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What’s a brand style guide and why does your startup need one?

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by Startacus Admin

Author Bio- Anna Lemos is a creative content editor and strategist at Quick Formations aka Quick. Originally a designer, Anna has worked with various startups and SMEs creating graphics, social media campaigns and brand identities to catapult them into the market. Having blogged since University, she took a creative detour into content writing and is now part of the Quick Team.  Here she gives us a comprehensive overview of brand style guides, what they should include, and why your startup needs one. 

"Every company, no matter the size, should have a brand style guide (also known as a brand bible or visual identity guide). It should be created when the company knows its brand identity and should also develop as the company grows and changes.

So, what is a brand style guide?

A brand style guide is a highly visual document that instructs people on how your company is represented to the public. Good style guides ensure consistency with both in-house and outsourced workers across a multitude of projects. This includes how people execute visuals, tone and voice across various mediums.

Consistent brands develop trust with their client base. It’s what makes a company identifiable which is becoming a main reason for consumers to buy from specific companies.


What kind of content should my brand style guide have?


Introduction

A good brand style guide will have a bit of background on their company. It should cover your target market and audience, your company ethos and, most importantly, what your company/service/product is. This is so anyone who picks up your style guide can understand what you’re startup is all about.


Typeface

You need to define which fonts you use. This must be consistent across all media. Defining fonts does not simply mean to state which typeface you’re using, but also which weights, character sets, whether or not you use ligatures, minimum and maximum font sizes, and how you style different parts of your text (i.e. how a header styling differs from body text, photo captions etc.).

Other than consistent style, it also means that you will have the right set of font licences across your media- as this Style guide from PayPal demonstrates. https://www.paypal-marketing.com/html/partner/na/portal-v2/pdf/PP_Masterbrandguidelines_v21_mm.pdf 

What's a brand style guide and why does your startup need one?


Colour Palettes

Having a rainbow palette is hardly going to help your brand identity. You need select colours that are used in your logo, graphics, as accent colours and on promotional material. These need to be identified in your style guide with an example of the colour and their defining pantone, HEX, CMYK and/or RGB codes. It is best to include all of them as colours can differ when shown digitally and on print.  The brand style guide from Spotify demonstrates this well https://issuu.com/bondo/docs/spo_brandidentityguidelines_final 

What's a brand style guide and why does your startup need one?

If you think about the power of colour and how we identify certain brands you’ll realised how important defined colour palettes are. Take EasyJet. Every time I see a particular hue of orange related to travel or holiday pictures, my mind automatically thinks of EasyJet.


Logo use

Logos are precious things and so detailed explanation of logo use and placement is essential.


Logo size

Most logos will lose their impact when they are made too small. It is important to state what the minimum size for your logo is. Also, many companies have ‘full’ logos (normally including text) and simplified logos (normally just the graphic) as well as horizontal and vertical logos. You need to identify when each logo type should be used and what their minimum and maximum sizes are for each variation. This is usually noted in pixels.

Logo clear zone

The clear zone area is the padding around a logo. If your logo doesn’t have a clear zone it might lose its impact and appear cluttered. Specify how much spacing you want around your logo. This can be stated in pixels or as a percentage of the size of the logo (e.g. clear zone must be 20% of the logo size).

Logo colour and backgrounds

You need to specify whether or not your logo can change colour – greyscale, black, white etc. – and whether or not they can be placed on various backgrounds. Some brands don’t like their logo to be placed on busy photographs as they feel it gets lost on the image. For aesthetic reasons, you might object to having your logo in colours that don’t align with your colour palette or having clashing colours on certain backgrounds. Whatever your preference, you should specify this in your style guide.  Check out the brand style guide for Coke Zero http://www.kathrin-pyplatz.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/styleguide-coca-cola.pdf 


What's a brand style guide and why does your startup need one?
Icons and imagery

When creating your brand identity, you will realise that your company will envelop a certain style of imagery. Some brands might be all about using certain filters on photos whereas others only use graphics. If there are certain types of imagery you don’t use, include it. For example, if you don’t ever want to use stock images of smiling professionals, than you have to clarify that. Specify what type of imagery you use and what treatment, if any, it should have.  Check out the style guide from easy.com http://www.easy.com/PDFs/easyGroup_Brand_Manual.pdf 

What's a brand style guide and why does your startup need one?

Copywriting guidelines

Especially when outsourcing written work to freelancers or agencies, copywriting guidelines are highly important. The language in which your company communicates with its consumers identifies the brand. This part of the document should include your tone and voice as well as the demographics you’re communicating with and language you both associate and don’t associate the company with.

For a highly detailed copywriting guide, have a look at MailChimp’s style guide. Many brands don’t go into that much detail, but if language is important to your company, it might be worth producing something similar within your own brand guidelines. Here is an example from Skype's style guide to demonstrate. http://download.skype.com/share/blogskin/press/skype_brandbook.pdf 

What's a brand style guide and why does your startup need one?
Social Media guidelines

Social Media language isn’t necessarily about the language you use, but rather, how you engage with people. This could be a question of digital etiquette to the content you share.


Other

Brand style guides can be short documents or heavily detailed ones. The points above (other than the Social Media section) are almost mandatory parts of a generic style guide, but the level of detail is entirely up to you. Some brands even create individual style guides dependant on the type of work (e.g. digital style guide for a web designer, language and communication style guide for a copywriter etc.).

Here are some other areas that you might like to include in your brand style guide: web-specific/digital guides, branding history, vision and personality statements, design layouts and specific material guides (e.g. flyers or business cards).


I’ve got my brand style guide together, now what?

Once you’ve created your company’s brand style guide, it is normally best to upload it to your server, to the cloud or even create a mini-site dedicated to it. This way, you don’t have to send people individual PDFs every time you need a piece of work done.

Some brands make their brand style guides public (using mini-sites or downloadable PDFs from the main site) to create a sense of brand transparency and trust. It is also easier for freelancers, journalist and PR people to get access to it. However, having it out in the public means it needs to look good. It would then act as a promotional piece for your company and thus, would require time and money to create it.


Consistency is key when creating a brand and having a clear brand identity is worth spending time on. It means that any employee or freelancer will be on the same page and will understand how to communicate visually and verbally with your market which in turn, will help your brand engage and generate trust with your consumers.

For examples of style guides, check out Transport for London, Spotify and Quick.


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Published on: 5th July 2016

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