Are you a company that suffers from brand schizophrenia? While "branding" can be daunting, there is one tool that EVERY business of any size can use to put their best foot forward. Are you using it?
How do you know if you are suffering from brand schizophrenia? If two of your marketing pieces are placed side-by-side and they look like they came from two different companies, then you likely have a problem. Companies need to learn not only how to brand themselves to create a strong message, but also how to develop and showcase their visual brand in the best possible way.
The best way to do this? By implementing and adhering to a brand style guide.
What the Heck is a Brand Style Guide?
It's a blueprint for your brand. By definition, a style guide is a comprehensive document that lays out the various aspects of your visual brand and the rules for applying them. In essence, it is the end-all, be-all rule book for the use of a company's branding assets. For this reason, it is appropriately referred to as a "brand bible" in many circles.
In corporate America and institutions of higher education, brand style guides are commonplace and are adhered to strictly. However, based on my personal experiences, many small and micro-businesses barely know what they are.
Why Do I Need a Style Guide? What Purpose Does It Serve?
Making sure that your branding message is consistent across all of your marketing platforms is exceedingly important. When you misrepresent your brand, then it can hurt your business and confuse your potential customers!
A style guide will give real-use cases across different scenarios — for example, how you should be represented across mobile or in video or in print. Should one color or full color be used? The guide can also be used when working with other professionals. Outside parties, such as advertisers, graphic designers, or anyone who has the power to present your brand, can use the guide as a blueprint to follow. Their work will in turn reflect your brand in a positive and consistent light.
How a Style Guide Can Help You
There is no easy answer when it comes to all of the questions that can arise when creating a 'face' for your business. That is where a brand style guide can help you. Remember, it's a blueprint for consistent branding! As a business owner or professional, do you ever ask yourself any of these questions:
How small can my logo be before it is illegible and then can't be used?
Guidelines for your logo will ensure that isn't manipulated, stretched out of proportion or improperly placed. This will help to create a consistent message for your brand.
What colors should never be used in conjunction with my logo and what colors would best complement our brand?
Suggested and discouraged color palettes will be included in your style guide so that your yellow logo would never be placed on a lime green background, for example. This color combination would make it illegible. A trusted and viable color palette would always be provided in your brand style guide. This will ensure your visual brand is safe from poor color choices!
What design elements am I able to use when creating an infographic, video, or Facebook post?
Visual assets like patterns and icons would be included in a style guide, to ensure that every communication, no matter the medium, shares your same voice. If there is a form of illustration, special photography style/treatment, or typography that is central to your brand, it would all be included in the style guide.
How do we write our company name?
While this may seem like a simple question, it can actually have a very loaded answer. For example, there may be inconsistencies with the spelling or abbreviation of the company name by different employees across varying marketing platforms and/or pieces. This is especially true when special characters (like “&”) or unconventional capitalization is used in a brand’s name. A brand style guide clearly sets the rules for even how written documents should be completed. It will also specify how/whether trademark symbols should be used to protect the brand.
What are the Overall Benefits of a Style Guide?
Repeat after me! Consistency = Professionalism.
- A brand style guide will prevent the confusion created by bumbled branding.
- It serves as a clear set of boundaries for company employees. They have one central reference point when questions arise. This creates less room for human error and allows more chances to wow your customers with the message you give to them through advertising and marketing channels.
- Having a brand style guide also makes marketing materials easier to create! Given the combination of patterns, fonts, and colors that are specified in the guide, it will save time when having to create new pieces.
Bottom Line: Do Small Businesses Need a Style Guide?
Yes! Larger companies may have a fifty page style guide, but a smaller business may have one that is only 5 pages. Remember that every business needs to have a consistent set of guidelines for presenting their brand. Having brand schizophrenia will dilute your brand, confuse your audience, and make you look like an amateur…or worse, incompetent. Don't be that company! Be the business with a strong and healthy brand.