Director of Web & Interactive Content, Speaker, Host of 'Content Lab' Podcast
August 21st, 2015
It can always be a little disconcerting when you walk into your favorite retail store, start searching for that one product you love (you know exactly where to find all of your favorite brands, of course), but you can't seem to find it. But it's there. It's right in front of you, In fact, it never moved.
But you didn't notice it at first, because the company changed the look of the packaging. Again!
It's frustrating, isn't it? The new product design isn't doing a good enough job representing the brand style that you were familiar with. Businesses create style guides for this very reason. They want to make it easy to keep their company image consistent across the board and to build trust with their customers.
If you don't have a set of brand style guides to drive your marketing (and your website), you are missing out on a huge opportunity to establish yourself as trusted, respected and professional business.
What Is a Brand Style Guide?
In short, a brand style guide is a way for a business to lay down a set of rules, or guidelines, as to how they want the company to be presented to the world.
Aside from the term "brand style guide," you may hear "brand guidelines," "brand standards," "brand identity guides" or just "style guides."
A style guide can include anything from how your logo should be used, which colors or fonts accompany it, to your business' voice – how the writing style and overall presentation appeals to your audience and showcases who your company is.
Since these both tie into your brand as a whole, however, it's not a bad idea to have one big style guide to cover all the aspects and standards of your brand.
In this blog, however, we are just going to focus on why you need a design style guide for your brand, and the benefits it provides to you, your company and your customers.
Confidence in Your Business
First and foremost, having a set of style guidelines for design helps to show potential customers that you are professional, and that you are a trustworthy solution to their problems.
When you aren't using brand guides, the content and products you create can end up looking very different from one another. Worse, your content could look like it belongs to another company, rather than looking like your own hard work.
Instead, with brand guides in place, show your audience that you are an expert. Your content should be able to speak for itself, but having consistent colors and fonts will really bring it to life and make more of an impression. Plus, stamping your logo on your content will add that final mark of professionalism.
If you're using another company or partner's content (with permission, of course), see if you can get permission to rebrand it to match your other content.
Many Apple fans out there wouldn't hesitate to trust a new Apple product. The Apple logo is almost a seal of approval, letting avid fans know that they can buy that product without having to worry about qualtity.
That is the true power of a strong brand. And yes, it's something that must be earned.
Organization for Yourself
As a designer, I can tell you that it can be a major pain to keep track of the brand elements and concepts for all of our clients. After a while, you come to know the brand standards by heart, but it can be so easy to forget how one client wants their images to look or the exact color numbers for another client's logo.
Brand style guides are a way to keep all of this important brand info in one place. I would suggest saving it to the same place where your logo files are, so that everyone has a clear understanding how to use the logos properly, and how the other elements of your brand work with your logo.
But style guides aren't just for the designer. Every employee should be aware that their company has brand standards. While the more detailed, nitty-gritty brand rules may not apply to the work they do, they must always be aware of the importance of brand consistency, even in emails, presentations and letters.
And they must have access to the fonts and logos that they might need on a day-to-day basis. Don't make anyone work extra to figure out what your brand styles are.
The moment brand style guidelines seem too complicated to bother with is when our content stops excelling. Without it our content is no longer going the extra mile, no longer giving 110 percent. And when is that ever good for marketing?
Brand guidelines should be detailed, but clear and able to explain your brand overall with simple examples of correct and incorrect uses of your branding.
Consistency for Your Audience
Branding really ends up coming down to keeping all of your materials consistent.
An SDL study from 2014 determined that no matter which devices Millenials were opting to use, 60 percent expected a consistent brand and user experience. Wow!
Your audience expects you to lead them through the marketing funnel with content that is consistently branded. This means that your calls-to-action match your landing pages, which match your emails, which look like that annual report you snail-mailed out to your closest partners.
I know everyone says content is king, but I am going to be the snooty designer who says – at the very least – that designconsistency is key to successful content.
And as the article on the SDL study noted: "[Consistency] reinforces your identity, and in a marketplace full of competition and noise, it keeps your audience focused on the most important message of all – yours."
Do you have a brand style guide for your company? If you do, great! Be sure your company is making the most of it, and really letting it guide the look of the content you produce. If you don't, get on it! Or, get someone who is familiar with your brand to build some guidelines.
It is important that everyone in your company understands that there is an expectation for higher-quality materials. Give them easy access to the style guide and to branded templates that will help everyone keep things simple, but still consistent and well-rounded.