Over the years, while our designers help our customers turn their text filled Word Document or Google Doc into graphic forms with more visuals and graphics, we learned the long and hard way that the brand style guide should come first before any design work should be done with a company’s marketing or branding material.
Some of our customers don’t think they need one because they wish to be flexible with ideas. It also takes time and effort away from their business to decide on what to put in the guide, without any direct or immediate Return On Investment (ROI). Hence, most people rather skip this and work on other seemingly more important tasks for the day.
I guess we all can get by without one. We ourselves are guilty of also starting our own design business without one. But we wouldn’t know what we can get from it until we had one, isn’t it? As we build our own, we are keen to share all that we are learning and happy to give away free brand style guide templates for you too.
Meanwhile, based on my experience, here are some reasons why you need a brand style guide whether you are growing a blog, personal brand, business or startup:
With more than 10 years of design experience, we’ve come across many customers who reached out to us without a brand style guide. It goes without saying, the resulting communication process usually takes longer than it should and worse of all, most designs seldom turn out what they truly wanted.
That’s because, without a guide, our graphic designers had to be mind-readers and use their own gut-feel to assume what the customers want. Since there are no thought process boundaries, they simply create something out of what they think would work in the shortest time possible.
When delivered, the customers themselves don’t have any rule to follow. They too base their feedback on their own personal gut feeling and taste. Nobody’s ideas are right or wrong but the differences lead to many back-and-forth exchanges between customers and designers and that can go on and on between them.
Until finally, the deadline looms closer when both have to desperately end the project even if they had to make do with something they are not that satisfied with. This sometimes leads to customers and designers hating each other, both entrapped in power struggles within complicated heated conversations that go nowhere.
Rather than basing designs on everybody’s emotions and subjective ideas that can be vastly different, with a brand style guide, there’s a rule for everyone to follow. This saves everyone’s time and sanity with a quicker, smoother and predictable workflow.
Any point in time when the designers need to know what brand colors to use, they refer to the brand guide. The same thing goes when they need to know how fonts can be applied, they refer to the brand guide. Also for pictures, if they want to know how to crop and position them on a page, they can easily refer to the brand guide.
You want your audience to perceive you in the same way in every platform your content appears today, tomorrow and every day. A brand style guide thus acts like a person who gives you the direction you need to take to achieve that same result over and over again with a set of guidelines.
Let’s put it this way: I’m sure you’ll only trust advisers if they guide you in the same way as they guide someone else every time. Similar to your business, a brand style guide sets the stage for how your story is spoken and designed in a coherent manner wherever you are. You want to look, taste and feel the same on any social media be it on Facebook or Pinterest.
Imagine yourself as a consumer for a moment. Let’s say you drink coffee. Your latte from Starbucks along Sixth Avenue will taste exactly the same from the Starbucks at Sesame Street.
Why? Because although different baristas are preparing the lattes at different times, they are using the exact same shot glass with a guide or measuring ruler on it that tells them how much espresso to put into your cup.
Imagine without the guide, the measurements will be random. One barista may prefer thinner coffee today and give you 10 ml of espresso, while the other may prefer more caffeine and give you 20 ml on another day, that inconsistency leads to different coffee tastes on different days. That’s not what you want for your daily cuppa.
Same for your business. Your customers will want you to communicate with them the same way today and tomorrow, rather than displaying some days of fun and silly tone and some other days they feel like you are shouting at them.
A brand style guide will help your brand speak the same language everywhere in the same tone as much as possible. With one brand voice, it allows people to identify you as who you really are and this consistency tells them that they can trust you and be willing to work with you.
Let’s face it, we can’t work with everyone and not everyone wants to work with us. That’s cool because that’s just natural. You have your own set of values and principles and I have mine. The next thing we need to do is to find people with a similar set of beliefs to work with each other.
There are many ways to promote yourself and find people to work with. One way is via your brand style guide. This guide is not just for designers that include your brand identity, a bunch of brand elements and color palette. It is also a consolidated tool to help you tell the world that you have a stand and what that is in a clear and visual manner.
Let’s take a look at how Airbnb’s story is magnified after working with DesignStudio on their rebrand. Its brand focuses on “belonging anywhere” and it’s being reflected clearly in their brand style guide. This is then applied everywhere they make an appearance. Hence, people get it, they know who to go to for a personal, local experience, not just another room for rent marketplace.
In addition, because your brand is an extension of you, not everyone is willing to know more about you and even if they do, not everyone likes what you have to say. The good thing about this brand style guide is, you can and should include everything one needs to know about your story and where you are heading to draw the “right” people who agree with your messaging and actions.
Anyone who isn’t aligned with your brand guidelines may be “filtered” or not included as someone you need to spend time and effort trying to work together. This will benefit both you and them in the long run rather than trying to tolerate each other’s differences without knowing what the issue is.
In this way, you are building a following who genuinely know who you are and love what you do, rather than positioning yourself as a commodity product or service that does not serve a purpose any more than a mere transaction or one-time exchange.
The core importance of a brand style guide is to help you effectively communicate your brand message and brand personality to your team members, content creators, freelancers, contractors, partners and target audience. With consistency, this ultimately helps to build your brand over some time.
For your team, this allows them to help you create the material required to communicate your brand as accurately as possible to the world. I wouldn’t say it provides all the answers, but it sets the stage where all your creative juice can be contained, weeding out unnecessary fillers that don’t mean a thing to your brand. This saves loads of time during brainstorming and strategizing sessions.
For your audience, if your message stays coherent wherever they are in contact with your brand, the people who share the same sentiments will resonate and gravitate towards you. While those who don’t agree stay away. Your audience will start to be more engaged and connected with your brand.
In this way, you start to stand out and it helps you differentiate yourself from your competition in a quiet way. If you don’t have the time or bandwidth to do so, you can easily outsource the work. Just get started with a small budget first and you can improve upon it later on. It’s well worth the investment.
Do you have a brand style guide?
Get started by creating a brand style guide today.
You may have tried your hand on it or searched the web for every template you can find. I’d be doing myself and you a disservice if I don’t offer to do this for you.
If you’re interested, start here.
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