The Guidelines Document: Your Blueprint to Long-Term Success.

The Guidelines Document: Your Blueprint to Long-Term Success.

Without clear guidelines, your brand’s reputation is at risk.

Businesses that dominate their industries have a strong brand identity. Those that don’t are left fighting for scraps.

Your brand is an extremely valuable asset. If it’s strong, you’ll attract new customers while reinforcing the loyalty of your existing customers. If it’s respected, it can enable you to charge higher margins.

In other words, your brand is the lifeblood of your business. And it directly affects whether you fail or succeed over the long run.

It takes time to build a brand.

Your brand is a reservoir of goodwill; something like a savings account. With care and nurturing, your account will build enough of a balance that you can draw on the interest—as long as you protect the principal. And your brand is valuable enough that you should treat it just that way: as a real financial asset.

Keep in mind that you’re adding to—or stealing from—your brand equity every time you (or one of your employees):

  • Interact with a customer
  • Post on social media
  • Create any kind of marketing material

Remember, though: your brand can be damaged in an instant.

Today’s consumers are educated, skeptical and social-media savvy. When they want to find out about your brand, they’ll look at online reviews. And those who leave reviews tend to be more negative than positive.

One dispute with an employee—even if the employee did nothing wrong—or one ill-advised tweet can damage your reputation to an audience of thousands.

A trusted, well-defined brand can deflect or defuse at least some of the criticism, especially if you enforce a strict social media policy for your company and your employees’ private accounts. The question is how to build up a reservoir of good will for just such occasions.

To build trust, make consistency your highest priority.

Trust is built upon familiarity. Familiarity is built upon consistency. You may need as many as seven exposures before a customer will recognize and trust your brand. But these messages have to be delivered consistently and repeatedly.

Customers are bombarded with thousands of advertising and marketing messages a day. To form a strong memory, they need to see a consistent identity—logo, colors and personality— that builds familiarity and trust.

This subconscious repetition is a powerful way to cut through the noise and make yourself heard in a crowded marketplace.

Brand guidelines establish the consistency you need.

Maybe you’ve paid a designer or agency for a logo, website or other branding work. Did they give you a structured brand guidelines document to follow? If not, you can weaken your brand, which will hurt your bottom line.

Whenever you create a marketing message, no matter how small, you need a blueprint to work from. Most companies refer to it as their “style guide.” A good style guide eliminates guesswork, so anyone on your team can create consistent content that strengthens your brand.

An effective style guide should:

  • Be simple, yet specific—easy to follow, even for a non-designer
  • Contain clear “Do” examples of best practices and “Do Not” examples
  • Go beyond the visual elements to address your brand’s story, personality and voice
  • A description of your brand story and values
  • Rules for the use of photography and illustration
  • Rules for the treatment of your slogan/tagline of common mistakes

Your style guide should address:

 

Color

Color is the first element a viewer sees. It evokes an instant emotional response—and increases brand recognition by 80%. (Source: Loyola University of Maryland study)

It’s not as simple as ‘red’, ‘yellow’, or ‘blue’. You must use specific color values for both digital and print assets. If you don’t, your customer will notice even subtle differences and read them as mistakes. And your brand will be perceived as unprofessional and untrustworthy.

The example below shows how Netflix uses specific color guidelines for a powerful brand image.

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Voice

When you address your audience, what personality do you want to convey? Casual and conversational? Or more formal and businesslike? There’s a wide spectrum of potential voices. So you need to pick the one that best resonates with your ideal customer.

Your brand voice must be human, not corporate. Even if you have hundreds of employees, you need to establish a feeling of one-on-one conversation.

Above all, your voice has to be uniform. Every communication has to sound like it’s coming from the same source. If it sounds like you have dozens of people shouting in different voices, your audience will start to wonder: “Did they get hacked? Who’s writing this? This doesn’t sound like them.”

Here’s an excellent example of voice guidelines for Zoom’s marketing team.

 

 

Logo

Your logo and your brand aren’t the same thing. But a logo is a visual calling card. Once you’ve established it, your logo is the visual summary of your brand, the story it represents, and the promise you make to your customers. (Example: the Nike “swoosh” and “Just Do It.”)

Your logo should be as consistent as possible, across all media. Generally, it shouldn’t be altered in any way. It shouldn’t be disproportionately stretched, re-colored, or paired with other words or objects that don’t reflect your brand image.

Some variations, however, maybe be appropriate depending on the context and format your logo is being used in. In these cases, a good set of brand guidelines will keep you from going off the rails. See how Zoom does it below.

 

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Typography and spacing

Typefaces, also known as fonts, are also critical to a strong brand identity. Like your voice and other visual elements, they must be consistent.

Your typeface can instantly trigger a strong association with your brand, much as your colors and logo do. Type can also shape the “visual voice” that readers shape in their minds. For instance, Chewy.com uses a light, rounded, lower-case look on its site that evokes playful moments between people and pets. By contrast, Nike uses a wide, bold, in-your-face style that conveys both attitude and authority.

It’s hard to overstate how important it is to choose the right typeface. If it’s distracting or hard to read, you’ll lose your customer’s attention right away. And if you just stick with the choices your computer provides, you won’t make much of a statement.

Take a look at these examples from the American Red Cross. Notice how they use one typeface to convey quiet, objective authority, and another for storytelling, opinion and calls to action.

 

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And make sure that your brand guidelines also include:

Choosing the right blueprint is critical to your success.

The correct brand strategy and guidelines can generate more customers, higher margins, and a greater ROI from your marketing budget.

But be careful. Don’t just pick another brand’s guidelines that you like and try to force them over your company’s style. You’ll actually do more harm than good. Your brand image has to be tailored to who you are, what you do and who you serve. You might admire another brand, but their look and feel probably won’t work for you.

A well-constructed style guide will include simple, clear instructions that your team can follow easily from day to day. It will be a powerful tool to keep you consistent and help you build a strong brand.

But while good guidelines are easy to follow, the foundation and theory they’re built on is incredibly complex.

We can help you unlock an effective brand strategy.

The style elements we’ve discussed are just a few of the variables you need to align so your brand will 1) resonate with your customers and 2) stand out from the competition.

It’s like opening a combination lock. If even one number is off, you’ll be shut out of your full potential. But a master locksmith can help you find the right combination—revealing riches that were there all along. Then you can build your style guide on that combination and keep winning repeatedly.

If you’ve had trouble gaining traction in your market, it’s time to call for help. At Brand3, we have a proven record of helping our clients craft their perfect message and brand strategy. And we can do the same for you. Together, we’ll develop simple, easy-to-follow brand guidelines that will help you build a powerful brand—and position you for long-term success.