A brand guide provides people with a complete overview of how their brand will be deployed in marketing materials.
It serves as a handbook for any creatives working on the brand: It has a color palette and font book for graphic designers, tone words and a style guide for copywriters, and plenty of examples to help guide marketers.
A brand guide encompasses the look and feel of a brand, which means it has to be a highly organized and well-designed document itself! Here’s how to make one, whether for yourself or a client.
Step 1: Envision the brand
Think about the famous brands that we all know. What would you say is their personality? How do they conduct themselves? What are their values? If they were a person, how would they dress? What would they eat and drink? How would they talk?
Asking yourself these questions can help you develop your brand identity. Once you’ve made these decisions, you can start thinking about how to communicate that identity in both visual and written language.
Step 2: Start choosing fonts and colors
The most important characteristic of a brand design is consistency.
While there are many wonderful fonts out there, choose no more than 3 to use in your brand. Ideally, you choose a heading font, subheading, and body text font. Choose fonts that have bold, oblique, or other variations so that you can have variety in text handling while keeping the same look and feel. Then, develop several color palettes. Many brands have a main palette featuring 3-4 colors, then a palette of complementary colors to use as design accents.
Some companies also have a muted color palette. Make sure that you identify the hex codes, CMYK identiﬁers, and RGB values of each color so that your designers can easily match them.
Step 3: Determine your tone and style
As mentioned, a brand identity represents a company’s personality. That includes how they talk. A brand with a whimsical logo and funky designs shouldn’t have copy that’s stiff and formal. By the same token, a prestigious company that has a very formal and elite reputation probably can’t get away with self-effacing or absurd humor in their ads. Create a list of tone words for the brand. As the name suggests, these words and phrases set the tone for language used by the brand. For example, imagine how a company with tone words such as “wild,” “passion” and “vivid” varies from a company with tone words like “cool,” “clean,” and “fresh.”
It’s also a good idea to lay out any style expectations for copywriters. For example, decide whether the brand would speak in ﬁrst-, second-, or third-person. Is it the type to ask a lot of questions? Is humor okay? If so, what type — dry, goofy, witty?
Step 4: Decide upon proper usage
Some brands have strict guidelines for how these elements are used. Abiding by these rules can help ensure a consistent brand experience for your audience.
For example, many brand guides require that logos appear at a certain size relative to other design elements, or provide guidance for the overall layout and feel of a document.
Step 5: Put it all together
Once you’ve made all these decisions, show how they work together. Brand guides typically include all variations of a logo and demonstrate how the logo elements can be rearranged or paired with other graphic elements. Logo designers typically create logos where the icon can be moved into a horizontal orientation relevant to the company name, or offer black-and-white or inverted versions that may work better for some use cases.
Feature all these variations side by side so that designers can compare. Include text examples using all your fonts to help guide designers on which font they should use for a given element.
Show how the relative font sizes work best together and provide any rules for setting the font size and weight. You can also provide guidance for any special font effects that might be used.
Write out a tone and style guide. Most copywriters work most efﬁciently if they have a full understanding of how you want the copy to feel and be formatted. Give them plenty of sample phrases, tone words, and formatting guidelines to follow, as well as any other style rules.
For example, make clear decisions on punctuation usage, how numbers are written, and whether bullet points or numbered lists are okay.
A brand guide should be the go-to handbook for your designers, marketing team, and any freelancers who come on board. (If you are creating a brand guide for a client, keep the lines of communication open with them to ensure that you can put their vision into practice.)
Your brand’s personality isn’t something to rush, so take your time. Then, be consistent in order to best connect with your customers. If done well, a brand guide can be a crucial playbook in your toolkit.