Branding goes far beyond a simple logo or graphic design. It’s bigger than just your website, bigger than your business card. It’s a powerful marketing tool that you need to get your head around if you want to stay ahead of the competition.

Think about the entire customer journey. From social media interactions to print based advertising, from the emails you send to the way you answer the phone, you can make your business more than just another company with some great branding juice. Brand guidelines are your route to creating consistency, compliance and a flawless face for customers to interact with. Here’s what you need to know.

What exactly are brand guidelines?

Your brand guidelines are the face of your brand, the DNA, the fingerprint. In the same way as you can recognise Nike by a swoosh and Microsoft with four coloured squares, your brand needs to jump out at your customers and be all yours from start to finish.

It’s not just about designing a snazzy logo either. Your brand identity needs to be consistent throughout everything you do. At every customer touch point your brand should be identifying itself, and resonating with your customers, so that they become familiar with you as a company.

Your brand guidelines are crucial if you plan to work with external suppliers, and can be very useful for new employees entering the business too. All too many businesses let their brand develop organically, which is all very sweet and twee, but actually means they miss out on some powerful marketing juice as a result.

Branding to make your marketing better

Your business can market to its heart’s content, and maybe it will get some results. But if you haven’t got your branding in place, all that effort could be wasted, or at least you won’t get all the ROI you could have achieved. To understand the importance of branding, you need to understand the problems your customers face.

  1. They have too much choice and not enough time
  2. Most offerings are very similar in quality, value and features
  3. They therefore need to base a lot of their buying choices on trust

So how are you going to build that trust, so that when your prospect is ready to buy, you’re the number one company for them to choose? A study by Nielsen found that customers are more likely to trust in and buy from companies whose brand they recognise and are familiar with. So, branding and brand consistency are one way to get over that trust hurdle and towards the new business finish line.

Branding can affect shopping behaviour too. How often have you entered the supermarket to buy some shampoo, and even when confronted with the burgeoning aisle of hair care brands, have gone straight for the one you love? You probably didn’t even read the label, probably didn’t even consider another brand. That’s the power of consistent branding.

As well as this, when executed expertly, branding can actually make an emotional connection with your audience. Think about Hallmark, whose brand image is all about family, love and being together. Perfect for greetings cards, and perfect for them. Conversely Mercedes is all about sharp, defined elegance, and again is the perfect emotional quality for this brand.

Developing brand guidelines for your marketing materials

Your brand should be able to:

  • Deliver a message, clearly
  • Confirm your credibility as a business
  • Connect on an emotional level with your target audience
  • Generate user loyalty
  • Motivates your prospect to purchase from your company

As the battle for the customers intensifies day by day, and with the internet bringing the whole world into our competitive circle, it is crucial for businesses to invest in research, definition and building of their brand.

Brand guidelines should be familiar to everyone who works in your business, and should have the buy in of all senior staff and stakeholders. Putting together comprehensive brand guidelines will make it easy for any third party you choose to work with to maintain brand consistency throughout. You need to be thinking about:

  • Logo

Of course, the logo is important. It’s one of those things which can be applied everywhere, from email signatures to letterheads and invoices. You should develop your logo in several different formats so that anyone dealing with graphics and branding for your business can readily find the right logo for their needs.

Graphic designers will need your logo in .png .jpg and vector formats, so that it can be resized and used in lots of different places. Develop it in black and white, with transparent backgrounds and coloured backgrounds, and if you have a strapline, confirm some rules about font, colour and placement in relation to the logo.

  • Colours

Defining the colours to be use with your brand is just as important as the logo itself. Think about companies you use every day, like PayPal, Amazon or Google. You know their colours, even if you can’t think immediately of their precise logo, and could probably pick them out from a line-up just from their brand colours.

Precision is the name of the game when it comes to colours, so you should know the exact HEX and RBG colour values for each colour in your palette, as well as Pantone for non-digital purposes. Lots of brands choose to have primary and secondary colour palettes, as well as a few key accent colours which can be used in everything from websites to flyers.

  • Typography

If the closest you get to typography is using WordArt for your kid’s birthday party invitations, prepare to have your mind blown. Typography for your business goes so much further than this, there really are limitless possibilities for adaptation when it comes to branding. As well as deciding on the specific font families to be used for your brand, you’ll need to specify sizes, kerning, line spacing and any colour variations to be used.

It doesn’t end there though. From emails to marketing banners, you’ll need to think about all the types of text you may need to use, and include specifications for these in your guidelines. Consider headings, sub headings, quotations, labels, form fonts and more.

  • Images

They say a picture paints a thousand words, but which words do you want it to paint? Your brand may be playful, serious, artsy or elegant, and the types of images you use on your website and in your marketing should reflect these components of your brand.

Should images be abstract? Detailed? Artistic? Do you prefer photographs or illustrations? Pull together some examples of what you like to help people both inside and outside your business make good choices on your behalf.

  • Tone of voice

Written content is incredibly important, so getting it consistent across all channels should be a priority for you. If your email marketing is very playful, humorous and modern, responding to social media messages in a highly formal tone is going to confuse your customers.

Don’t get too bogged down in specifying what can and can’t be said. Give your content writers an overview of the style and tone you’re looking for, and link them to some examples of content you like. If you like, you can format up a ‘word bank’ of phrases and colloquialisms that you feel reflect your brand, which they can pepper throughout your content for additional brand brownie points.

Your brand guidelines should be, as the name suggests, a guide. As much as you want to set rules and boundaries for those representing your business, you also need to retain enough flexibility to allow your creative crew members to be, well, creative. It also needs to be capable of moving forwards and developing as your company moves forward too, so treat it as a working document, rather than something static and set in stone.