.

Step 3: Cover Your Brand Colors and Fonts

Just like the colors of your logo, it’s crucial to lay out all things color for more general uses too. Your company puts many assets out into the world. Whether it’s the tag on a t-shirt, a billboard advertisement, or the “About Us” page on your website. You don’t want a million different colors in a million different places, and you probably have a carefully chosen set of colors that you would like everyone to stick to.

Again comes the importance of specificity. In your brand style guide, list out the primary colors that you want used, along with the secondary, tertiary, and any other color combinations someone on your marketing team has approved. 

Not everyone has an eye for design, so giving a wide selection of color variations isn’t enough. Go a step further and clarify which colors should be used together — and give visual examples of which shouldn’t. Don’t forget to avoid general terms like “pink” and instead include hex codes, RGB values, and CMYK color codes. You can’t expect everyone to pair colors perfectly, but you can expect them to read your brand guide and follow the simple steps you have laid out. 

Similar to colors, you really want to drill in the correct font usage. Typography does a great job of helping to create a brand image, and each font choice your company has elected likely has a significant amount of thought behind it. Be clear and outline when a font should be used; for example, if Poppins is your primary font and should be used for every header, clarify that and differentiate between the font for the body. There is a recipe for success, and people can follow recipes, but they can’t read minds.

Step 4: Address Your Brand Voice

Word choice and grammar play a huge role in how someone, or a document, comes across. A missing comma, and even just certain word choices, can cause syntactic ambiguity and completely change the interpretation of your words from person to person. For example: “The chicken is ready to eat.” One person might interpret this as a chicken living on a farm is ready for its meal while another person might believe the chicken that the chef has been cooking for dinner is ready to be eaten. The true meaning makes a significant difference for both the chicken and the hungry person, just as word choice and messaging makes a huge difference for your brand. Word choice is important and it’s good to provide some guidelines and rules for anyone writing on your company’s behalf. 

Whatever you want your brand voice to be, you should clarify it in the branding guide so that all writing and text coming from your company is cohesive. If you want your brand voice to have a sincere tone, state that. Or if you are going for a more humorous voice, relay that to anyone who may need to know by adding it to your brand style guide. Feel free to include a few writing samples for your future writers to get a feel for how they should write. 

If you want to be really thorough, add in some grammar and writing rules that you would like everyone to follow. The oxford comma (the comma that goes before the “and”/”or” at the end of a list) is totally optional but can be quite controversial. No matter how strong your stance is on whether or not the oxford comma should be used, it’s important to specify its use so that there is consistency across all text. Your branding guide can also include a list of preferred vocabulary and spelling, like if you want english words spelled the American or British way (think “flavor” versus “flavour”). The more guidance you give, the more consistency there will be, and the greater your brand recognition will become. 

As an extra tip, to help ensure your brand voice is carried through more than just text, include go-to visuals (photos, illustrations, graphs, etc.) that you would like people to use when representing your company. 

Step 5: Sharing Your Branding Guide

By now, you understand the answers to “ what is a brand book” and even “how to build a brand book”. What’s missing? A beautifully created brand style guide won’t do you much good unless it is properly distributed to the right audience. Of course, printing out paper copies is an obvious way to go, but it’s not the most effective.

Your brand book should be a living, breathing document that is updated whenever needed. You don’t want employees accidentally referring to an old, outdated version of your branding guide and, in turn, producing documents that don’t match your other assets. And, the cost of printing, then reprinting again and again, really adds up — in both monetary and environmental costs. 

You’ll find it most effective and budget-friendly to distribute your branding guide via digital documents like PDFs or flipbooks. Make sure that anyone within your organization who is creating external assets has access to and has read your branding guide. You could send it along with onboarding materials and have it live in a shared, accessible folder, or any other central, easy-to-find place. Include pieces from within your brand book, or the book itself, on your website for any potential customers to see your thoughtfulness, values, and mission in a more design-oriented way. Remember, you want to sell your company and foster trust between your company and customers, and your brand book details the story and core of your brand.  

Effects of Using a Brand Book

You’re ready to create and distribute your brand book, now here’s what you can expect to see from doing so. A brand style guide facilitates consistency and cohesiveness among all pieces of your company that meet the public eye. Get ready for less micromanaging, less re-doing work, and less variation. From the sign above your office to the LinkedIn promotion that’s running, to the stickers on employees’ water bottles, there will be consistency and recognition of your brand. Recognition fosters trust, and trust keeps a company going. It’s as simple as that. 

What are you waiting for? Create your brand book today, then publish it on Issuu so it lands in all the right places.

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