How to create brand guidelines for your small business
Updated: Nov 25, 2021
Why are brand guidelines are a must for small businesses?
Do you have brand guidelines? Or have they have been on your to-do list for a while, but not sure where to start? Brand guidelines are relevant and beneficial to have in place for all businesses, regardless of company size.
What are brand guidelines?
Think of brand guidelines as a manual of your brand. They provide a guide to how your brand should be used in all communications. Brand guidelines also known as style guides define how the elements that make up your brand are used and fundamentally dictate how your business communicates with your audience. They help make the connection between your product, corporate identity, logo and your brand promise. All these elements should connect in a coherent way and resonate with both prospective and existing customers.
I've included examples of my own brand guidelines for Sharp Thinking so you can see how they can work.
So why do you need brand guidelines?
Brand guidelines are important for a number of reasons:
Brand guidelines help to provide consistency. Consistency is absolutely key to helping build a brand and creating brand recognition. Well-crafted brand guidelines ensure the same look and feel regardless of who authors or designs a document. It should enforce standards and rules, not to limit creativity but to keep your identity consistent.
This extends to your tone of voice. A successful business should have consistent behavior across the entire organisation whether dealing with customer services or the accounts department. Tone of voice guidelines which form part of your brand guidelines will ensure staff handle things the ‘company way’ and there is consistent behaviour.
2. Brand guidelines help to improve quality
Brand guidelines will ensure you always maintain a high level of quality and your communication will go through some form of quality control. This will professionalise your brand helping improve your image and reputation.
3. Can save time debating
Brand guidelines can help make things easier when you are working with a new agency, supplier or new member of staff. They can help speed things up and save a lot of time and heartache.
3. Staff motivation
Brand guidelines can help to motivate a team. The introductory part of the guidelines will include your brand strategy and should include your business mission, vision and business goals. This will ensure staff know what your business is about and where you are heading which are key for morale.
4. Leverage your brand across all your touch points
Well thought out guidelines will consider how to apply your brand across all your touch points. This will include all communication - not just your marketing collateral. For example, your email signature and your customer quotations.
So what should your brand guidelines contain?
Brand overview – what is your mission statement and what are your brand values
Logo usage – how does your logo work across different formats and are there different colour variants
Colour palette – what colours and Pantone references should be used
Typography – what fonts can be used and what sizes
Tone of voice – this is how you want your copy and messaging to come across to your audience – formal/informal, serious/light-hearted
Corporate stationery – how does your brand work across letterheads, business cards etc
Social media application – how does your brand work across different social media platforms. Many platforms allow you to personalise your profile page requiring landscape banners, so consider the practicalities of this. Do you also need to adapt your logo to a special size and do you need a template for posts?
Website guidelines – how does your brand translate on your website?
Photography guidelines – what photography can be used. Consider the style, colours and scenarios/settings.
Copy guidelines – it is incredibly useful to have a glossary of words and abbreviations to be used to ensure consistency.
Advertising treatments – think about the main forms of advertising you use and will use in the future. How does your brand work across print ads, website banners, signage, point of sale and leaflets?
Co-branding – many brands work with external partners so consider how your brand will work with multiple logos.
Here are a few pointers to help:
Try and future-proof your brand – think of the main scenarios you may need to think about in the future
Find the right balance to provide guidance and be flexible enough to allow creativity
Less is more - try and keep as succinct as you can. Jotting down every rule possible will just overwhelm your audience and potentially put them off. Instead, you need to provide encouragement and allow the reader to interpret the guidelines so they can make day to day decisions easily.
Getting the tone right - I've talked about tone of voice and providing encouragement, consider how the brand guidelines may come across to the reader and the language you are using. Although, you want compliance, provide motivational, positive language.
Updates - your brand guidelines are not set in stone. Label them as the first version. It is always possible to provide updates later on.
Brand guidelines are essential to keep your brand identity consistent, recognisable and ownable. It is well worth the time creating some guidelines. Have a go, they really can help.