In digital marketing (and marketing in general), brand identity is everything. How else are you supposed to stand out from all the other brands clamoring in your niche? But sometimes, staying true to your brand can be hard, especially when you’re constantly creating tons of content.
To keep everything coherent and your brand’s identity strong, consider creating a brand style guide. A style guide documents the rules for your brand’s visual content, including its story, logo, color palette, typography, imagery, and voice.
Before you dive into the visual elements, you need to get your brand’s story on paper. Knowing exactly what your brand’s about will come in handy as you work through your style guide.
Start with your brand’s mission. A mission statement lays the foundation for a brand’s overall strategy. Your mission statement can range in length anywhere from a sentence to a paragraph, but it should answer three main questions:
- What is your brand’s purpose?
- What are its main goals?
- What sets your brand apart from the competition?
When writing out your mission, you should use language that’s easily understood but is still focused on specific details. Check out Amazon’s original mission statement:
“To be Earth’s most customer-centric company, where customers can find and discover anything they might want to buy online, and endeavors to offer its customers the lowest possible prices.”
In one sentence, Amazon answers all three questions. Amazon exists to provide customers with a comprehensive shopping experience. Amazon’s main goal is to have world-class customer service, and as for competition, the company stands out by offering customers the “lowest possible prices” on products.
As the hallmark of your brand, your logo deserves to look its best wherever and whenever it appears. This section of your style guide shares instructions on how your logo should appear across a range of media types.
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The logo you use most of the time is called your primary logo. Ideally, you’d want to use your primarily logo whenever possible, but sometimes certain projects or designs work better with your secondary logos. These are variations of your primary logo and generally differ in size, color, and other design elements.
While there’s nothing wrong with creativity, you can’t give someone free-rein when it comes to your logo. Carefully define your logo’s acceptable uses:
- Size. The minimum size at which your logo can appear, measured in pixels (px) or millimeters (mm).
- Color. Indicates which logo to use in different color situations.
- e.g. select monochromatic logo in black-and-white designs.
- Placement. How close your logo appears next to other elements in a layout.
From influencing emotions to building brand recognition, colors are a big deal. Using color consistently throughout your marketing materials gives your brand a cohesive, polished look. Here, you’ll establish your brand’s color palette.
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Your colors may play many roles. Some might strictly work for logos, while others look better as background fills. Be sure to include instructions on how each color should be used.
Colors also don’t render the same way across different media. What looks good on-screen might look terrible in print. To maintain accuracy, your style guide should list the different identification codes for each color in your palette. Standard forms include:
- HEX. Six-digit character codes that correspond to specific colors. Used for web design.
- RGB. A color process that renders colors using combinations of red, green, and blue. Used for digital displays and applications.
- CMYK. A color process that overlays cyan, magenta, yellow, and black ink dots to create colors. Used for printing.
- Pantone. Refers to the Pantone Matching System, a standardized color catalog that help designers accurately match colors to preserve consistency. Used for printing.
Next comes your brand’s typography guidelines. You may not think it, but fonts heavily influence how people perceive your brand. Like colors, typeface styles create emotional associations. For instance, serif typefaces are seen as timeless and respectable, while sans serif typefaces appear more modern and clean.
Once you’ve decided which typefaces best represent your brand, get to work laying out the rules for each. Are bold fonts acceptable? Should fonts use a certain color? What sizes look best? These are all questions to answer in this section.
Specify which typefaces are used for header or body text. Traditionally, many designers assign easy-to-read sans serif type for body text and reserve more stylized typefaces for headers. Of course, this is your style guide, so go with what best fits your brand.
Anyone can pick a stock photo from a gallery, slap it on an ad, and call it a day. But truly effective design relies on carefully selected photos and illustrations to get messages across. That’s where your brand’s imagery guidelines come in.
Treat this section as a mood board of sorts. Curate photos or illustrations that match a particular mood associated with your brand. For instance, if your brand caters toward children, try looking for images that are bright and colorful.
The images you choose for this section should also act as technical examples on what kinds of compositions, lighting, styling, and subject matter are appropriate for your brand.
So, you’re finished with all the visual elements. To round out your style guide, let’s talk about your brand’s voice.
Just like people, not all brands “speak” the same way. Some keep their language informal, while others aim for a more sophisticated tone. Many aren’t afraid of using industry jargon. Some stay far away from adopting trendy phrases. Lots of brand style guides include word blacklists, giving examples of words and phrases to avoid (like those used by a competitor).
When shaping out your brand’s voice, consider your target audience. What tone would resonate best with them: conversational or professional? Does your audience already know a lot about your field? Keep in mind traditional demographics, like age and gender, too.
Putting It Together
Once you’re done with all the details, save all your style information into a shareable document for safekeeping. As your brand evolves over time, be sure to keep your style guide up-to-date with the latest changes.
Suffering from a creative block or need some inspiration? Have a look at these awesome style guides created by major brands: