Lisa D'Andrea
Feb 17, 2016
Branding

Style guides: The secret to a memorable brand

What is the secret to creating a memorable brand? In my opinion it's all about consistency. Delivering a unified image across all promotional materials. If you don't have a style guide, chances are your brand is not living up to its potential.

In Year 8 Food and Nutrition I attempted to make a cake. I say ‘attempted’ because although I had a recipe, I thought that the butter cake I had been tasked with was boring, so I didn't hesitate in pushing the instructions aside while I made some epic flavour improvements. Unfortunately my enthusiasm led me to miss a vital ingredient (flour) and my creation flopped. Literally. It was a runny mess. I learnt two things that day. Never forget the flour, and instructions are probably there for a reason. 

Don’t get me wrong. Some of the best inventions have come from people who deviated from the known path. And variance can be awesome – like when you get an extra crunchy ‘wish chip’ or a deformed two-headed snake in your bag of Snakes Alive!

Brands do not fall into this category of being awesomely irregular. They need consistency and order, otherwise they will end up looking like a hot mess, just like my cake. That's why I think that every business (yep, even yours!) needs to own (and use) a style guide.

What is a style guide?

Also known as brand guidelines, graphic standards manual or brand 'Bible', this miracle resource will help you to keep your brand in line. It is a document that details everything about your brand and how it should be applied. This can include how your logo should be used, what colours can be applied in promotional materials, which fonts to use, how to use imagery and what your tone of voice should sound like. It’s the ‘recipe’ for your brand.

Style guides vary in length, depending on the brand and the level of detail included. They should be available to everyone on your team, because, if you didn’t already know it, your people are your brand. Some businesses also make their style guidelines available externally too. This can be due to the desire to be transparent or to help their partners or freelancers to apply the brand correctly.

Some people will say that you don’t need a style guide if you’re a small business or just starting out, but I’m not convinced. If you’re serious about your business and are spending time, money and energy into getting it off the ground, then you should be investing in your brand too. Whether you’re a one person show or a team of 100, here’s three reasons why everyone needs a style guide.

Skype and H&M Brand Guidelines
Top: Skype's brand guidelines  Bottom: H&M Trend's brand guidelines 

Why you need a style guide

1. Style guides help to create recognisable brands

The best way to create a recognisable brand is to be consistent over time. And not just consistency in how you use your logo, but every little part of your brand. Colours, fonts, textures, imagery, tone of voice–each has an important part to play in how people perceive and remember your brand.  

Without clear rules outlining how to apply your brand, each employee in your business can take creative licence with how it is applied. The marketing folks may be using Arial, while your Finance department is loving Comic Sans. Logos may be getting stretched, shrunk and put on any number of coloured backgrounds. Your social media intern may be posting photos only with ‘Valencia’ filters, while your website manager is using black and white photographs. Chances are, the people in your business make brand decisions every day, from their writing tone of voice to creating new internal or external facing documents or presentations. 

A clear, logical and easy to understand style guide that everyone has access to, and is enforced can minimise the deviations of your brand. This logic can also be applied to any partners or freelancers who may be using your logo as well.

2. Style guides take the guesswork out of promotional materials

When a designer creates the visual aspect of a Style Guide they experiment with different colours and styles. They ask themselves, which fonts pair well together? Will that texture overpower the design? Will these colours work well together in any scenario? They dabble with lots of different options and then create rules around what works best, so that even a design rookie can whip up a good looking piece of work without even thinking about it. The hard work has already been done, you just need to apply it. 

If you’re creating a branded poster, advertisement, e-newsletter or social media post (or getting a designer to do it for you), a style guide takes the guesswork out of choosing the right colours, fonts and imagery. It will save time (and/or money) and will keep your brand consistent!

3. Style guides future proof your brand

If the only person who knows how your brand should be applied is your marketing manager or your in house graphic designer, what happens when they retire, find a new job, move to Fiji or get sucked into a vortex? Even in bigger teams where more people may hold this knowledge, long periods of time and staff turnover may lead people to forget about the purpose and intent behind their branding decisions.

A written copy of brand guidelines can ensure branding consistency over long periods of time. It also keeps brand information transparent and available to both new and existing staff or contractors, so that everyone understands the brand message and visuals. 

Your brand will, and should evolve over time. With new growth and development in your business, your brand may need to change along with it. Having a style guide will help your team to refresh or evolve your brand over time, without alienating your existing client base.  

Who develops style guides?

Have I convinced you that you should be using a style guide? I’ll assume you answered a resounding yes! Now that you know that a style guide would be super handy to have, how do you get one for yourself?

Well, I would strongly advise asking the designer who built your logo to assist you in developing the visual aspects of your style guide. They already know your company well and they definitely have an intimate relationship with your logo after many hours of working on it. If you’re not keen to work with them again, then I would suggest finding a designer with a similar style to the original designer to help you build your guide. If you have an in house designer, ask them to work on creating a brand guide that the rest of your team can use.

Finally, if you are concerned about the cost of hiring a designer, you could get the marketing team/manager to build out some basic guidelines. This has the potential to go pear-shaped if they are not familiar with design principles or creating a style guide. It could hinder, rather than improve your brand image, but it could also help to achieve some consistency. Proceed at your own risk!

Important elements of a style guide

What sort of information should go into your style guide?

1. Logo use

  • If you have variations of your logo and/or logo mark, you should identify when each variation should be used. Is there a version that should be used primarily?  
  • What is the minimum size your logo should be sized to so that it is still legible?
  • What is the minimum amount of clear space required around your logo?
  • What are the rules surrounding the colours the logo sits on?

2. Brand voice & grammar

  • How should your communications sound?
  • What’s your vibe/personality? Are you fun, quirky or sarcastic? Or is your voice professional and informative? Use examples to clearly articulate how your brand voice sounds (and how it shouldn't sound).
  • Having your brand voice articulated in your style guide will help anyone interacting with your brand, both now and in the future, to understand your tone of voice.
  • Do you have a certain sign off or tagline that needs to be mentioned?
  • Are there any words or phrases that need to be avoided?
  • Is it colour or color? Identify the rules around spelling
  • Should you use title case, sentence case or something different?

3. Colours

  • What colour palette should be used?
  • Are some colours primary and others secondary?
  • Which colours can be used together and which can’t?
  • Be specific about exactly which colours should be used and include Pantones and CMYK colours for print and hex codes for web.

4. Imagery

  • What types of imagery should be used on your website or in promotional materials?
  • Do you use illustrations or photographs?
  • Are any filters or textures applied to photographs?
  • What are the rules around posting images to instagram, facebook or pinterest?

5. Graphical elements

  • What about other elements that accompany your brand such as lines, shapes or icons? When and where should they be used?

6. Layouts

  • Are there specific guidelines for how layouts should look for common documents such as contracts, letters, business cards or invoices?  

7. Fonts and typography

  • Which fonts should be used for headings, subheadings and body copy?
  • What size should H1’s, H2’s, H3’s and body copy be?
  • Are there specific font weights that should or shouldn’t be used?
  • What are the rules surrounding uppercase/lowercase letters, bolding, italics and underlining?

Using your style guide

When creating your style guide, consider how people would prefer to use it. Are they going to put it on a shelf and never look at it again, or will they pull it out for reference regularly? How your style guide is formatted can make all the difference in ensuring it is user friendly. Consider different ways of making the document work in your office, such as adding it to your intranet or website, adding quick reference tabs to a printed version or creating a style guide infographic or poster for the office. 

Style guide inspiration

If you're not sure where to begin, it's always a great idea to take a look at examples of style guides that have already been created. Companies such as AppleGoogleOptus, and Skype all have style guides you can check out online. Yahoo have taken it one step further, publishing their recommendations for writing for web in a handy book!If you're looking for inspirational alternative formats, take a look at the way Big Lottery Fund and Deichmanske Library turned their brand guidelines into posters!

Big Lottery Fund Poster Brand Guidelines

A style guide can make all the difference in building a consistent and recognisable brand, but it will only make an impact if it is regularly used. Consider your audience as you create it, ensuring you keep it interesting and user friendly, and don’t forget to drop the lingo and use language that everyone can understand.

Are you thinking about creating a style guide for your brand? Or are you already using one? Tell us about it in the comments, and don't forget to share this article!

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