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 put you and your content head-and-shoulders above plenty of other companies.
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.
Visual Content and Consistent Brand Style
This kind of brand style guide—including copy and design—is important for every company. It doesn’t matter whether you’ve spent thousands of dollars on branding exercises or your founder sketched the logo on the back of a cocktail napkin one night. Establishing a brand guide is about creating consistency, because when it comes to marketing, consistency = brand recognition and brand recognition = $$$.
If all this sounds overwhelming, take a deep breath. What we’re saying is 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.
In that spirit, here are the main design elements you should be including in your brand style guide. We’ve also created a downloadable template that outlines everything you should include and why.
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. Our template includes sections for:
- Icons and photography
We’ll explore each in detail below.
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 is designed in red font and you need it placed on a background of a similar color? And where should the logo be placed on letterhead? Or on business cards?
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 percent.
Being a content writer, a salesperson, a marketing manager, or an administrator doesn’t mean you get to claim ignorance and do whatever you want when it comes to using color. Your company should have a color palette set 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.
Icons and Photography
If your company uses icons, you’ll want to include them. Easy enough, right? Photography is trickier, however.
The use of photography usually 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, because 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.