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Building strong brand guidelines

An undefined brand can wreak havoc on your sales and marketing efforts with a lack of strategy, mixed messaging and inconsistent design doing more harm than good.

Developing and maintaining a strong brand is essential to your company’s overall success. Having clear and strategic guidelines ensures consistency with all communications and design across your company. These guidelines help new and existing employees align on the overall direction of the business while maintaining your brand with all future marketing activities.

Who should read this?

Startup owners and marketing team members looking to clearly define their brand and create consistency across their marketing.

How to build brand guidelines

Step 1: Define your brand

Host a session with your team to align on the following:

  • What’s your purpose? WHY do you do what you do?
  • What’s your mission? WHAT do you do? Who do you serve? How do you serve them?
  • What’s your vision? What do you want to become? What’s your ambition?
  • What are the functional and emotional benefits* you deliver to your customers?
  • What are your values? E.g., bold thinking, leadership, integrity, a will to win.
  • What’s your tone? Fun, professional, more feminine than masculine? If your business were a celebrity or someone famous, who would you be and why?
  • Who’s your audience? What types of companies and roles do you want to target? The CTO? CMO? Who are they? What drives them?

*Functional benefits are the physical benefits you deliver as a business (e.g., losing weight, saving time). Emotional benefits are the mental benefits you provide (e.g., inspiring confidence, making people happy).

Summarize your response to each of the questions above in one to two sentences. Aim to get a consensus on what you’re looking to achieve and communicate.

It’s essential to not only think about where your business is today, but where you’re heading as a company and your future areas of focus.

The output from this first session is designed to form the foundation of your brand and to help shape your overall design and identity.

Step 2: Establish your design and identity

Once you’ve developed your brand positioning and attributes, it’s time to look at design. The goal is to set clear design principles to ensure consistency moving forward.

Establishing brand rules and guidelines
Lay out specific rules around the following design assets:

  1. Colour: What colours best reflect your brand? Different colours can evoke different feelings from your audience. Include the relevant HEX, RGB and CMYK codes for your guidelines.
  2. Typography: What are your primary and secondary fonts? What are you using for headlines and your body copy?
  3. Imagery: What types of imagery best reflect the brand positioning you’ve created? Think about different formats—e.g., imagery for blogs, print collateral and slides. When and where should each image be used? If you’re using custom fonts or stock imagery, provide clear guidance for where users can download or access these assets.
  4. Logo usage: It’s essential to create clear guidelines around your logo and how it can and cannot be used. You’d be surprised how many designers take liberties to amend or tweak corporate identities.

Making clear rules for using the elements above will ensure consistency in your brand and all marketing efforts.

Step 3: Package up your positioning and identity

Package up the guidelines and rules you’ve created into a PowerPoint or PDF to circulate amongst your company and suppliers.

Where do people typically get stuck in building brand guidelines?

1. Clearly defining their purpose
Companies can struggle to align on the “why” they do what they do (above and beyond addressing a human need or bringing in revenue).

Avoid getting stuck:
Think about the greater value you’re bringing to the world with your business. What is your product or service ultimately contributing to? Check out Simon Sinek on the power of “why” for more direction and insight on crafting your “why.”

2. Keeping it simple
Businesses have a difficult time articulating their value and positioning. They end up overcomplicating it or, worse, they lack clarity and come across too broadly.

Avoid getting stuck:
Less is more! Streamline your thinking for each of the questions above into one or two well-crafted and punchy sentences that capture exactly what you’re about.

3. Imagery and design
Companies can struggle to find the right high-res and premium imagery to complement their positioning. They forget the warm, human element and often focus too much on the technology side of their offering.

Avoid getting stuck:
Free stock image sites like unsplash.com and pexels.com offer a range of great high-res, royalty-free imagery. Shutterstock packages for five or 10 images are also available at a reasonable price. Incorporate people with your design where you can—ideally ones who are showcasing positive emotions. Empathy drives sales.

Additional reading