Maintaining quality and consistency in your brand’s content is a challenge. From the product copy on your site to the logo on your business card, any and all content should accurately represent your brand.
But the larger your network, the harder it can be to monitor content and make sure everything is up to par—especially if you work with a lot of outside content creators. With no direction, you can end up with Frankenstein-ed content plagued by incorrect colors, misplaced logos, and off-brand messaging.
Sometimes it isn’t a freelancer’s fault; it’s your own team that gets a little too reckless. People who work in-house often assume that whatever they do is right for the brand, and they can be equally responsible for steering things off course.
This is why a brand style guide is so important. Your brand is in everyone’s hands, so equipping your team with the tools they need to properly present it is crucial. With a brand style guide, you have a document that dictates exactly how your brand should look and communicate, helping ensure that your content always represents who you are and what you’re about.
How to Create a Brand Style Guide
So, how do you make a brand style guide that works for everyone? We’ve broken the process down to make it easier to create—and use. Whether you’re refreshing your brand style guide or building one from scratch, just follow this simple step-by-step guide.
1) Choose Your Format
Depending on your needs, resources, and time, you may choose to design static guidelines that can easily be distributed as a PDF (or live on your server somewhere). Or you may design them for print. (We’ve seen plenty of gorgeous printed style guides, such as the award-winning hard copy Fisher and Paykel brand guidelines.)
You can also design an interactive brand style guide, like we did.
The C5 brand style guide lives online, which makes it easy for our team to access anytime, anywhere.
Regardless, they need to be in a format that is easy for anyone to access. (Remember: You might be sharing them with freelancers or a content agency.)
2) Outline Everything to Include
Your brand style guide is basically a summation of the brand guideline outlined in your brand strategy. It functions as your your brand bible. Therefore, it should include everything anyone might need to know about the brand.
Different brands will have different needs, but your outline (which will likely become your TOC) should include these basic items:
Core brand identity: This is basically the high-level explanation of the company’s beliefs and identity, specifically:
- Vision: Why your company exists
- Mission: What your company does
- Values: How you do what you do
This can also include your company history, milestones, or any other relevant info one would want to know about the company’s background.
Verbal guidelines: This is everything related to how you speak about the company, describe your products, communicate with customers, etc. This mostly includes:
- Brand positioning
- Value prop
- Messaging architecture
- Voice and tone
- Anything else helpful or relevant
Visual guidelines: This is anything a designer needs to know about designing content, including:
- Fonts and typography
- Data visualization
- Interactive elements
- Video and motion
- Web design
Misc. branding elements: Depending on the size of your company, the industry you’re in, or the content or products you produce, you might have guidelines for different things, such as audio branding—or even scent branding.
Note: Your guidelines should be comprehensive but not overwhelming. If your brand bible is the size of an encyclopedia, it will only serve as a beautiful paperweight on someone’s desk.
3) Create Your Brand Style Guide (With Examples)
Now that you have your outline, you can write your guidelines, including dos and don’ts, how-tos, and real-world examples. For each section, give enough detail to explain but don’t be exhausting. Helpful brand guidelines don’t just tell—they show. Remember: Design is there to do the heavy lifting.
The Visage brand style guide includes direction for everything from typography layout to photography.
For verbal guidelines, show examples of common use-cases, such as:
- Social copy
- Press releases
- Marketing emails
- Product descriptions
C5’s brand style guide provides simple tips for writing different types of copy.
For visual guidelines, include things like:
- Logo placement
- Color palettes
- Typography placement
- Image guidelines (dimension, page placement)
The Expanded Special Project for Elimination of Neglected Tropical Diseases brand style guide provides direction on proper logo use, including when and where colored logos should be used.
The Visage guidelines also include color direction.
A few more things to keep in mind:
- Use plain english. Explain everything simply and clearly. If a noob can’t interpret it, you’ll be in trouble.
- Include handy tips: Do you use an app to double-check your hex codes? If it helps you, it will probably help others.
- Include content checklists. Even if they have good intentions, content creators are busy. For designers, copywriters, or your social team, you can make life easier (and help ensure compliance, as uptight as that sounds) with final content checklists.
Remember: Even your brand guidelines are a piece of branded content. Inject brand personality wherever you can.
We made sure to write C5’s brand guidelines in a way that reflects our culture and sense of humor, as demonstrated in our brand voice directions.
4) Make Your Brand Style Guide Easy to Access
One of the most common reasons people ignore brand guidelines is simply because they don’t know where to find them. If your brand style guide isn’t easily available and regularly referenced, you might end up with 1,000 brochures printed with your old logo.
Once you’ve created it, make sure your beautiful brand style guide is stored in an easy-to-find place (e.g., company server or company Wiki) and shared with everyone, especially new employees or creative partners. Even if you have a hard copy style guide, create a digital copy that’s easy to share.
5) Keep It Updated
Your brand is always growing and changing, so your brand guidelines should reflect that. Work with your brand team to schedule regular content reviews to make sure the guidelines are being appropriately applied. Brand stakeholders should also identify what needs to be updated, expanded, clarified, removed, or edited.
Improve Where You Can
While it’s not realistic or necessary for all content to get approval from the brand team, do your best to incorporate processes or tools that will help, such as checklists, templates, or other helpful tips. Have regular conversations about what is or isn’t working, and ask your team for any ideas that will make their lives easier. Remember: Building a brand is a hell of a lot easier if everyone’s on board.
For more tips on articulating your brand identity:
- See our step-by-step guide to building a brand identity.
- Follow our tips to create a strong logo.
- Try these 5 exercises to find your brand voice.
Or holler at us if you need someone to help take things off your plate.