Okay, so you’ve been tasked with creating a brand guide for your company. Your CMO told you that it needs to cover everything that encompasses your company and its brand. Your CEO told you it should inspire the rest of the company to become brand advocates. Your Director of Sales told you that it needs to be concise, but your product team wants to ensure that it’s thorough. Oh, did I mention that if you make it too difficult for your IT team to update the website within brand standards, they’ll kill you?
Are you overwhelmed yet?
Creating brand standards that people won’t break is a difficult task, but it becomes infinitely more difficult when you have nothing to compare it to. The most effective step you can take in developing strong brand guidelines is seeing what strong brand guidelines look like. So who has done brand identity guidelines well? What traits do they have in common?
Here are three traits that all effective brand identity guidelines have in common:
The truly great brand guides do one thing above all else, and that’s inform. Your guide’s most basic job is to teach everyone who sees it—whether it’s an employee, a member of the media, or a graphic designer—what your brand is and how to effectively implement it. This can be done in a variety of ways, but it all comes back to what information your audience looks for in brand standards. Will this guide be used primarily by designers who are very visually detailed, or by writers who tend to focus on brand voice?
Here are some brands who do a great job of being informative with their identity guidelines:
• Adobe: This 60+ page behemoth is a gem of thorough brand work. Adobe knew that, given its product line, the people who would be using their brand the most would be designers and developers who are extremely detail-oriented. Therefore, they built a brand guide that was both informative and thorough. Check out their usage examples on page 22 for a great example of how to show - not tell - the ways your brand should be used.
• Firefox: What if you want to inform without writing 64 pages of copy? Check out Firefox’s standards. They’re very similar in depth to Adobe, but they scaled it back because they wanted to communicate efficiently. These standards are no less informative, but they kill less time and - thanks to the web-based interface - less trees.
• New York Transit Authority: Quick! What’s the exact opposite of a 21st century tech company like the last two brands we listed. That’s right, the NYC Transit Authority. This brand guide from 1970, however, has proven to be timeless to New Yorkers. Take a look at how thorough and detailed this style guide is. That’s extremely important in a place like New York City, where effectively communicating information like train and bus stops is necessary for millions of people to commute every day.
Okay, so you’ve communicated your brand, what’s next? What can you do to “wow” your boss and go above and beyond the call of branding? Inspire the team. Without a great brand, companies are faceless, lifeless entities. Brands take the heartless, faceless corporation and give it a personality. Make that personality evident in the identity guide. This will help your team take your brand’s voice and really make it their own. Here are some companies who did this well:
• Skype: Skip to page 20 and get ready to design. By showing the construction of the Skype cloud and then showing the various illustrations that can be incorporated in that element, this brand guide does a great job of showing what’s possible with the Skype brand. This is what you want your designers to feel when looking at your guidelines!
• The United Way: This is another fantastic example of when showing is better than telling. Turn to page 20 and take a look at the great examples they give on how to apply their brand. I don’t care what you’re designing, after looking at those examples, you’re going to feel inspired to do great work.
• Easy.com: Okay, so all of this looks great for designers, but what about my writers? I need to develop brand standards that will really capture our brand’s voice! Go no further than Easy.com’s brand guide. Between a letter from the founder to start the guide, clear values, and well-articulated mission statements, this guide ensures that anyone writing on behalf of your brand understands your voice.
If the first two points were your brand’s “good cop,” this point plays bad cop. At the end of the day, your identity guidelines need to be enforceable, and that means that you need to spell out the don’ts in a plain-and-simple fashion. Here are some brands who do this well:
• Apple: If you’re a rule creator, this is 48 pages of bliss. Apple is one of the most notoriously protective companies when it comes to their brand. Many praise Apple for the congruity of their brand and how well they protect it, but you can’t protect your brand without a strong guard dog at the gate.
• Facebook: How do you get billions of people on the same page about your brand? By being strict. Note the captions at the end of each individual page telling you what not to do. When it comes to his brand, Zuckerburg doesn’t mess around.
• Boy Scouts of America: Always be prepared... in case someone breaks your brand guidelines. With a long history and distinct traditions, the Boy Scouts want to make sure that their brand stays as authentic as possible. Strong identity standards help them do it.
These are some of the best guidelines we’ve seen, and we hope they provide you with inspiration for your own brand guidelines. Before you put pen to paper, however, you should perform a full brand audit to make sure that you’ve considered your brand’s identity thoroughly. Our free DIY Brand Audit helps you take the guesswork out of auditing your brand. Simply click the button below to get your copy!