Beyond the Basics of Brand Guidelines

by David Garcia
May 7, 2018

Brand guidelines are a critical tool in brand management. They are the culmination of many months of brand creation work and the distillation of your brand. They embody and explain who you are and also provide easy-to-follow directions on how to handle the brand. They are both strategic and practical and are the map to ensuring brand integrity and consistency.

We all know that brand guidelines contain the do’s and don’ts of managing your brand. But it isn’t just the basic content of your guidelines that ensures brand success. They need to be properly developed, disseminated and used to guarantee alignment across the global face of your brand.

Here are some tips we recommend to clients to help them to going beyond the basics with their brand guidelines:

1. Determine your oversight philosophy

The terms brand standards and brand guidelines are sometimes used interchangeably, but have slightly different meanings. Guidelines are conventionally thought of as having some flexibility while standards are more strict. Before embarking on the development process, decide what your brand management approach will be and how much freedom you will allow users to have.

2. Paint the full picture.

Begin your guidelines with the full brand story to put the brand expression in context. Including even a brief overview of the strategy will help everyone working with the brand to develop a deeper familiarity. Knowing why the expression was built the way it was fosters understanding, enabling employees to better promote the company.

3. Remember the exceptions.

Brand guidelines come with a set of dos and don’ts: How to use – and how not to use – all of the visual and verbal expression elements. The larger a company is the more likely there will be exceptions to some rules. Outline known exceptions to the rules, to reinforce that there are a limited number of ways a brand can be altered.

4. Share with everyone.

Don't limit the distribution to just the marketing or communications staff; everyone in the company and even some vendors/partners should be aware of the brand and its multiple verbal and visual components. Create the document as a PDF or online tool so it is simple to share and access again and again. Not only does this save printing costs, but also encourages self-service for anyone creating a document or determining the tone of an email or a proposal. Make it as simple as possible for everyone to have a basic understanding of the brand.

5. Avoid insider jargon.

Guidelines should be written for designers and non-designers alike. Many professionals outside the creative realm aren't as up to speed on design terminology or software applications used to create materials. But everyone should have a basic understanding of how all the components work together. Requiring a dictionary to decipher the guidelines is a surefire way to demotivate users. Not every designer, marketer, technician, project manager, coder, or executive speak using the same idioms or terms. Use references and language that are universal to prevent the need of a Rosetta Stone.

6. Appoint the brand police.

All guidelines should include a contact person (or people) who is a resource and gatekeeper for all branded materials. This person coordinates training and tutorials, answers quick questions, and should be given the authority to make decisions when the guidelines may not cover a specific usage or scenario. Empower your brand enforcers to identify off-brand items and remove them from circulation. (Badge optional.)

Trusted by Large Brands for 20+ Years

Genesee & Wyoming Inc.
Xerox
Amgen
Conduent
Travelers Insurance
CFA Institute