Why do brand guidelines matter? Because the best brand identities are not necessarily the best designed, but are always the most consistently applied.
Great design matters, of course – but from a brand point of view the most important factor is consistency.
Every application of a brand identity is an opportunity to strengthen recognition. It’s not that the public and customers register the niceties of typeface selection, or your excellent choice of colour scheme, but they register familiarity.
If someone has a great experience of your brand (and we sincerely hope they do), they will be disposed to repeat it. A consistently applied brand identity will trigger memories of that sound experience.
Think of any great high-street brands. You can probably easily recall their colours cheme, logo and typography. This is not luck – their brand identity is almost certainly well documented and rigorously policed.
Even if you have not spent thousands on a brand identity, you can make the most of yours by ensuring that it’s consistent and strongly applied.
How do brand identities become diluted?
Without clear well-documented guidelines, brand identities lose their consistency of application. They gradually become fuzzy and public recognition falls.
A signwriter may choose colours from a letterhead (or as close as he can). A printer grabs a logo from the website, without thinking about the background or spacing. An intern may create documents, induldging their own whims on font choice. Suppliers resize logos, use what they think is your correct brandname, or add styling and ornamentation to documents that are simply out of place.
It starts with dilution of the brand identity, but over time, multiple interpretations of errors mean the identity is weak and brand recognition is ruined.
Time to tighten up the brand guidelines.
Brand guidelines do not need to be hefty complex documents. At their simplest, a single page may suffice. For a small or medium business, half a dozen pages is usually more than enough.
What should the document cover?
Firstly, it should briefly explain what the business is about and what its values are. This is important to set the guidelines in context. Then, depending upon the main applications, it should document at least some of the following.
- Logotype. It should contain copies in various formats, for online use and print. There should also be guidance on sizes and acceptable spacing from other elements, as well as acceptable colour usage and backgrounds.
- Colour schemes. These should be clearly specified, with references for online use and print, and also paint references if applicable.
- Typography. Clearly state what the corporate fonts are for online use and print. If substitutions are acceptable, clearly document them. It should also cover what variants are acceptable and how they may be used (capitalization and italics etc.). Sizes and spacing should be specified to ensure readability.
If your business has specific needs, such as building signage, liveries, workwear, plant and equipment etc., you may need to cover these too.
Putting it into practice.
It doesn’t matter if you have a custom-designed identity or just a brand image that has grown over time. Formalising it into a set of rules will ensure future consistency of application, and add power to its recognition and recall..
You can have a paper document, to hand to suppliers, or perhaps better, an online document on your website. This means you can keep it always up-to-date, and suppliers can download images for logos etc.
Whichever route you take, it puts you in firm control of your brand identity, and leaves no excuse for suppliers to deviate.