Why your Marketing Needs Branding Guidelines and How to Create Them

Whether you’re a one-woman business or a multinational corporation, strong branding is the hallmark of a trustworthy, professional organization.

2020 brand guidelines

Clearly defining your strategy and maintaining your brand consistently across an endless array of marketing channels is a skill best served by official branding guidelines.

Looking to put out marketing messages that are so evidently you make your competition an afterthought? Take out a pen and paper. We’re about to give you a crash course in developing and creating branding guidelines for your business.

What are the Basics of Branding Guidelines?

Your brand is the face, voice, and personality of your business. The main goal of your branding guidelines is to strategically and definitively spell out how all marketing collateral should sound and appear to the outside world.

Done right, they ensure anyone who’s read them – freelance contractor to CFO – can step in and design social media posts, make updates to your website, or put together written informational material about how to represent your brand without an in-person play-by-play.

What do Branding Guidelines Include?

Many of the elements you’ll want to include in your branding guidelines are somewhat obvious – others are a little more nuanced but just as important so you don’t end up on this list of social media fails.

Start by scoping the following brand subtleties:

  • Attributes. What would a potential hire, future customer, or business partner find when they Google about you? Are you an Inc. 5000 recognized business? An SEO expert? Addy award-winning company? (Oh wait, that’s us.) Start with the high-level view and get granular from there.
  • Brand personality. Are you bold and groundbreaking? Cautious and thorough? Selective and specialized? Genuine and compassionate? If you’re having trouble putting these into words, think of what a good “culture fit” would be if you were bringing on a new member of your team.
  • Core values. These are internal messages that guide your day-to-day. You might share them with the world, but they’re primarily used to steer your marketing and operation efforts.
  • Target audience. Here’s where our dear old friend the buyer persona takes center stage. Use them to help you craft compelling collateral and tantalizing turns of phrase that capture their full concentration.

Next, move on to the visual brand elements that represent your brand:

  • Color usage. What specific colors do you want to be used? Which should be used together, and what should be avoided? Get clear about the vividness or gradation you want to be applied and provide specific Pantone reference numbers where possible.
  • Typography. Fonts make a huge difference in conveying your brand’s personality. Make sure you have a list of typography that works well together and defines which ones to use for headlines and subheadlines, web content, blog posts, etc.
  • Iconography. Will icons that help users navigate your website be hand-drawn? Cartoon-ish? Image-based?
  • Photos and imagery. Will images be clean with tons of negative space throughout? Or color-saturated? List feeling words to help content creators choose images and photographs that mirror the brand personality.
  • Logo usage and variations. Your brand’s logo is your calling card – the most recognizable piece of the branding puzzle. Be sure to give written instructions about which logo variations are to be used when. Be it as watermarks on all your social media posts or as a condensed or expanded version of itself, cite specific examples including which size and color logo variations are appropriate in different settings.

Round out your branding guide by defining your written voice:

  • Tone. Are you warm and empathetic? Authoritative and knowledgeable?
  • Topics. Which are the most pertinent topics for your industry? Which should writers steer clear of?
  • Grammar. List all possible particularities here. Oxford comma stickler? Hate hyphens? Are you APA, Chicago, or elements of style devouts? The people want to know.
  • Emoji-usage. Some brands are pro – some very, very anti. There’s no right or wrong answer so long as your writing guidelines specify one way or another.
  • Expletive and punctuation usage. Many brands rely on the use of curse words to pack a punch and shock the reader into paying attention. These more expressive brands are often bent on using exclamation points in their marketing materials. If these rub you the wrong way, you’re not alone. Just spell it out!

Whether you’re a start-up or reorganizing your small business after decades in the industry, creating branding guidelines can quickly help you establish your organization as leaders in the field and make you instantly recognizable. Even a simple sketch up of these basic branding elements can deliver huge returns.

Want a branding expert to help you put guidelines together? We’re on it