Whether you call it a brand book, brand guide, or branding guide, it’s a very important document. Your logo, while part of your brand, is just one small piece of your organization’s identity.
Your brand is seen or experienced in many places…
- Marketing materials
- Trade shows
- Sales presentations
- Social media
- Your website
- Other websites
- I could go on.
We always ask new clients if they have any branding guidelines – whether we’re designing a website, collateral, tradeshow materials, animated videos, etc.
Now you might think that as a creative agency we wouldn’t want someone to dictate elements of our design, but this isn’t the case. Having a set of design parameters allows us to focus on the unique and nuanced elements of a particular design project.
We can focus on creating a design that works because we already know what works for the brand.
Let’s put it this way, if you don’t control your brand, someone else will. And it’s not always going to be a quality designer.
What Is a Brand?
To be clear, when I say “brand,” I am referring to all of the elements used to represent you as an organization. This could be one or all of the following…
- Sales Materials
- Marketing Materials
- Content Marketing
- Social Mentions
That last one brings us to an interesting conundrum. How do you control your presence on other’s social mentions? By setting the standard and controlling everything you can control. How?
Glad you asked. Let’s take a look at how you can control your brand.
Breaking Down a Brand Book or Guide
A well-developed brand book and a diligent team will go a long way. Of course, some will ask “isn’t your logo enough?” Nope. A brand book needs to cover the following at a minimum…
- Graphics and Iconography
Let’s break each one down. To do so I am going to use one of our client’s brand books that we set up for them, with permission of course.
First, let’s get to know our client volunteer. “Latham BioPharm Group (LBG) provides insight, knowledge, and network to unite teams and technologies in the Life Sciences.” Or at least that’s what their website says.
They’re based in Cambridge, MA with a satellite office in Baltimore, MD. They’re a consultancy working with BioPharma clients all over the United States and around the world. Their brand is important to them as they are establishing themselves as a go-to resource for bio firms worldwide.
Any misrepresentation of that brand will undermine their efforts to be known for consistent, quality, consulting services. How? Errors in brand use, while subtle, can distract from a sales pitch, presentation, or marketing effort. Branding should support these efforts, not take away from them.
Let’s take a look at how a branding guide might help you.
Your Logo: Tell People How to Use It
Your logo is your mark, don’t misuse it. It’s easy to do, especially if you do not establish certain guidelines. Make sure that anyone who uses your logo, uses it correctly.
Anyone using their logo will know how it must appear so they will use it correctly every time.
This document also gives them a visual check against any bastardization of the logo. We’ve all seen them. Someone with questionable graphic design skills will maybe change the color, font, size, aspect ratio, or mark to make it fit something they’re working on. This is bad and makes you look bad.
Make it clear that all use of your corporate logo must be in compliance with this document unless otherwise authorized by someone who is OK with being yelled at. 😉
Make Sure It’s the Correct Typography
Now, I’m not saying that someone on your team will use Comic Sans in a sales presentation. If they do and it’s not to be funny or ironic, fire them immediately! Just kiddin, but not really.
Remember, your brand is not just your logo. A lot of thought (and possibly money) has gone into developing your company’s presence. Someone has taken the time to pick through 1,000s of fonts to find the ones that match your identity, culture, and message.
Someone’s personal font preference should not supersede your brand guidelines. Be firm about this and make sure everyone has the correct fonts installed on their computer so that they have no excuse but to follow your branding guidelines.
Typography guidelines can look something like this example from Latham’s guide…
It’s up to you how far to take this. I would recommend that any document or presentation used for your company should use these fonts. Of course, you can expand these out for other uses. If you want something different for a PowerPoint presentation, then spell that out.
Some companies will take it as far as the outbox. I know that I use our Wood Street font in my emails but it isn’t mandated here. Just think about the end user of any instance where a font would be used.
- How much difference will it make to that user?
- And, will it affect how they view your brand?
If you even sort of answer that second question with a “yes,” then you should add it to the list of places where typography usage guidelines should be enforced.
I See Your True Colors and Buddy, That’s Why I Love Ya
There are literally millions of colors out there. There are Pantone colors, CMYK, RGB, and more. You have color options in all of your desktop software. And social media gives you tons of color choices.
While you won’t be able to control all the colors used to represent your brand, I would recommend being firm on what you can control. Colors can elicit emotions, or encourage or discourage action.
If you’ve hired a firm to develop a branding guide for you, I guarantee that they’ve put a lot of thought into your color palette. At least the good ones will. Put this to use. Make it known to your people that these are the colors you want to be used in all material representing your organization.
Here’s what Latham’s color palette looks like…
I know some of your team may feel restricted by this limited palette. But, unless they are a designer or someone who understands color and design, they can do a lot of brand damage if they’re allowed to pick from the rainbow and not your approved palette.
Instead of having to tell Greg from IT that his color choices are making everyone physically ill (because who wants to hurt Greg’s feelings), just tell him and everyone else that the approved color palette is the only one you want them working from.
Okay, let’s all take a breath and get a little loose. Images are a place where you can loosen your grip a bit. What we usually do is give some sample images and maybe some written guidelines.
And while you may assume that your people know what “inappropriate” means, you might want to just spell that out a bit. What’s funny to some may be offensive to others. Always err on the side of caution. And know your audience.
- Would they appreciate this?
- Would it offend anyone?
- Does it help my message while staying on brand?
Just be careful with images and give your team some ideas of the types of pics you’d like them to use. Also, make sure they are using images they’re allowed to use. Using images without permission can end up costing you. We’ve had clients use images they didn’t have permission for and end up getting a bill from Getty for 50k!
Here’s what Latham’s imagery section looks like…
As you can see there is an overview of the type of images with a few samples and even a tinting option. This is usually enough guidance for your team – a suggested type of image.
Graphics, Iconography, Bears, Oh My!
Sometimes you’ll need some sort of graphical representation of your brand. Latham was easily represented by variations of the double helix (DNA).
There may be certain graphics that define your brand or that help to tell your story. If there are, it’s not a bad idea to set some standards for that. For example, with the double helix, there’s a lot that can be done or found with this image, some good, lots bad.
Take the guesswork out and be clear about what types of graphics are acceptable for your brand. If you’re giving your creative team the freedom to create new graphics, at least have them keep to the color palette or an acceptable variation.
Thanks to the Internet, we now have easy access to thousands of icons. Some of these may come preloaded in our CMS or in our presentation software like PowerPoint.
It’s safe to say that if left to our own devices, we could go a little icon crazy. Use your branding guide to set some standards here. Why? Because you may be using varying icons in different instances and it’s creating a confused on schizophrenic brand identity.
Of course, icons are a small piece of your overall graphical or UI toolkit but, every tool serves a purpose. Make sure that the icons used in your UI or on printed or presentation materials are consistent.
Obviously, you can’t fit every possible icon into a brand guide. So, make sure you include a preferred icon library for your people to access and use.
You can see what this could look like with the Latham samples below…
And we saved the best for last…
Collateral is made up of things like your letterhead, business cards, envelopes, slide decks, etc. These are your so-called “marketing materials.”
If you’re going to invest in a solid brand, you should absolutely have that same professional create some collateral pieces for you.
I’ve had countless meetings with clients where, say, the three people I’m meeting with hand me three different business cards. Why is this? No one set a standard and/or no one enforced a standard.
Take this stuff seriously. It matters. If you’re trying to sell something and you hand out a bunch of mismatched business cards, you’re going to look amateurish or low-budget.
In the Latham example below, you can see exactly how the cards should look. And with the color palette in the same doc, you know exactly what colors are used in these cards…
Any deviation from collateral standards water down your brand. Another usual suspect is the slide deck.
I get it, you can do a lot with presentation software. But, just because you can doesn’t mean you should.
I’ve seen slide decks for professional speakers that look like my 11-year-old daughter put it together. Actually, she could have done a better job.
Or maybe someone creates a decent looking deck but it has zero connection to the organization they’re representing.
If you’re flying solo and presenting on your own dime then go nuts. If you’re there on behalf of an organization, check the standards before you go rogue and create a deck that either ignores or damages a brand.
A Branding Guide Makes Marketing Easier
I understand that getting your team to adhere to guidelines might be a difficult task. What I recommend is that you have them read this post. Or, at a minimum, explain to them that they are a company representative and that comes with responsibilities.
A brand book is not there to stifle creativity. This guide is there to set certain standards so you don’t have to worry about them. You know…
- How the logo should look and how it should be used
- What fonts are acceptable/preferred
- The primary colors associated with your brand
- What types of images and icons to use as well as where to find them
And if you’ve gone to all the trouble of setting up a branding guide, you should also have collateral materials at your disposal, which can include…
- Business cards
- Sales slicks
- PowerPoint slide decks
- Folders and envelopes
Your team isn’t worried about deviation or indecision. They know what is acceptable and can use that knowledge and those materials to get your brand in front of your target audience. And you know their efforts will be “on brand.”
This is the power of a brand book!