Creating brand guidelines for impact

Here at Northbound, we build purpose-driven brands. A spotlight on brand purpose enables brands to connect with employees and customers, orient the organization, and drive business results. A strong brand isn't just a logo or tagline. And it's more than the colors, typography, and voice used in marketing communications. A brand that is purpose-driven and lived out by employees is the heart and soul of an organization.  

Behind every strong brand are detailed brand guidelines. Brand guidelines, or brand style guides, are essentially a manual on forming a cohesive brand experience to drive business results. It includes information on how and where a brand should exist. Brand guidelines come to life after brand definition. Without strategic insight and creative development of a brand, it will be a challenge to establish guidelines. Writing these brand guidelines ensures the preservation of the brand that has been developed.  

This blog covers five tips on creating and sharing impactful guidelines that will help strengthen your purpose-driven brand.  

#1: Consider the entire customer experience 

The first step to take before guideline development begins is identifying everywhere there will be an expression of the brand. Once you understand the experience and the customer journey of the brand, you'll be well-equipped to write the guidelines. Upon initial brainstorming, your list may include the following: email signature, company website, and marketing materials. But beyond promotion, where else will the brand live? What events will the brand make appearances at? Does the name live on product hardware or packaging? Does it come to life in a retail store or solely in an online presence? How will the brand manifest in the offices your employees go to ideate?  

During this initial information-gathering period, talk to a range of stakeholders. Connect with different internal teams to ensure you have accounted for all types of brand expression. It's essential to find people in your organization who can share details on the brand's customer segments. They can help you conduct an audit of the customer journey to highlight customer interactions with the brand.  

#2: Focus on user value 

Now that you've identified everywhere the brand will be expressed, you're ready to get writing. While the first tip focuses on the end-customer, this second one speaks to employees and partners. Some companies make their guidelines public, but most people using your guidelines will be working with the brand day-in and day-out. Your brand is not only relevant to the marketing team and therefore, neither are the guidelines. Identify who will be referencing the document and what is important to them. What information do your internal stakeholders need to practice good brand hygiene? How does this guidance fit into the extensive brand experience you're trying to create?  

#3: Get specific 

Of all the times to be brief, a brand style guide is not one of them. Establishing brand guidelines is an opportunity to highlight the small and big pieces that make your brand what it is. This is the place to get uber specific and highlight the logo and icon size requirements like Spotify. The audio streaming service outlines the minimum millimeter requirements of their logo in both print and digital formats and explains how proper usage is essential to the legibility and impact of the logo. Brand guidelines are where the color shades of a brand are defined. Someone unfamiliar with Starbucks may not be able to tell the difference between Starbucks Green and Accent Green. However, a quick look at their Creative Expression guide shows the two colors next to each other and calls out the occasions to use each one.  

Approach this endeavor with patience. Creating brand guidelines, looking for minuscule differences, and analyzing brand elements from multiple angles takes time and focus.  

#4: Make the guidelines digestible 

You've pulled together all of the pertinent information for your stakeholders, and now you have to figure out the most efficient way to share it with them. One of the easiest ways to do this is with Dos and Don'ts. Glossier has dedicated space in their brand book outlining Dos and Don'ts of their logo and wordmark. When employees and partners use the brand elements, they'll want to make them "fit" into the material they're producing. This could include cropping a logo, changing font style, experimenting with colors, or capitalizing letters that shouldn't be capitalized. For these reasons, it's crucial not only to show what they can do but what they can't. Another option is to construct a simple one-pager like the Red Cross. Their "at a glance" one-pager gives an overview of their brand identity. Some companies have taken their guidelines a step further and have produced interactive experiences. Cisco lets viewers type text to show what their Cisco Sans font looks like in bold and italics. In the photography section, users can hover over pieces of the photo and learn what elements make the image right for Cisco.  

There are various options when it comes to presenting the details of your brand. Understanding your employee and partner needs will help you determine which route is best for your organization.  

#5: Live and breathe the brand 

The best and fastest way to bring your brand to life is to live it out internally, and as with anything, repetition helps people learn faster. Allow your employees to become familiar with color palettes, typography, and logo usage by building these elements into PowerPoints, email signatures, and internal communication platforms. If you have a brand font, use it in correspondence and teach your employees to write in the brand's tone and voice. Formal training on brand guidelines can help but also have the potential to take up time and resources. Simplify with bite-sized pre-recorded videos to help with onboarding new employees and refreshing brand knowledge every few months. If you've created concise and digestible guidelines and found ways to weave the brand into everyday activities, you're on the right path.  

The last part of internally living out the brand is incorporating the brand values into the work. Highlighting these values will help your team understand who they are, why they're here, and what they're contributing to.  

One of our values at Northbound is "stay right here, right now." It's based on the belief that we work best in relationships. We communicate, listen, build, and have fun together. Even when we don't know the end game, we stick to the conversation, the client, and each other.  

My teammates and I live out this value by tackling problems together. We continuously communicate—even now when we're not working in the office. When someone surfaces a sticky question, we respond by asking more questions to get to the best right answer. We are doers and handle whatever lands in front of us. These actions aren't just how we get the work done; they give us a sense of purpose and grow the strength of the Northbound brand.  

Now you've got some tools in your toolbelt to kick start the creation of brand guidelines. Implementation of these will lead to a strong and steady brand that will help bring purpose to your employees, partners, and customers, all while driving business results.  

If you're interested in learning more about defining and positioning purpose-driven brands, please reach out. We love solving sticky challenges and would be happy to tackle them with you.  

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