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How to Create a Brand Style Guide

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Business people working brainstorm meeting concept for a brand style guide

Consistency is an important quality to have in a brand. It creates the predictability that customers need to recognize and trust your business time after time. But how do you maintain that consistency when you hand it off to employees who act as your brand ambassadors? Or to vendors who create materials for you? That’s where a brand style guide can help. Learn more about creating a guide for your small business that will ensure consistent, high-quality branding.

What Is a Brand Style Guide?

It’s a set of guidelines to create whatever your company needs. That includes tangible assets like: A brochure, a radio commercial, a website, or your logo. But it also guides you when creating scripts for your sales staff, how you answer the phone, what employees will wear at work, or the tone you’ll take on your Facebook page.

Notice that it’s a “guide,” not a set of “rules.” That means it sets out general governing principles that are meant to be used as reference tools. It still allows for creative ways to express the brand. But by standardizing these guidelines, the basic elements are maintained.

You probably have the makings of a style guide in your head. By documenting them in a guide, your brand will be consistently expressed by an employee, a vendor, a freelancer—whoever needs it to create something for your business.

Elements of a Guide

Style guides can take a number of forms but they generally have key elements. If you’re just starting out, pick the ones that are most important to describing your brand. You can (and should) periodically review the document to add more clarity or tweak existing guidelines.

  • The Foundation – This section should provide a snapshot of your business’s philosophy. It should answer why you exist, who you serve, what you can uniquely provide, and what you want to accomplish. Look to your vision and mission statements for inspiration here.
  • Visual Components – Here’s where you cover items like your logo (size, space, color), color palette (Pantone name and number), typography (font, alignment, spacing), and imagery/photos (mood, subject). You’ll want to specify which design elements can be used and how each can be used. Use visual examples to show what’s permitted and what is not.

As important as the specifics are, it is also important to express why you made those choices. For example, an accounting firm might use blue in their palette to communicate a sense of trust. A discount tire store might use a san serif font to express that they are a straightforward, no-frills business. An ice cream shop might use only vintage photos in their ads to convey the good old-fashion experience customers will get when they visit the store.

  • Voice and Tone – This section provides guidance on how you say something either verbally or in writing. Think of it as your brand personality. It might include statements such as, “Say it like this, not like this” to show contrasting examples.

Just like the visual elements, the voice should support your mission. For example, a hospice service would likely take a caring, supportive, reassuring voice. They probably wouldn’t use humor. A casual restaurant could take a more conversational, fun-loving voice.

The tone is how you express your voice with different audiences. A photographer might take a hipper tone for graduates taking senior photos, a soft romantic tone for couples getting married, and a whimsical tone to promote baby photos. The voice standards remain the same in each but the approach can be different.

Sample Style Guides

Here are some samples of style guides, a few from small businesses. Note the guidance they provide and how they communicate using visuals.

  • Apple Identity Guidelines – It helps maintain consistency when Apple hands-off their product to their resellers.
  • Scrimshaw Coffee  – See how they talk about and show their design elements.
  • Love to Ride – Notice how this bike shop communicates which colors represent their brand.
  • Barre & Soul – Check out how this yoga and fitness business uses photos to communicate their brand.
  • MailChimp Content Style Guide – Here’s an example of voice and tone guidelines for various types of marketing materials.

Consistency is key when it comes to your brand. Whether it’s your employee or a vendor, each should be expressing the same image of your business. These insights into brand style guides can help you create a reference tool to achieve that goal.

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