Tuesday, 19 November 2013

What are Brand Guidelines and why should I care?

Brand Guidelines?

Also known as brand manuals or brand standards, brand guidelines summarise what the brand is all about from a strategic perspective and provide detailed instructions on how the brand identity elements such as the logo, colour scheme and fonts should be developed, used, and communicated.

Why Should My Company Care?

Your company should create standards for all the brands in its portfolio in order to:
  • Ensure the brand message is reproduced correctly, consistently, and in line with the company objectives across different departments, communication channels and suppliers
  • Help graphic designers create a unified “look and feel” for the marketing communication materials
  • Allow the designers to focus on elements where he/she can add value and eliminates unnecessary changes made for the sake of being different
  • Provide company employees with focus and direction
  • Save marketers time and increases their productivity
  • Provide a one stop source of information about the brand to the new employees

Who Will Benefit?

The document will benefit every person who is involved in managing, interacting and representing the brand:
  • Company employees
  • Outside service providers: graphic designers, web designers, social media experts, industrial designers, product managers
  • Franchisees

Who Is Involved in Creating The Guidelines?

The Marketing department in collaboration with the agency of record is usually responsible for putting together the document. However all departments should be involved in the process. Company employees should be trained to become brand ambassadors since their buy-in is needed to ensure consistency in communicating the brand message.

Other considerations

Since the document is distributed to a wide audience with diverse backgrounds, it should be written in an easy to understand language that avoids unnecessary jargon. Make sure you include many examples and make it “visual” rather than a long and boring collection of sentences.

The guidelines should be accessible by all the parties involved in the brand’s strategy and communication. Don’t forget to distribute them to every new employee and service provider. Many companies choose to make the guidelines publicly available, which show professionalism and dedication to building a strong brand image.

Brand guidelines reflect a company’s effort to integrate its visual, verbal and written communication across different mediums and channels. Let’s take closer look at the most common sections found in a brand guidelines document:


This first section provides an overview of the document and explains the purpose of writing it and identifies its target audience. Usually written by the company’s owner or CEO, the introductory message usually includes the story behind the brand and the benefits it brings to the customer. This is what Honeywell® writes in their introduction:

For more than a century, the Honeywell name has been synonymous with technology solutions that improve people’s lives. In these complicated times, more than ever before in our history, customers are turning to Honeywell to help solve many of the world’s most complex problems.”

Brand Hierarchy

This chapter is a must for companies that market their products under multiple brands. It provides an overview of how the brand portfolio is structured into master brands, brand extensions, co-brands and endorsed brands. Some brand manuals include a visual map that shows the different brands and how they relate to each other. If your company owns only one brand then you can skip this section.

Brand Vision, Mission, Objectives and Values

Every company, big or small, should have its vision, mission, objectives and values clearly defined and communicated. These elements help the company create a more profound connection with its customers, and provide inspiration and focus to the employees. The brand guidelines is the perfect place to have the vision, mission, objectives and values clearly stated. EasyGroup®’s brand manual contains a slide solely dedicated to their mission statement:
“Our mission is to manage and extend Europe’s leading value brand to more products and services, whilst creating real wealth for all stakeholders.”

Brand Differentiation Strategy

One of the most important sections of the document, this part summarizes the company’s competitive advantage, including the main differentiation points and supporting elements. It is particularly important for the employees and external service providers to understand the uniqueness of the company in the competitive environment so they can work towards sustaining that competitive advantage and properly communicating it.

Brand Tagline

An integral part of the branding strategy, the tagline/slogan summarizes the brand positioning in a just a few words, and should be included in all the communication materials. The brand guidelines should address the do’s and don’ts of using the slogan, such as typography, colour, spelling, punctuation marks, and location on the page and vis-à-vis the logo.

Brand Personality, Tone and Manner

People often describe brands in terms of human characteristics: Apple is “cool”, FedEx is “reliable”, etc. Each brand has a unique “personality” that has to be nurtured and consistently reflected in the marketing collateral. In order for a designer to create materials that facilitate an emotional connection between the brand and its audience he/she has to fully understand when human characteristics the brand should reflect. A brand builds its personality on multiple elements: heritage, market positioning, colours, fonts, imagery, and communication style, to name just a few. A comprehensive brand guideline document provides an in-depth look at how the brand speaks and behaves.

Brand Name

One of the most powerful assets of any company, the brand name should be correctly communicated and used. The guidelines should describe what the name symbolizes, the correct spelling, the fonts associated with the symbol, and the inclusion (or not) of the registration mark. Some companies go to greater details and even recommend generic names that can be associated with their brand name. Here is an excerpt from Cerflon®‘s brand guidelines:

The ® and after the CERFLON® and CERTEX™ brand name are necessary every time, whether in the logo brand, in a headline, or in the text of the document. It must be the same font size or a smaller font size than CERFLON® and CERTEX™…It may be beneficial to use a descriptive or generic term as well as the brand name when marketing the product. This is acceptable with prior approval from CRT.”

Brand Colours

Colours become very often associated with brands. Think of the Yellow Pages or IBM Blue (Big blue) for example. A typical brand colour system consists of primary colours (most frequently used) as well as secondary and even tertiary ones (used for backgrounds, headings, subheadings, paragraph, bullet points etc). The guidelines should include a visual listing of the colours in each category (including the Pantone number), as well as details on the proper use of each colour in the communication process.


This section includes the listing of all the fonts that are used to communicate the brand message. Effective guidelines include many examples of how different fonts are used in headings, sub headings, main body, footer, etc, slogan and logo.
An excerpt from the easyGroup® brand manual: “The Cooper Black font has played an important part in building the Easy brand. Its bold, confident and distinct appearance has made it recognizable and associated with easy. Its soft friendly curves have given a warm personality to the easy businesses.”

Brand Imagery

It has been said that a picture is worth a thousand words. In Marketing, photography is used to convey the brand personality in a simple and direct manner. Brand imagery also help position the brand in the mind of the consumer: Apple, for example, uses product key shots to highlight the elegant design and leading edge technology. LG® decided to focus on people rather than objects, as described in their brand guidelines: “People photography focuses on smiling people- a connection to the LG® logo- in real environments from around the globe. They are happy, confident and smart.”
In order for your marketing collateral to reflect a consistent theme, take time and write the specific attributes that photography should convey. This will make your collaboration with photographers, graphic designers and advertising agencies much easier. It will also makes choosing stock photography faster as many websites have implemented filters that allow you to get the results you want quickly.

Real Life Examples

It is particularly useful to show examples of how the brand elements are being used in communication materials (print, web and advertising) and public relation campaigns. The last pages of the document usually include screen shots of the website, catalogue covers, newspaper ads, PR announcements, signage, merchandising, and branded clothing. These real life example really help with maintaining the brand consistency.


A brand’s logo is the most distinctive element of its identity. It is also the symbol that’s most frequently used by the employees and external service providers. As a result it is important for brand managers to implement strict guidelines regarding its usage, such as the Pantone® colour(s), background colours, alternative colour variations, minimum size requirements, and placement. Make sure you also list the elements that are not acceptable, such drop shadows, boxes, fonts and sizes.
In the link below you will see how Apple control their Logo placement. 

The contents of brand guideline documents vary greatly from one brand to another, and the list above is by no means exhaustive. No matter how simple or complex, a brand guideline document is guaranteed to save marketing professionals time and help them be more productive.