The A-Z of Brand Guidelines: Everything You Need to Know
Companies need to develop comprehensive brand guidelines to present a recognizable brand identity and improve the consistency of their content.
To build a strong, recognizable brand, you need everyone in your business to present a consistent brand identity to your customers and the wider market. But our State of Brand Ownership Report found that, when it comes to creating off-brand materials, the worst offenders were the teams you’d expect to be most invested in your brand: C-level executives and marketing departments.
We also found that 67% of respondents use creative guidelines that aren’t part of the company’s official brand guidelines. This suggests that two-thirds of companies have guidelines that don’t work for their business and aren’t being used properly by their employees.
Companies need to develop comprehensive brand guidelines to improve the consistency of their visual and written content. Consistency makes the company look more professional and is essential for building and maintaining brand recognition.
What are Brand Guidelines?
Brand guidelines are where you document and share the rules, standards, and instructions for bringing your brand identity to life. They help companies achieve consistency by documenting how your brand should look, act, and sound. They document your company’s mission statement and core values and explain how to use visual and written elements to express your brand identity and values in your content.
Many companies initially document their brand guidelines in PDFs. However, as the company grows and its brand evolves, employees find it hard to maintain and update the files and ensure everyone is working from the latest version.
When branding becomes a priority for these companies, they often switch to an online platform like Frontify to host their brand guidelines instead. This is because online brand guidelines are more flexible than PDFs and are easier to maintain. Because online brand guidelines are a centralized home for your brand, when you make a change, it’s automatically reflected for all employees, so everyone always has access to your up-to-date guidelines.
Why are Brand Guidelines Important?
Brand guidelines help engage people with your brand by defining and documenting what your brand means. They turn “brand” from an abstract concept into something concrete each team and employee can understand and apply in their daily work. Brand guidelines are important because they:
- Boost internal brand engagement. Everyone on your team can access and use your brand guidelines, not just your creative teams. This gives all your employees a greater sense of ownership over your brand, as it gives them the ability to create on-brand messages, designs, and customer experiences without having to run everything past your brand manager.
- Improve consistency. Brand guidelines explain and demonstrate how to use the different elements of your brand identity to create content, messaging, and designs that reflect that identity. By providing your internal teams, external partners, agencies, and freelancers with the same set of guidelines, you ensure they’re all following the same guidance when creating materials for your company.
- Build brand recognition. Our State of Brand Ownership Report found that “too much deviation from the core brand colors, typography, brand voice, general brand behavior, or logo sizing (even slight deviation) and the brand identity can quickly begin to diverge across channels and look unprofessional.” Brand guidelines help ensure consistency across your brand visuals, voice, and behavior, which makes it easier for your audience to recognize it in their inbox, social feed, and other channels.
Brand guidelines help align your entire company on your brand’s values, visual style, and messaging. They are where all your employees and external partners can learn how to communicate your brand to ensure you’re presenting an authentic brand to your customers.
What to Include in Your Brand Guidelines
Your brand guidelines should include all the elements you use to express your brand identity. For example, they should cover design elements, voice, and company values to ensure your content aligns with your brand identity. Guidelines that show your approved brand assets – like logos, fonts, colors, and taglines – will ensure employees use your actual assets and don’t “best guess” when creating branded materials. Here are four brand elements you should include in your guidelines.
Your brand guidelines should explain how to use your company logo(s), covering:
- Color variations – full color, black, white, and when to use each version
- Logo formats – including your full logo, text logo or wordmark, single-line, and square versions. You should explain when to use the different versions of your logo, with examples of each logo format in use if possible
- Dos and don’ts – to demonstrate correct logo usage on different backgrounds (like plain versus patterned) and channels (like social media versus your website)
For example, Uber’s brand guidelines include extensive guidance on logo usage, formats, and placement. As an international brand, it also explains how to localize its logo usage and placement in languages that read right-to-left, which is an important consideration as your company scales into new markets. Localization guidelines are something you could add to your brand guidelines over time, rather than including from day one.
Your logo is the face of your brand and the element that customers are most likely to recognize. Incorrect or inconsistent logo usage can make it harder to establish brand recognition in your market. It can also damage your brand reputation as it looks unprofessional or amateur.
Your brand guidelines should share your company’s color palette, including swatches so employees can see what each color looks like and color codes to use in their design tools. When you add color codes, list them in different formats (like CMYK, HEX, and RGB) so your team can use the correct colors when designing for print and digital.
For example, Frontify’s Brand Guidelines include our primary color palette, secondary colors, and grayscale palettes, with examples showing the different colors together. In addition, we’ve made our color swatches downloadable so anyone accessing our brand guidelines can easily import our brand colors into the design applications they use most frequently. This download capability turns our brand guidelines from a set of rules and instructions into a practical tool that empowers our employees to engage with our brand in their work.
Brand colors help build brand recognition and make your company stand out in the market. Adding your color palette to your brand guidelines is another way to bring consistency to your content and designs.
Your brand guidelines should include guidance and examples to demonstrate how to use images to create visual designs that communicate your brand identity. Creating on-brand imagery can be challenging, especially for non-designers, so the more guidance and examples you can provide, the better. Your brand guidelines could cover:
- Types of images to use: illustrations, photography, iconography, design elements, and patterns
- Guidance on when to use stock images
- Categories of imagery to use: product, industry, company, aspirational, and headshots
- Preferred color schemes for images.
For example, Monobrand uses imagery to express its distinctive personality. Its brand guidelines explain how to create and use images that illustrate its brand identity across all content channels. Monobrand creates a lot of its own imagery, so its brand guidelines include some photography principles and preferences to help photographers achieve shots that align with their overall brand aesthetic.
Images are where you can show off your products, highlight your customers, and champion your employees. A strong visual identity can help your content stand out in your customers' social feed, especially if you adopt a very different style from your competitors. Long-term, your choice of image style and consistent visuals help build brand recognition for your company.
Brand Voice & Tone
Your brand guidelines should also include a section on your company voice and tone. This section of your guidelines should give your employees tips to help them understand your brand personality and what makes your company sound like you.
For example, Buffer’s brand guidelines explain the difference between voice and tone. They also offer tips on adapting their tone of voice to the customer's needs. Its brand guidelines list the leading characteristics that make up their brand voice:
Voice and tone are often forgotten about in brand guidelines, as many companies focus on the visual elements of their brand identity. But they are just as important for building brand recognition as the visual elements of your brand.
Documenting your brand voice in your guidelines will help ensure your written, audio, and video content achieves a consistent voice and style. Tone of voice guidelines help your team adopt a consistent brand voice, regardless of whether it’s a campaign from your marketing team or a ticket response from customer support.
Some companies create standalone, comprehensive brand voice guidelines. In this case, you should still include voice and tone in your main brand guidelines to remind employees that written and verbal communication is a crucial way of expressing your brand identity.
Brand Guidelines Best Practices
Your brand guidelines need to be easy for employees and partners to understand, navigate, and use. If they are too detailed or difficult to access, employees won’t use them, and you won’t experience any of the brand-boosting benefits of having brand guidelines in the first place. Here are five best practices to help you create usable, practical guidelines to help employees engage with your brand.
1. Provide Instructions & Usage Guidance
Don’t just use your brand guidelines as a place to store all your branded elements. Instead, add accompanying text and images to demonstrate how to use each of your brand elements. Where possible, you should include examples of "dos and don'ts" alongside each component so that employees can see what is and isn't on-brand.
Instructions and guidance on using your brand elements will help employees follow your guidelines when they create their own branded materials.
2. Make Assets Downloadable or Easy to Access
Some brand guidelines bring together all your different brand elements and explain how to use each one, but send employees searching through Google Drive folders to find each of the various elements. To make it easier for employees to use your brand assets, make each element downloadable directly from your brand guidelines.
You can do this by moving your brand guidelines from a static PDF document to an online brand management platform like Frontify. In Frontify's Brand Guidelines, you can make each element downloadable and add variations of each asset to cover different formats and file types.
If you have downloadable elements built into your brand guidelines, it turns your guidelines from theoretical instructions and guidance into a practical tool. Employees will be more likely to use your brand assets (and use them correctly) when they can get the information on how to use them and access the correct elements, all in the same place.
3. Include Guidance for Different Channels
The way you express your brand identity may change across different channels. Add a section to your brand guidelines that provides information specific to these channels to help your team create on-brand visuals and messaging for each one.
For example, if you use specific filters on Instagram or hashtags on LinkedIn, you may want to include a section on social media in your brand guidelines.
4. Swap PDFs for Digital Brand Guidelines
Many companies put together their brand guidelines in a PDF document to distribute to their team. However, PDF brand guidelines are difficult to keep track of. As your brand evolves and you update your guidelines, it's difficult to know whether everyone is working from the latest version of the file or whether some teams are still using the old version.
Instead, companies increasingly use online brand platforms like Frontify to host their brand guidelines. Digital brand guidelines are easier to navigate, update, and share than PDFs. As soon as you make changes, you can be sure everyone has access to the updated version.
Online brand guidelines are easier for your team to access than PDFs too. Rather than hunting through their downloads folder for the latest version, employees can bookmark the site and access it whenever they need.
5. Regularly Update Brand Guidelines
Your brand will naturally evolve as your company, product, and priorities change. Your brand guidelines are meant to help everyone on your team express and communicate your brand identity to your customers, prospect, and market. But if they’re out-of-date, employees may be using old terminology or a visual style you’ve moved away from.
Review your brand guidelines at least once a year to make sure they still contain all the correct assets and that all the brand values still feel authentic. Then, add new elements, remove outdated ones, and replace examples to give your team access to the correct brand assets and fresh inspiration to help them use your guidelines to create their own brand materials.
Frontify Can Help You Create Easy-to-Use Brand Guidelines
Some of the world’s leading companies use Frontify’s all-in-one brand platform to house everything related to their brand - including brand guidelines. With Frontify’s Brand Guidelines, you can:
- Customize them with 40 different content elements to cover all the different elements of your brand
- Share guidelines with your internal team and external agencies and partners, including setting access restrictions where necessary
- Easily update without needing to work with a design agency – unlike PDF guidelines
- Connect with other areas of the Frontify platform, like Digital & Print Templates, which help your team create their own branded assets, and our Digital Asset Management (DAM), where you store and organize all your brand materials.