This post was updated to include information about social media brand guidelines that were made in our updated Style Guide Template.
Creating a style guide for your business is a big deal. Establishing a consistent brand voice, tone, and—yes—when and how to use capital letters, quotation marks, and the ever-vexing serial comma will make your content look polished, professional, and—most importantly—earns trust in people who read your stuff, which is at the heart of inbound marketing.
But a truly comprehensive brand style guide also includes design elements. We don’t just live in a digital age, we live in a visual age, so it’s critical that your brand’s voice, message, and values are communicated as consistently in design as they are in your copy. We also understand your company is busy and doesn’t have time to put together a hyper-designed brand style guide. Here we give you the must-have, and if you need help, our Style Guide Template can get you started.
Why you need to define your brand style
This kind of brand style guide—including copy and design—is important for every company. Even if your founder sketched the logo on the back of a cocktail napkin one night, establishing a brand’s style is about creating consistency, because consistency = brand recognition and brand recognition = $$$.
You don’t necessarily have to hire a team of superhero branding specialists to nail the visual components of your brand style guide. You know your brand, and this is about outlining that brand in a way that helps everyone working on content, copy or visual, to stick to it.
The elements of a good brand style guide
Much like a copy style guide, your visual guide should be built around a few fundamental elements.
Maybe you’re wondering what needs to be said about a logo beyond, “This is our company logo. Use it.” But let’s say your company, The Peaceful Tomato, has only one designed logo and it’s oriented horizontally. What happens if you need it placed where there isn’t enough horizontal space for it to be readable? You might want to have a version where the words are stacked. Or what if your logo needs it placed on a dark background? Having versions for light and dark background gives you options while remaining consistent.
Make it explicitly clear which logo should be used and when to avoid any room for error. To truly cover all your bases, give visual examples of incorrect usage as well.
Here’s a scary statistic: Color alone increases brand recognition by up to 80%.
If you manage a small team and call upon copywriters, strategists, or others who have a lot of roles to play to do design work, the color palette of your website and other marketing assets can get messy. Your company should have a clear set of colors that every employee uses, whether creating sales pitch decks or custom email signatures.
Yes, that goal of consistency extends to fonts as well. And we’re not just talking about the fonts on your website. Every presentation, every letter, every ad, every CTA, and every social media graphic should use the chosen typography if possible. If you’re using a print font that isn’t available as a web font, you’ll need to identify a web font that falls within your brand guidelines too (don’t go from serif in one to sans serif in the other, for example). You’ll also want to note typeface and proper weight of that typeface for headlines, subheads, and body copy.
Social branding and photography
Think of your favorite brand social media feeds. I know here we love our client Stonyfield’s Instagram feed for its beautiful farm pics and cute babies. Fitness clothier Lululemon has an Instagram feed full of diverse faces, bold type and bright colors. Yankee Magazine, the steadfast New England travel and culture publication has a Twitter feed full of delicious regional dishes and beautiful scenery (we’ve got a lot of it here). The consistent look and feel of these accounts have a lot to do with the photography.
While your company may not use photography in all social posts—or all marketing materials— you will want to document the look and feel of your social media accounts and the photos that go with them. Do you use different logos based on the channel? Are stickers OK on stories? Do all Instagram images need a white background or similar filter?
Sometimes, the use of photography happens on an as-needed basis—there’s a new sales pitch to prepare for or a new advertising support request to design, for example—so it’s difficult to know what you want ahead of time. What you can do is set the parameters of the type of photography your company uses.
Is there a particular light or filter you prefer to use? How about the subjects of the photography? What should they be doing? Are you focused on a particular age range?
Having answers to these questions will make life a lot easier whether you have in-house designers or work with outside vendors. Everyone will be following the same set of documented guidelines. And if you do have an in-house designer, she’ll probably appreciate being able to point people to the brand style guide rather than stopping work to explain things every five minutes. We know ours do.