How to Create Brand Guidelines (A Step-by-Step Guide)

Maintaining quality and consistency in your brand’s content is a challenge, especially if you’re creating a large volume of content (or working with many content creators). Without the right direction, you can easily end up with Frankenstein-ed content plagued by incorrect colors, misplaced logos, and off-brand messaging. This isn’t just an oversight; it can be a true threat to your brand’s integrity. How, then, do you create content that’s always on brand? With comprehensive brand guidelines.  

How Brand Guidelines Help Your Brand

Everything you create should represent your brand accurately. But the larger your network, the harder it can be to monitor content and make sure everything is up to par. (Sometimes it isn’t even a freelancer’s fault; in-house teams can get a little too lax as well.)

This is why brand guidelines matter. They provide the guidelines any and all content creators need to represent your brand accurately, detailing everything from what to say to how to design content. Not only does this provide consistency, it actually benefits your brand in several ways: 

  • More quality control: Not everyone has an Art Director available to look over every project, and oftentimes you’re up against a deadline. These, and many other variables, can result in content that is disjointed and ineffective. Your reputation depends on the quality of your creative content, so having well-documented guidelines ensures that you’re always putting out content you’re proud of. 
  • Increased comprehension: Clear communication and good design make life easier for your reader or viewer. Guidelines for things like data visualization, color use, or typography help creators design content that is more effective, creating a better content experience overall. Also, this simple act is a tremendous service for the people you want to connect with. It shows that you value their time and are invested in helping them get the info they need and want.
  • Better brand recognition: Brand guidelines help you deliver a cohesive brand experience, making it easier for people to recognize your valuable content. When you provide consistent, high-quality content, people come to rely on you and—even better—seek out your content. They trust you will deliver what they want every time, and that trust is the basis of every strong relationship. 

Example: Whether an e-book or infographic, LinkedIn adheres to a strict visual language, including consistent use of their signature blue color, data visualization style, and other details. As a brand determined to help people find the right career, presenting their creative content with a cohesive style helps readers trust their guidance.

LinkedIn Brand Guidelines

How to Create Brand Guidelines

So, how do you make guidelines that work for everyone? We’ve broken the process down to make it easier to create—and use—your guidelines. Enjoy this simple step-by-step guide.

Step 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 guidelines, such as the award-winning hard copy Fisher and Paykel brand guidelines.)

You can also design an interactive brand guidelines, like we did.

The C5 brand style guide lives online, which makes it easy for our team to access anytime, anywhere. 

How to make a brand style guide

Regardless of the format you choose, your guidelines need to be easily accessible for everyone. Remember: You might be sharing them with freelancers or a content agency.

Step 2: Identify Everything to Include

Your brand guidelines are the summation of your brand strategy. They basically function as your bible; therefore, they should include everything anyone might need to know about your brand.

Different brands will have different needs, but all brand guidelines should include these basic items:

Brand Heart

This is basically the high-level explanation of your brand’s core principles, specifically your:

  • Purpose: Why do you exist?
  • Vision: What future do you want to help create? What does the future look like?
  • Mission: What are you here to do? How do you create that future?
  • Values: What principles guide your behavior? 

You can also include your company history, milestones, or any other relevant info one would want to know about the company’s background. This information is important because it explains the core of your brand: who you are, what you do, and why it matters. 

Tip: If you haven’t articulated your Brand Heart before, download our free workbook below to do it the right way.

Column-Five-Brand-Heart-Workbook-Download

Messaging

This is everything related to how you speak about your company, describe your products, communicate with customers, etc. This includes your:

  • Brand essence (voice, tone, and personality)
  • Value prop
  • Tagline
  • Messaging pillars

You can include any other elements that help people communicate more effectively or provide more context (e.g., a list of words you DON’T use, or the standard descriptions of your services).

Tip: If your messaging needs some work, follow our guides to find your brand voice, write a great tagline, and create your messaging pillars

Visual Guidelines

Design plays a huge role in your brand’s success. (In fact, the Design Management Institute and Motiv found that design-driven companies over the last 10 years have outperformed the S&P 500 by 228%.) Your guidelines should include a comprehensive visual identity to guide content creation, including:

  • Colors
  • Logos
  • Fonts and typography
  • Hierarchy
  • Photography
  • Illustration
  • Iconography
  • Data visualization
  • Interactive elements
  • Video and motion
  • Web design
  • Etc.

Example: We developed the brand guidelines for The Cove, a workspace venture of UCI Applied Innovation. To capture the brand’s mission and essence (a California-based center of innovation), we developed an ocean-themed visual language, including logo, colors, font, iconography, photography, etc. to be used in all creative content. 

create brand guidelines example

Tip: If you haven’t fully designed your visual language (or if you need to refresh it), follow our step-by-step guide to build a brand identity

Miscellaneous Branding Elements (If Applicable)

Depending on the size of your company, the industry you’re in, or the content or products you produce, you might include directions for additional things, such as audio branding—or even scent branding.

Step 3: Create Your Brand Guidelines (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.

Example: The Visage brand style guide includes direction for everything from typography layout to photography.

Visage-Brand-Guidelines-14

For messaging guidelines, show examples of common use-cases, such as:

  • Social copy
  • Press releases
  • Marketing emails
  • Product descriptions

Example: C5’s brand guidelines provide simple tips for writing different types of copy.

Brand guidelines

For visual guidelines, include things like:

  • Logo placement
  • Color palettes
  • Typography placement
  • Hierarchy
  • Image guidelines (dimension, page placement)

Example: The Expanded Special Project for Elimination of Neglected Tropical Diseases guidelines provide direction on proper logo use, including when and where colored logos should be used. 

Brand guidelines

Example: Similarly, the Visage guidelines also include color direction. 

Visage-Brand-Guidelines-6

A few more tips to make your guidelines more effective:

  • Keep it simple. They should be comprehensive but not overwhelming. If your brand guidelines are the size of an encyclopedia, they will only serve as a beautiful paperweight on someone’s desk.
  • Use plain english. Explain everything simply and clearly. If a noob can’t interpret it, you’ll be in trouble.
  • Include handy tips & tools. Do you use an app to double-check your hex codes? If it helps you, it will probably help others.
  • Consider including checklists. It’s probably not realistic for every single piece of creative content to be approved by an Art Director, but it’s important to give content a final edit/once-over to ensure on-brand design. A printed checklist can help catch any of those little errors like incorrect logo placement or font style.

Remember: Even your brand guidelines are a piece of branded content. Inject brand personality wherever you can.

Example: 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.

How to make a brand style guide 2

Step 4: Make Your Brand Guidelines 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 guidelines aren’t easily available and regularly referenced, you might end up with 1,000 brochures printed with your old logo. Make sure your guidelines are 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, create a digital copy to share, too. 

Always Keep Your Brand Guidelines Updated

Your brand is always growing and changing; 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.

Most importantly, have regular conversations about what is or isn’t working, and ask your team for any ideas that will make using brand guidelines easier. 

And, of course, if you don’t have the bandwidth to create your guidelines, holler at us. We’d be happy to take it off your plate.