Why your Business Needs a Brand Guide–and a Damned Good One at that
You've finally done it. You came up with the name, the concept, claimed the handles across social media and maybe even built the business plan and filed your license and are ready to launch your dream.
You're working on the website or a flyer to announce the launch and it hits you. You need a logo. A logo is the first impression your customers often get of your business and unfortunately the only thing new (and existing) business owners think they need when it comes to marketing their brand. The difference between a business and a brand is consistency. The big brands that are doing it right are the ones that you can recognize out of a lineup. Apple, with its clean typography, crisp photography, white, modern, minimalist graphics and storefronts. Coca-Cola and its classic red cans with white script and sure there have been variations across the years but they've always managed to stay on brand. All of these major brands have one thing in common, they have a bible that dictates their tone of voice, imagery, typography, logo variations, color palette, icons, patterns...even the smallest things such as how many millimeters a logo should be from any other graphic element. This bible is called a brand or style guide. Disney wouldn't be Disney if it didn't control how big the black dots on Minnie Mouse's packaging could be (no bigger than the size of her nose, FYI). I've become very familiar with Disney style guides during my time working as a packaging and product designer for a small company that created licensed toys, crafts and stationary and let me tell you, they're no joke. But as frustrating as it was to get an approval from these big brands when our products/packages didn't follow their style guide to the T, I had to respect them because of the dedication they put into making sure every product that ever made an appearance in the physical or digital world was perfectly on brand.
Now, if you own a small business or are a creative or entrepreneur, doth not worry. Your brand guide does not have to be as specific as Disney's or Apple's. Your brand guide simply needs some of the basic elements for you to output a consistent, cohesive look every single time.
Let's get some of the basics out the way: you may be wondering, what's the difference between a style guide, brand guide, brand identity, and any other variation with the word guide, brand or identity in it?
The answer is, nothing. All of these things technically just refer to a guide that captures your visual identity as well as messaging. A good brand guide encompasses the following basic elements:
- Logo Variations (so a circular version, black and white version, etc.)
- Color Palette
A good graphic designer can provide you with these things. Some extra elements I like to provide my clients with include:
- Custom Icons (social media and otherwise)
- Custom Seamless Patterns
- Mood Board
The mood board gives you a feeling of the type of mood your brand evokes. Visually speaking, is your brand colorful, funky and loud? Or is it soft neutrals, white minimalism with hints of greenery? All of these elements create your visual identity.
Anyway without further ado, here are some reasons why your brand may need a style/brand guide:
1. To Add Value
Your business' perceived value increases. When you have a consistent look and voice across your marketing collateral as well as your content, you seem like you have your shit together. Point, blank, honest. You might just be starting out and still working out your workflow and process, but when you look like you do, honestly, your business' perceived value increases.
2. To Stand Out
Say you just started a food blog. You're really excited about this food blog but Susie from down the street also decided to start a food blog. Susie dives right into creating content but you, you know better. You begin building your brand. You ask yourself the questions about your mission, who you are and the type of content you want to push. Susie uses free online resources to create graphics and pays $30 for an Etsy logo that she just replaces the text with the name of her blog with. 2,874 has also bought this logo. You hire a professional designer to create your logo and brand elements. You launch a little later than Susie but your brand takes off right away, simply because the quality of your brand stands out amongst the rest. This is an attention economy, everyone and their mother is starting food blogs, travel instagrams, DIY YouTube channels, and becoming photographers. There's nothing wrong with that. With a cohesive brand though, YOU have the chance to stand out from the rest. YOU have the opportunity to be recognized out of a lineup. Why is that important? It creates some sort of brand affinity which we'll talk about in depth in a different post.
3. To Have a Plethora of Assets and Rules at your Disposal
Gone are the days of googling random flowers or pretty icons to use on your website, social media posts, flyers..etc. that all have the weird white borders around them. With a brand guide, all of your assets are ready at any moment for you, your designers and your employees to create beautiful posters or business cards or brochures that aren't at all random stock images from the internet. The standards and rules are listed in the guide so there's never a question of proper use.
There are hundred of other reasons (probably) but these are some of your basic ones. Still unsure if you need one? Use this handy-dandy Cosmo-Magazine styled flowchart quiz below to find out!