Whenever I sit down with a new client, I ask them if they have a brand guide. If they do, the work is easier. I can reference that as I put together all creative materials. If they don’t have one, I say, “Define your Brand.”
- Do you have a logo?
- Have you written boilerplate copy?
- Do you have photos?
- What’s your contact information?
- What do you like? Or what do you hate?
Often, they aren’t ready for this list. They aren’t sure what they like and insist, “I’ll know it when I see it.” This lovely sentiment is a creative’s (and your wallet’s) nightmare. It means we have to start at the beginning, or rather before the beginning, to figure out the identity of the brand.
You can cut past that time-consuming process, and create more consistency between your projects, by developing a brand identity and noting it in a simple brand guide.
What is a Brand Guide?
If you google “Brand Guide” you can find examples from big brands to small businesses. They range from a few succinct pages to expansive, detailed books.
Example Brand Guides
- Jones Soda Co.
- Macaroni Grill
- Boy Scouts of America
- American Red Cross
- Barre & Soul
- Urban Outfitters
For small businesses and startups, a one-page sheet is an excellent starting place.
Brand Guide Elements
At a minimum, your brand guide should contain several key elements: a logo, colors, fonts, main message, key statement, contact information, and a mood board. When they’re put together on a single sheet, it’s easier to interpret your creative preferences.
Logo (or Wordmark): This symbol immediately identifies your organization. Often, people use a combination mark with a wordmark and a logo. You may even create versions in horizontal, vertical, and simplified formats.
Colors: One of the first things our eyes process is color. For a brand, the core colors signal the emotion and energy of the organization.
Fonts: Consistency in font use adds another layer of identity to a brand. It’s subtle. However, our eyes learn to match the shapes of font combinations with an organization.
Main Message: Whether you draft boilerplate copy, or outline your vision, you should be able to articulate the main message of your brand. Answer the key questions about what you do.
Key Statement: Not quite a tagline, a key statement is something you will repeat in your materials to help people remember the meaning behind your brand. It should be much simpler than your main message and easy to understand.
Contact Information: Most of the time, your call to action in your promotions will be related to your contact information. It can be online (like social media or a website), a phone number, or a physical address. Remember to keep it on everything you produce.
Moodboard: Pulling together key images and textures, a mood board shows the creative direction of your brand. At a glance, anyone can interpret your design preferences.
Each of these elements works together to create a visual summary of your brand identity.
Defining your Brand
You can fill out your own brand guide to help guide future promotions. Set aside a few days to work through the process and pull your materials together.
1. Look Back
If you’ve never made a guide before, you might feel overwhelmed starting from scratch. Start by looking through your past promotions. Collect creative that you liked. Look through it and start making notes about what you’re missing.
Logo: If you don’t already have a logo, you can hire a designer to make one for you. There are even some designers who have attractive premade logos that you can cost-effectively customize. If you don’t know where to start, ask someone whose logo you admire. They can turn you on to a great designer.
Colors: As you look through your past projects and promotions, you might see some trends in colors. Look through your social media posts and pull your top posts. Make note of those colors and turn them into a unique combination.
Fonts: Similar to colors, you may find fonts in past promotional materials. Ask what has worked well for you in terms of both creativity and readability.
Main Message: Although there are a million ways to put together the main message for your brand, I like to start with one simple question: “Who are you and what do you do?” Take as many words as you need to get that answer. Then, work back through your text until you have cut it down to a few clear sentences. If you really get stuck, hire a copywriter to help you work through it.
Key Statement: From your main message, you should be able to pull one key statement. Write a single sentence that encapsulates your brand.
Contact Information: This section is fairly straightforward because you are simply copying down the ways that someone can reach out. As you note these routes, just make sure that the first impression in each area is the best it can be.
Moodboard: Finally, pull together your favorite pieces of creativity. Gather the best images of your products and services. Collect the promotional items that have been most successful. Cull these into a simple mood board that communicates the vision for your brand identity. In this process, you may find that you need to hire a photographer or designer to help raise the quality of your materials. Make a list to focus your project.
2. Keep The Best
Now that you’ve looked through everything you already had, and possibly recently created, ruthlessness evaluates it. You only want to keep the best stuff. Some of the ideas may have really appealed to you initially but lost their shine over time. If you’re struggling to sort the great from the mediocre, get some outside help.
Survey: Put together a survey of your customers to see what they think of your brand materials. To lower the pressure, keep it anonymous by using an online tool. If you don’t have customers yet, buy a list of people who match your target audience. Also, give them something in exchange for their time.
Focus Group: Gather together a group of customers, or prospective customers, and get them to give qualitative feedback on your brand materials. Ideally, you should use someone with experience facilitating focus groups to ensure reliable results.
Friendly Feedback: If you have someone you trust, like an industry associate or a consultant, ask them to give feedback on your brand.
3. Write It Down
With this feedback, add your information into a brand guide. Organize it carefully and mindfully. Others should be able to reference this document to understand the vision for your brand.
Then, go back and edit it. Absorb the effect with fresh eyes. You will find things to improve and clarify.
4. Use It
Start using your guide as a reference point. As your target audience reacts to your brand, you can use that feedback to improve your guide.
Create Your Own Brand Identity
If you do put one together, I’d love to see it. Let me know if you have trouble with the template or would like my assistance in creating comprehensive guidelines. Also, keep an eye out for more free resources by following me on Instagram or Facebook.