Learn how to create an effective brand guide.
Branding is complicated for any company, not only because it involves numerous moving parts, but because all of those parts are equally critical to your brand’s messaging. Keeping these elements consistent across your various geographical locations is important to maintaining a strong brand identity.
Global companies create, utilise and manage their own organisational brand guides to uphold consistent brand messaging anywhere in the world. This document functions as the definitive reference point for all things related to staying on-brand via various marketing efforts. But what exactly do these guides include, and how can you ensure your business is following best practices in the creation, distribution, and implementation of these standards? Let’s take a closer look.
Defining Your Brand
Branding is what consumers associate with your brand. For instance, people associate adventure with Redbull and magic with Disney. According to HubSpot contributor Lindsay Kolowich, branding includes everything from the emotions you want your customers to feel during interactions with your organisation, to its messaging and values. Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos sees branding as “what people say about you when you’re not in the room.” The common factor between these definitions? Brand identity is essentially the personality that is attributed to your brand.
Kolowich pointed to a model called the “Brand Identity Prism,” created by global branding specialist Jean-Noel Kapferer. It depicts the six core aspects of brand identity in order to paint a more holistic picture of the elements that build a brand. The elements are defined as follows:
- Physique: the physical aspect of the brand (logo, colour scheme, packaging, etc.)
- Personality: the brand’s character (writing style, voice, design style, etc.)
- Culture: the brand’s values and the manifestation of those principles
- Relationship: the relationship between customers, as symbolised by a brand
- Reflection: the brand’s most popular demographic
- Self-image: the consumer’s ideal self; how the target audience sees itself
When it comes to defining your brand as a whole, each of these aspects plays a considerable role. However, brand components like self-image and relationship (as defined by Kapferer) cannot always be communicated in a brand guide. As such, brand guides tend to focus most heavily on physique and personality, with mentions of culture and reflection.
“Brand identity is the personality that is attributed to your brand.”
Creating an Effective Brand Guide
With this information about brands in mind, we can now examine what exactly makes up a truly effective brand guide. These documents are crucial for maintaining consistency and, as such, their creation should be approached with considerable care. Let’s take a look at some elements every good brand guide must include:
To outsiders, fonts may seem like a trivial decision, but when it comes to branding, they are one of the most identifiable characteristics. Language Solutions explained that they are most commonly chosen as a support mechanism for an organisation’s overall brand purpose. However, global brands must keep other languages in mind. Many fonts do not have something called “extended character support”, meaning that they don’t support accented characters or other language idiosyncrasies.
Brand guides should not only have clear specifications for standard font procedures, including the chosen font, sizes, and overall preferences, but there should be substitute font decisions in place for global markets. Tests must be conducted beforehand to pinpoint languages that are obscured by font choices, and experts must then be tasked with finding the most closely matching fonts, as last-minute substitution decisions can seriously halt production cycles.
Layout and Language
A critical component of any brand identity is voice. Messaging must be created with a similar tone and style throughout all your company’s marketing materials. Corporate style guides will largely function to dictate these preferences, from phrasing and capitalisation rules, to in-depth descriptions of the tone and personality the brand wants to convey.
“Messaging must be created with a similar tone and style throughout materials.”
Be that as it may, Language Solutions noted that organisations must recognise that language and grammar do not always translate across markets. Effective brand guides will make note of discrepancies in various countries and ensure messaging is consistent with these cultural differences.
Dos and Don’ts
As with creating any material, your first attempt at a brand guide will likely include some mistakes – this rings especially true for global brands. Moravia suggests performing continual audits of your brand materials. Regular audits highlight what needs to clarified, added, or improved within your brand guide.
Which issues seem to be the most common errors? When is there room for improvement? Branding is crucial for any company and, as such, brand guides tend to have a lot of material. A dos and don’ts list can help your team digest the most critical areas of focus in a more bite-sized manner. Add a section for this type of material in your brand guide as a useful reference point.
According to Language Solutions, brand positioning tends to be one of the first components of any major corporate style guide. This area encompasses a variety of elements that are critical to relevant brand messaging. From descriptions of the brand profile to defining and outlining brand words, brand positioning works to form your messaging around creative ideas rather than detailed language; this enables your content to be easily repurposed to fit within other cultures.
Often, you need to understand where your brand resides and cater your approach in messaging to insights about these areas. This is an element of extreme importance for global brands and will likely warrant heavy research by marketing teams. One audience may prioritise comfort over price or respond better to bright colours over neutral tones – brand guides must include these discrepancies in order to ensure accurate targeting within the larger brand standards. Brand positioning ensures there is a larger ideological framework in which you can work.
The elements needed to create an effective brand guide boil down to explaining the brand you have created in vivid detail. The biggest complications arise from taking a global market into consideration, and those issues can be remedied by doing the relevant research beforehand and including your findings in the final brand guide.
Now that creation has been covered, distribution and implementation need to be addressed. These two elements of a successful brand guide are undeniably important – a perfect document doesn’t matter unless it is handed out and acted upon. Let’s take a look at some best practices:
- Name Brand Police: In every organisation, there should be an individual or a team responsible for policing company branding. Once the brand guide has been distributed and implemented as the official policy, you will need someone to ensure that these practices are being enforced.
- Provide Access: Ensure your team has complete access to these documents in whatever form they need. Start by handing out physical copies and going through the guidelines as a company. If your team is dispersed internationally, send them formal copies of your brand guide so they have access to a printed document in-region. You can then provide links to online portals where employees can access the documents for reference whenever and wherever.
- Make it Visual: Wherever possible, make your brand guide visual and enticing. There is a lot of information associated with brand consistency, so try to make the material digestible. Break apart complex content with the use of visuals, charts, maps and graphs.
“Your work is never done when it comes to your brand guide.”
- Keep Improving: Your work is never done when it comes to your brand guide. Things are constantly changing within your company, and your brand will change with it. Make sure your materials are always up to date to ensure consistency and accuracy across markets.