How to write brand guidelines
Brand guidelines are clearly defined rules and standards that communicate how your brand should be represented to the world. But how should you go about writing them? Here, we discuss how to pin down your brand’s personality and visual identity, walk you through conducting a brand audit and touch on how to actually write the guides, before helping you to bring it all together.
Before you even begin to write your brand guidelines, it’s important you have some things in place – or, at least, are a long way down the road with them. If you’re starting to put your brand guides together, you’ll likely have already done a brand workshop during which you uncover all you need to know about the brand. You’ll probably have done a brand audit too, in which you catalogue important elements that will carry the company’s brand identity. This could range from stationery and livery to the website and social media.
Distilling a brand essence and personality
A good brand guideline document fulfils two purposes. Firstly, it should explain everything that anyone inside the business needs to know about the brand including reason for being, mission and vision, personality and brand story. Much of this information comes out of a brand workshop and is fundamental to creating and shaping a robust brand identity.
Put simply, the ‘brand’ is the non-tangible aspect of the guide and is all about the perception you want to create in the minds of customers. The promise you make to your clients. The brand essence and personality.
This not only informs the reader of the background to the visual identity, but also acts as a ‘call to arms’ for anyone internally.
Creating a visual brand identity
The second piece of the jigsaw is the visual brand identity. This section should contain all the information required for anyone (internally or externally) to be able to implement the brand identity pinned down in part one. Some of the more common topics you’ll find in this section might include:
Rules on the logo and how and where to use it. You’ll commonly see an exclusion or clear space zone here, where you implement rules to ensure the logo is never crowded out by other elements on a page.
What the brand colours are, details on how to create them using the many colour systems available and when certain colours are used. There may even be a primary and secondary colour palette.
Details on the corporate font and when to use certain weights for headlines and copy.
The tone of voice (TOV), with explanation of exactly how customers should (and shouldn’t) be spoken to.
Examples of the types of photography, icons or illustrations that may be used, and how and when to use them.
Conducting a brand audit
While the above points are essential and the mainstay of any brand guides, they’re quite generic. A really useful set of brand guidelines is tailored to fit the business – that’s where the brand audit comes in. It’s no good creating a set of rules for stationery if the business only communicates online for instance. By cataloguing every brand touch-point, you can then be assured that the guides are fit for purpose.
Writing the brand guides
By now, you should have a list of items you need to create rules for, the concept behind the new brand identity and the reason it was put in place. Now you just have to actually write the guides!
There’s no great science behind this part of the job – it really is about going through all the elements and documenting exactly how the brand identity should be implemented across all the items from your brand audit. There might also be some new elements that you need to cover as well, so it’s worth double checking with the client that you have a complete list of everything that they need.
Essentially, we find that the best way to create these rules is to design the elements, ensure they all work and then create the rules from the work we’ve nailed. Yes, it’s a time-consuming process – but it’s also the best way of checking the rules are fool-proof and effective. It can also help with the creation of a final section that we feel isn’t done often enough – ‘bringing it all together.
Bringing it all together
This section is where we take all the rules on logos, typography, colours, tone of voice and so on, and showcase them in the real-world situations specified in the brand audit, such as merchandise, posters, billboards, social media and websites. Being able to see everything working together rather than in their constituent parts (as traditionally shown at the front end of the guides), makes it easier for anyone using the brand guides to contextualise the rules and how they work.
This also helps you create some brand templates, which are a really useful by-product of this exercise. You essentially have to design all of these elements and can then pass these onto the client to act as brand templates, which is super useful for the client and really helps to ensure brand consistency.
To sum up, writing the guidelines is relatively easy – the process is to systematically document the reasons and the rules for everything you see. However, it’s important to do the groundwork beforehand so you’re not fabricating rules on the fly. Create the brand touch-points, ensure they’re consistent, then write the rules you’ve discovered throughout the process.
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Written by Carrie Webb
A life-long lover of the written word, Carrie is your go-to for compelling content that resonates with your audience.