Developing a strong brand is all about consistency. Not just consistency in small aspects like how frequently you post to social media, but on a large scale in terms of the direction of the brand as a whole. One critical tool to help you and your team stay on the same page is a style guide.
Style guides come in many forms. It’s common to hear them referenced by marketing and design agencies, but what is a “style guide”? In the broadest terms, they act as a loose set of rules that anyone making content for your brand should follow. The goal is to make sure your brand has a clear, singular style even though it reaches the customer from many different sources. It can be referred to as a brand style guide or a visual style guide, but the purpose of both is the same. A visual style guide tends to hone in on the visual aspects of the brand, such as the logo, colors, and type. Brand style guides may expand a little further to include editorial guidelines like voice, tone, or company-wide mission statements and values. We’ll go over each of these components and the reason they should be included in your style guide.
One of the primary functions of any style guide is to clearly define any rules about the usage, sizing, and placement of your logo. This can prevent incidents like an event manager changing your logo colors to something that doesn’t represent your brand or situations where your logo is a slightly different size on every Facebook image you post. Typically, this will go over the logo’s various forms (such as a primary logo versus an icon mark) and which situations they can be used in. For example, a horizontal logo can sometimes look too small when used as a social media icon, so you could advise using the simplified icon in situations where the primary logo would not work.
A brand’s color palette defines what colors should be most associated with the brand. Typically, this includes the exact colors used in your primary logo, with a few extra to compliment those colors. These colors would be used in places like buttons on your website, backgrounds for your advertising, design details on any social media posts. Having a defined color palette helps customers identify your brand at a glance. When they’re scrolling through Instagram and see a bright yellow background with black text, they’ll recognize the post is from you without having to check the handle.
Clearly defining what fonts to use helps maintain a consistent brand personality. A poster with an all-caps, bold font would give a different first impression than something with thin, script font. For style guides, you typically wouldn’t want more than 2 font options, and some brands opt for just one. The guide should also outline what specific sizes of the font should be used in what situations. For example, you might use a more stylized font for headers on documents or your website, while using something smaller and easy-to-read for the body. Having typography guidelines in place can also help non-designers align with the brand, such as the sales team using a singular font for all their emails.
The combination of these 3 main elements is what will help a customer recognize your brand at first glance. Some style guides include more details that further elaborate on the voice of the brand.
Depending on the usage of the guide, you may want to include a company mission statement at the beginning. This can be helpful for larger companies to emphasize that the brand is made up of many different elements, including the company’s values, rather than just the visual elements. This can also help anyone outside of the design department understand why those rules are relevant in the grand scope of the company’s style and voice. Along those lines, some guides also include core values or guidelines on company culture. If you have a very narrow target audience, it can also help to include your ideal customer’s profile or buyer persona. For large companies where many people are producing written content (like emails, blog posts, or articles) including editorial guidelines would also be beneficial. Every element works together to influence how customers feel about your company, so any staff or outside source can reference a singular document.
Because every element of your company combined is what influences your audience, having a clear set of rules to follow could make or break your brand perception. For larger companies, having a document to refer back to can save time and solve confusion among multiple people and teams working on a project. On the opposite end of the spectrum, if you have no in-house design staff, having a style guide provides clarity to any outside designer you may need to hire for certain projects.
Regardless of your company size, the biggest benefit of style guides is consistency. By having rules to follow, your company appears to have its own unique voice and personality, where in reality the content was created by many different people. Customers will know what to expect from your brand and may view the company as more professional. Being consistent is one of the strongest ways to influence customer perception of your brand.
You may be thinking, “All of this sounds great, but where would I even begin?” Oftentimes, style guides are created by the designer or agency that created your logo. Designers go through the thought process of deciding on the colors and type that suit your brand during the logo creation process, so outlining those decisions in a style guide is helpful for everyone involved. However, if you don’t have a style guide or weren’t involved in the logo creation process, you can and should create your own style guide. You most likely have vague rules that you’re following anyway, such as using green in all your imagery because your logo is green. Now, all you have to do is create a document that clarifies which specific green any person making imagery should use. Think about where and how your logo can be used, a small selection of specific colors to stick to, and one or two fonts to keep things consistent.
If you’re struggling with the reasoning behind each decision, or you’re part of a larger company where the style guide would need to be very detailed, you could hire an agency to create a style guide based on your existing brand. They would be equipped with knowledge of color theory (which is the idea that certain colors make people feel certain ways) or what fonts would help customers feel your brand’s personality.