Whether your company’s online presence is mostly managed in-house or by an agency, the value of established brand guidelines is a core component of your digital success. It’s simply not enough to slap something onto a page with your logo at the top and call it “branded.”
Even if you don’t have a document laying out the details of your brand – such as mission statement, buyer persona, color palette, typography, and editorial style guide – you and your colleagues likely have a better idea of all of these elements than you think. If you know your brand better than anyone else, then you might wonder why you even need it on paper. But keep in mind that there are no hard-and-fast rules; your guidelines can range from very basic to fully comprehensive. The more your brand awareness grows, the more hands you’ll have on deck internally, and the more you’ll have to ensure those hands are building toward the same goal.
Don’t Chicken Out of Crafting Character in Your Brand
For better or for worse, it now seems that more and more corporate brands have come unhinged on social media – taking to Twitter to fire off snarky replies and bizarre self-aware statements. Call it a cry for Millennial attention – sometimes a cringe-worthy one – but there’s actually a lot to learn from consistent branding.
Take KFC, for example. Across platforms, its tone remains lighthearted and conversational. Furthermore, the content is almost always created from the perspective of “Colonel Sanders,” the restaurant’s founder who has become a character that takes on the role of a spokesperson. Whether on its website or on social media, KFC maintains the perspective of the Colonel as if he wrote everything. And whether or not you find it humorous, you can’t say it’s not clever dedication. The company chose a literal personality for their brand, and they’ve stuck with it.
To illustrate, here’s the opening paragraph to the History section of its website:
A tweet marketing a collectible Colonel Sanders figure:
And a post to give you a taste of the Colonel’s Instagram presence:
OK, you’re probably not trying to be anything like an international fast-food chain (although you might be planning your next trip for mashed potatoes).
However, if customer and community engagement is at all important to you, positioning yourself as accessible and authoritative is a must. The first step is deciding exactly how you’d like to do so; all the steps that follow involve that you stick to it.
Why Do I Need Brand Guidelines?
According to a study by McKinsey & Company, business-to-business (B2B) companies that have strong branding are 20 percent more successful than those with weak branding.
Without consistent branding efforts from all angles, your company won’t be perceived as a trustworthy source of information. Everything that potential customers see during the purchase cycle, from beginning to end, matters in shaping their attitudes toward your product. Plus, we – but especially marketers – all know that there’s only a few moments to capture viewers’ attention. What are your values, and how can they directly serve your audience? If you’re able to answer that quickly, you can make an impression that lasts.
Personality and Recognition
Behind all consumers are actual people who want to feel like there are actual people behind the brands they’re browsing. Thus, personality is key. Think about who or what your product is trying to serve, then ask yourself: How do we want to be perceived? Competent? Witty? Serious? Approachable? Compassionate?
Building a recognizable brand personality takes time and hard work. Prioritizing adhesion to your brand guidelines pays off, though, and makes it possible to distinguish yourself among competitors in your industry.
Customers now have more options than ever before, not only across brands but also across channels (or platforms), which include anything from physical billboards to email marketing campaigns to in-store visits. Research shows that a majority of shoppers take a multi-channel approach, using more than one channel to make purchases while potentially visiting the same website up to 10 times before making a final decision. With the ability to “comparison shop” until we drop — and to return to any online store at any time, endless times — consistency in branding can be what either deters or wins over a customer in the consideration phase.
No matter if you’re making an impression online or offline, it should be consistent across all channels; you never know which one users will land on first. Even if your business doesn’t have eCommerce capabilities allowing customers to make a purchase directly from, say, your Facebook page, that social media profile should at least support the customer journey in whatever way possible. That could mean a call-to-action directing them to call your store, visit in person, or browse products on Amazon.
Rules are meant to be broken. You have to know the rules to break them.In many ways, this philosophy would defeat the purpose of brand guidelines. That said, it’s crucial to have clear direction so that you better understand when and how you can break the norm.
Think of branding guidelines less as a rigid set of rules and more as a roadmap: You know your target audience and what your logo needs to look like. Now, you can still hone your creative freedom without losing the attention to detail. These working in tandem will ultimately help whatever you produce look seamless and effortless.
In addition, brand guidelines are an important resource to new employees. This is especially true for content marketers, where having a reference document that helps ensure cohesion is invaluable to producing quality work. It’s the quickest way to get everyone on the same page — literally.
Even the most talented marketers, salespeople, and content creators can get quickly derailed from the work they’re trying to do without a sense of focus. (I’ll even break the fourth wall here to share that, as I write this blog post, I find myself incessantly reworking and deleting sections that don’t serve the focus of this topic.)
Especially if your service offers a variety of products – and frequently introduces new ones – it’s easy to try and be too many things at once. After all, why wouldn’t you want to showcase your full breadth of knowledge and capabilities? This is only detrimental when you begin to lose your aim. Brand guidelines will always be there to serve as a reorienting reminder if you need it.
What Should My Brand Guidelines Include?
Most brand guidelines will lay out more set-in-stone rules for the visual design elements versus the writing style, but both are equally as important for their respective purposes. For a comprehensive set of branding rules, consider the below components.
Values or Mission
If your company has a mission statement, make it well-known from the start. All of the guidelines that follow should harken back to this as much as possible.
Your color palette will be one of the first – if not the very first – branding decision you make, as these colors are integral to anything you produce going forward. Plus, they matter more than you might think in developing your brand identity and capturing customer trust because of our culture’s many associations with different colors.
Don’t select too many colors – the cleaner, the better. Aim for between two and four for your palette, including a base, an accent, and a neutral. The base will be the most front-and-center, so it should most closely resemble your personality. Accent colors are oftentimes the “loudest” colors (like bright-red) and are used to make the logo or webpage “pop.” Neutrals tend to be most subtle and in the background, such as brown or gray. Additional or tertiary colors (a blend of different colors) outside of these few types can certainly be compelling as well, your brand aesthetic a more granular, sophisticated look when used sparingly. The basics of color theory, such as choosing colors opposite each other on the color wheel – will help inform your complementary color choices
Once your color palette is determined, don’t forget to document the hex color codes. That way, your colors will remain exact and consistent across formats and media platforms.
For instance, here are the hex and RGB codes for Spotify’s green, white, and black color palette (courtesy of Lockedown Design & SEO):
Once your logo has been designed, it’s time to establish factors like size restrictions and different color schemes to use. It’s also a good idea to create more than one version of your logo to use for different purposes or against different backgrounds. You may even provide examples of improper uses in different contexts.
Images are important, but texts aesthetics are also important. You’ll need to decide your fonts and ideally a set of fonts. Complete brand guidelines will include font sizes, a typeface (or font family), and a hierarchy of fonts for headlines, subheadlines, and paragraphs. It’s also helpful to include font sizes and weights in relation to each other.
Quality imagery helps compel a user to take interest in your brand or content. It’s not a bad idea to provide stylistic examples of photos, icons, or graphics for inspiration. Of course, if there is standard imagery to use in particular marketing materials, those should be provided as well.
Tone and voice refers to the type of wording that your company utilizes to showcase your brand’s values and identity. This can be difficult to define in a clear-cut way – personality only shines through if the content creator executes it well.
The best place to start when considering your tone is your target audience. If college students comprise a large chunk of your market, you probably don’t want to use dry or overly serious language. And If you’re selling products to older generations, you probably don’t want your content full of slang or technical jargon.
For example, “It’ll leave you shook, fam #blessed” could potentially work as ad copy for a mobile game geared towards teenagers, but it will definitely not work as an ad for a hip replacement procedure.
Editorial Style Guide
This doesn’t have to be as exhaustive as the AP Stylebook (whew, right?). It is, however, incredibly helpful to list out brand-specific spellings, abbreviations, terminology, or punctuation. On the customer’s end, this helps to avoid miscommunication and misinformation. On your end, it helps to avoid embarrassment and potential liabilities.
How Do I Implement and Adhere to My Brand Guidelines?
Arguably, building out your brand personality is the easy, fun part. You’ve strategized, brainstormed, and cast visions. Now, you have to execute and deliver it for the long haul. You have to test the waters, make sure it resonates, and adjust if it doesn’t. You must get employees on board and up to speed.
While you should keep your overall tone (or “flavor,” if you will) consistent, also know your platform and its audience. Obviously, your static website content and imagery should differ your tweets, which should differ from your LinkedIn posts.
Additionally, your company’s quality assurance process before content publication should not be taken lightly, and it should extend beyond a quick peer edit. If at all possible, have multiple people pass over your work with a critical eye, asking themselves if it communicates not only the goal of that particular message but also of your brand as a whole. There is much, much more to a marketing strategy than simply pushing out content efficiently.
“An idea can go from concept to completed so quickly that it doesn’t get thoroughly vetted for brand consistency,” writes ClearVoice on the importance of brand consistency. “And with an internet connection and standard business software, almost any employee has the opportunity to create content that contains their version of the brand look or message.”
Ideally, any content published on a company page will read as though it was written by the same person.
Brand Personality Is a Collaborative Effort
Without clear expectations, it’s difficult to successfully curate a brand that people want to interact with. Established branding guidelines can prove extremely rewarding and position you as a trusted expert within your industry.
At Go Local Interactive, we partner with companies across a variety of industries to preserve the integrity of their values and missions. Our team of experienced content marketers and account strategists will work together to help you discover your goals and ensure that anything with your logo on it aligns with those goals. Whatever your branding looks like, we can create content in that style — contact us today to find out how.