What to Include in Your Brand Guidelines

A tool for brand management.

Wendy Ruyle 7.14.2015

Brand management isn’t accomplished by the marketing department alone anymore. That’s why brand guidelines are so important. Here’s what to include in yours.

Everyone in your company is a steward of your brand and they need to know how to represent the organization. A brand guidelines document will help everyone use the tools you’ve worked hard to produce. This document may also be called a style guide, visual system guidelines, or identity guidelines.

Your company’s size and structure will dictate what items should be included. If your company consists of two people, communication about your brand is pretty easy. When you get up to 25+ employees, you need to have more documentation so your workforce can be efficient. If they don’t have to worry about creating their own email signature or an invoice template, they can get down to doing the job you hired them to do.

Introduction

Start with a few brief paragraphs about why guidelines are important and what it means to your brand. When your team understands the reasoning behind the rules, they’ll often follow them.

Brand messages

Let your staff know how to talk about your company and promote your unique competitive advantages by including an overall message platform (who you are, what you do, and why it matters), brand attributes, talking points or an elevator pitch, targeted audience messages, taglines for the company as a whole or for specific campaigns, and any headlines or phrases that are used regularly.

Writing style guidelines

If your employees or contractors regularly write about your products or services, make sure they are using the same styles for grammar and punctuation. Select a standard style to start (Associated Press or Chicago Manual of Style) and then indicate any variations you want to implement. Do you use serial commas? Do you use initial caps or title caps for subheads? Do you use spaces around em-dashes? List out any common words or jargon used in your industry and what your standard is going to be: Email or e-mail? Nonprofit or non-profit? Maintaining consistency will enhance the professionalism of your brand.

Also include some guidance about writing tone. Is your company buttoned up at all times or should the language be more friendly and approachable? This will tie back to your brand messages and attributes.

Identity (or logo)

The guidelines should include how, when, and where to use it, what color versions are an option, preferred sizes, what clear space should be around it, any variations (vertical, horizontal, avatars, business division logos), and where the electronic files can be found. You can also include how not to use the identity (wrong colors, incorrect lockups, stretching the logo, etc.) to help illustrate the guidelines.

Color palette

Show what colors are primary and secondary, when each color should be used (for example, if you have certain colors tied to business units). Include specified Pantone® colors as well as 4-color and RGB formulas.

Typography

Indicate your corporate typefaces and alternatives for use on the web or in Microsoft Word documents. Give recommendations of which typefaces to use for body copy, headlines, subheads, etc.

Visual elements

This section should show a standard style of photography and any graphic elements like patterns, illustrations, or infographics.

Examples

What you should include here will depend on your company. Any materials that might be created or used by your staff should be shown—letterhead, business cards, other stationery items, electronic Word templates, collateral, proposal systems, advertising, websites, PowerPoint templates, email signatures, address blocks or sign-offs, social media avatars and backgrounds, enewsletters, tradeshow banners or booths, signage, packaging, promotional items, vehicle graphics, etc.

Don’t forget to include information about where logos, artwork, and templates can be accessed or who to contact with questions. If your employees can’t access the tools, they aren’t going to use them.

You may not need everything on this list. Find the right balance for your business to provide the tools needed without extra fluff to sort through. And remember that guidelines are always evolving and new brand elements will be added over time. Make regular updates and communicate them to your team.

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