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How to build your brand identity with a style guide

Consistency is king when it comes to branding.

That’s why you will rarely see household brands deviate from their style. It’s why we have come to recognise those brands that have done it so well with just a single colour (Tiffany & co), font (Disney), shape (coca-cola bottle), or slogan (I’m lovin’ it).

These brands live and breathe their brand style. But you don’t need a multi-million-pound budget and a whole squad of designers to inject consistency into your brand.

For small businesses who want to convey their brand image professionally, or to ensure consistency between departments or external parties, spending time developing a brand style guide will allow you to quickly and efficiently communicate your brand requirements. A brand style guide clearly outlines your brand guidelines and ensures professionalism and consistency in all of your messaging.

Firstly, what is a style guide?

A brand style guide, (aka, brand book, brand bible), is a document that lays out the key elements of your brand identity. Your brand identity is more than just your logo, it includes every element that makes your brand unique; every colour, typography, image and tone that plays a part in the look and feel of your brand. It should be used as the foundation for all content produced. The most important thing? It should be clear and replicable by all members of the team.

Start with your personality

Your style guide is your opportunity to bring all members of your team on the same page about the key fundamentals of your brand. This starts by conveying your key principles, values and goals, which set the stage for how your brand personality is conveyed to your audience.

  • Tell the story of your brand by sharing your story.
  • Mission – What is your purpose – what do you aim to achieve?
  • Vision – Why you do what you do – what is your aspirations?
  • Values – How you will deliver – what are your guiding principles and fundamental beliefs
  • Audience – Who does your brand serve – who are your customers, and why do they need you?

Related article: The anatomy of a customer persona

Set out your rules

Your logo is the face of your brand and should be instantly recognisable as yours. In this section of your style guide, spell out your detailed rules for exactly how to use your logo. This will avoid sending out the wrong messages, and ensure that your logo maximises visual impact.

  • Show your logo and any acceptable variants i.e do you have a black and white version, do you have an icon or text-only version
  • What is the excursion zone? I.e the amount of clear space which should be maintained around the logo to maximise impact.
  • What is the minimum size? I.e what is the smallest size your logo is still legible in print and digital?
  • What backgrounds can your logo be used on? I.e is it acceptable to change the background colour or overlay over an image
  • What shouldn’t be done? I.e give some clear examples on which rules should never be broken, for example, changing the colour, cropping, rotating, distorting.

Explain your brand anatomy

To help build brand recognition, being consistent with your brands’ supporting elements go a long way. To add consistency across your collateral, specify your primary colours and complementary supporting colour palette, and typography that reflects your brands’ personality. These elements are what will set you apart from your competitors, and elevate your logo into your identity.

  • What are your primary colours? Include RGB values, CMYK color code and hex codes for use across different media.
  • Do you have a supporting palette? These colours should compliment your brand and be used to add vibrancy
  • What are your fonts of choice? Specify your preferred font across different media, your font should reflect your brands personality
  • How should your font be applied? Do you have different fonts for headers and titles, or are there preferred sizing, i.e larger for headings?

A picture is worth a thousand words

If you regularly use imagery, be it, illustrations or photography in your branding, make sure to include them in your style guide. Imagery is a powerful and engaging element that can quickly and efficiently communicate a message to your audience. They add real value when used consistently with your brand.

  • What is your photographic style? Specify the compositions, colour schemes, styles, and technical specs
  • What subjects/topics are acceptable? Detail the categories of images that fit your brand, is it your products, people, offices, nature etc…
  • How do you use illustrations? Note in what circumstances you use illustrations and specify their purpose
  • What is your style of illustration? Include specifications on the colour palette and style

Your voice

Find your writing style that resonates with your target audience, and aligns with your brands’ key principles outlined at the start of the document. Ensure that your voice is communicated consistently across all of your channels by giving examples in your style guide – practice what you preach.

  • Pinpoint your tone – highlight the way you talk to your customers, whether that be playful or authoritative, It’s all about being consistent
  • Note any specifics – detail any specifics around grammar and punctuation that are important to you
  • Give clear examples – lead by example by giving some examples of how the brand voice can be applied
  • Provide ‘do’s and dont’s’ – show what works for grammar, punctuation, spelling, vocabulary etc, with a list of do’s and dont’s, or include examples of words you like and don’t like.

Put it all into context

Now that you have clearly laid out the key aspects of your brand, it’s time to put it into practice. Show how the guide can be applied across different media, and give real-life examples. Include a list of templates that can be used to ensure consistency.

Our Top Tips:

  • It may sound obvious, but make sure your style guide lives up to your own set of rules – i.e use the tone you mentioned and use the visuals accordingly. Your style guide is an opportunity to demonstrate in real-life how your brand should be applied.
  • Make it accessible to your team. There isn’t much point in a style guide that sits gathering dust. Think about the most practical format to deliver the guide to your team, is it a PDF, or does it sit online?
  • TL;DR* too long didn’t read. Consider creating a one page summary of the key points from the guide. Whilst the style guide in its entirety can go into details, having a cheat sheet with key information can support the team to find answers to any queries, quickly.
  • Show examples throughout the guide. Show visually what should be done and even what shouldn’t be done. Give examples of the brand applied correctly across multiple channels, this can then be used as a visual reference.

Our strategic marketing team has worked at senior levels within industry and offer insight, business acumen and creativity to help you implement your marketing plans. Find out about the marketing support we offer here.

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