Protecting your brand building investment

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Quality is something every brand aims to communicate. All we have to keep in mind is that consistency communicates quality.

 

Quality in branding signifies the ability to reliably deliver on expectations. A foodie may consider Chicken McNuggets a low quality meal, but everyone knows to expect a consistent standard.

The perceived quality of your brand of course first requires a product or service that people value. Expressing that value consistently is a core objective of brand building.

Developing comprehensive brand guidelines can require a significant investment. The payoff comes in more cost-effective brand building processes, simplified decision making and more positive perceptions of your offering.

An overwhelming desire 

“Communicate consistently” is easy to say, but it’s notoriously difficult to achieve. People tasked with managing a brand almost inevitably experience a strong urge to change things.

It’s only natural to seek improvement, or align something with our personal taste. Effective brand builders resist this urge. Change that genuinely creates value requires careful consideration.

Change needn’t be inevitable  

An important tool for achieving consistency is the brand guidelines. Sometimes referred to as the brand bible, brand guidelines specify how the brand is to be presented in a range of common situations.

Developing and enforcing a clear set of brand guidelines avoids arbitrary changes to your brand, often introduced through personal bias and individual tastes. Guidelines ensure you communicate with the consistency that will express quality.

Who needs guidance? 

Brand guidelines aim to inform the people responsible for achieving a consistent experience across your brand. These include brand owners, brand managers, creative and digital agency teams, and freelancers – photographers, illustrators, writers.... 

Guidelines also inform signmakers, architects and business partners. In fact anyone who is presenting, developing or expressing your brand.


How much detail does your brand require?  

Brand guidelines range in size from a few pages to multiple documents, sometimes running into hundreds of pages. The size and scope of a set of brand guidelines generally correlates to the heritage and complexity of the brand, or portfolio of brands, in question.

It can be very detailed. Multiple languages, complex brand architecture and subbrands all require deliberate guidance.

Developing comprehensive brand guidelines can require a significant investment. The payoff comes in more cost-effective brand building processes, simplified decision making and more positive perceptions of your offering.

Effective brand guidelines look like this

A useful brand guidelines document will ideally open with a few graphic pages that aim to get the reader excited about the brand.

These pages also demonstrate the application of key visuals and messages. 

They also demonstrate the personality and tone of the brand. We can describe someone’s personality. But it’s no comparison to meeting them face-to-face. A brand is like that too.

An index is essential for the user – hyperlinked if the guidelines are digital – which in today’s world, they should be.

Key messages and personality

Right after the index, typically a brief description of the brand, with maybe a little history is included. This gives brand building teams a clear and consistent shared understanding of what the brand is all about.

The guidelines will next go into a section about key messages. This section is primarily for brand managers and writers. It will explain the positioning phrase – the central message – and how it is applied. 

At this point the brand model will be interpreted into messages that directly face your audiences. Your guidelines should also explain the personality of the brand and what it promises, and show examples.

Guidelines are tools that inform skilled creative talent, and cannot replace experienced people 

A helping hand for writers

Some brands, especially those that publish a lot of content, will also develop a style guide for writers. A style guide allows writers to develop articles that are grammatically and linguistically consistent across all brand communications.

This kind of consistency may seem trivial to some, but many people do notice inconsistencies in text, and it all contributes to an overall consistent quality of presentation.

The guidelines will then usually explain the logo, perhaps with the origin story of what the design symbolises. It will detail correct application across a wide variety of use cases. These include how it is applied on objects of varying sizes, in monochrome and colour, against backgrounds and with special effects, and digitally.

Flying our colours

Colour is important when creating brand consistency – and is a surprisingly complex and technical topic, especially when it comes to printing.

A section of the brand guidelines will cover the correct colour palette to be used with your brand. Mandated colours have to be produced consistently across a variety of colour systems – different digital and printing methods all require individual technical specifications. 

Typography can considerably change the tone of a message

Fonts fonts fonts

Typography is a crucial aspect of brand building. The guidelines will specify what fonts to use and when to use them. Typically a brand will be associated with a maximum of three typefaces. 

The choice of typeface has a subtle but very real effect on the personality of the brand. Headline typefaces will be detailed. Ideally, a body text typeface comes with a number of font sizes and has light, heavy, italics, bold choices. The typefaces should be available as webfonts for online consistency. 

Infographics, photography, illustration styles 

Comprehensive brand guidelines go on to document how images are to be presented. And perhaps what image styles to avoid. 

The guidelines will instruct photographers and videomakers on the style of imagery to shoot, and illustrators which style to use. It may include directions for infographics, animation, audio and in some cases even scent.

Finite boundaries for endless possibilities 

A brand is applied across multiple touchpoints. From presentation decks, to outdoor advertising, digital banners, vehicles, point-of-sale, stationery.... There’s no end to it.

Brand guidelines for a franchise business or multinational will aim to produce specifications for every situation. If they don’t, the brand will surely be misapplied. The reality for most brands is the guidelines need to be as detailed as necessary to achieve a consistent quality.

Protecting your brand investment

Your brand guidelines budget will depend on the complexity and size of your business and communications needs.

Producing brand guidelines is labour-intensive and a task for skilled and experienced brand builders. It’s one of the reasons why a rebrand for a multinational business can require such a big investment. 

Important points about brand guidelines

  • Guidelines are produced after a brand has been developed because they require a consistent, tested underlying system. An existing brand that has been applied without guidelines will almost certainly have elements that need redesigning
  • Guidelines need ongoing review and enhancement as different situations arise and the brand evolves
  • Guidelines are tools that inform professional creative and production teams – inexperienced people will need training to apply them

Considering the perception of quality produced, with corresponding customer loyalty and premium prices, a relatively modest investment in brand guidelines can deliver very good returns.

Key takeaway: An investment in brand guidelines is an investment in quality

Is your brand consistently presented across your touchpoints? If not, the issue may lie with your current brand guidelines.

Is your brand consistently presented across your touchpoints? If not, the issue may lie with your current brand guidelines.

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