So, you’ve heard about brand books, but still not sure where to begin in creating yours? Or maybe you’re wondering whether it’s worth having one at all and whether it can truly bring value to your company?
In this article, we’ll cover all the essential components of a successful brand manual and discuss how to create and design your brand book, including features such as the color palette and logo, as well as communicational and informational elements, which are centered around the brand identity and voice.
In order to give you the best illustration of how these should be executed, we’ve incorporated the most notable examples from giant global companies, as well as smaller-scale brands that have done it best.
Put simply, a brand book (or brand guide) is an outline of your brand’s mission, image, and core values. Above all else, it is the brand’s very identity, a DNA blueprint with layers upon layers of details, from the more general – such as brand purpose – to the more intricate nuances, such as specifics regarding the color scheme and fonts. With all of these elements combined, a comprehensive brand manual is born, providing staff and customers with a clear vision of the company and its product. Every big-name brand has a brand book, from Apple, to Google, to Coca-Cola, but even smaller-scale brands benefit from having one.
As a rule of thumb, a successful brand book should have the following:
Absolutely! No matter how big or small your company, a brand book will help to keep things structured for colleagues, and portray the most complete and personal image of the brand to the client. The brand book keeps things clear for designers, whether they’ve just joined the company or have worked there for years, and allows them to refer to the nitty-gritty of the fonts, colors, logos when designing the website or creating any extra style elements. Furthermore, It helps the marketing team understand what language needs to be used, when and how, as well as the story that the brand needs to tell. Finally, it creates a connection with the customer, creating the most detailed and coherent image of the brand, reminding them that it is living, dynamic, developing entity, with its own personality and voice. Howard Schultz, the CEO of Starbucks expressed this idea most succinctly:
“If people believe they share values with a company, they will stay loyal to the brand”
Your brand book is the best way to reach out to customers and show them that they do, in fact, hold the same values and principles dear. It is also a way to establish a common visual and verbal language for everyone that comes into contact with your brand – in their 2017 brand guidelines, Unicef highlight that their brand book is an essential tool, an inextricable component of all communication.
The brand guidelines can be divided into two basic branches: the style and design technicalities, which can also be understood as the visual and textual languages of the brand.
The design aspects concern the ways in which the brand will visually communicate with its audience. Whatever you do, when working with visuals, always make sure you target your audience in each and every aspect of the design process: from colors to fonts to images that they’ll find appealing.
Your color palette is the selection of colors and shades that your company will use to shape the entire visual aspect of the brand. This color scheme will then govern all branches of the brand’s design, including the logo, icons, all of the visual marketing materials, and, of course, the company website. When selecting your colors, the key to success is keeping it simple: choose up to 5 colors, although 3 is ideal – these should be a base, an accent and a neutral. The main color (base) will be the most predominant color of your brand, with the accent will be a (complimentary) shade that is used with the base to create extra visual interest, and the neutral will be used for backgrounds. You can use the following 4 approaches when picking colors:
When deciding which colors you want your brand to be associated with, take into account color theory and the psychological effects that certain colors have. Have a look at the following brands and the colors they’ve chosen to use:
Once you’ve picked the colors, list their HEX, RGB, or Pantone codes in the brand manual so that designers know the exact shades of the colors selected, and so that there are never any off-putting inconsistencies in the branding or design: Skype’s classic light blue is a recognizable color wherever it may be used, and any tinges that are even slightly off, such as a deeper blue, will simply seem unnatural.
The logo is like a mini representative of your brand, a familiar image that the public will visually recognize and consciously or subconsciously recollect your company and product(s). The logo section should illustrate and explain how and where it should be used, detailing the color(s) and size requirements.
When designing the logo, as with the colors, keep things simple and to the point: make sure it reflects your brand and is not overly messy or confusing. One great example is the logo evolution of the internet giant Amazon.
What started off as a very much nineties-like logo, with simply too much going on, with the pool water background and clashing text colors, has transformed into the clean, minimalistic and recognizable logo we all know today. Just two colors have been implemented, together with an arrow that smiles at users, creating a subtle and subconscious positive effect.
In their brand guidelines, Amazon has outlined each and every aspect of how the logo should be implemented, as well as how it categorically should NOT be used:
As in the case of colors, each font will have its own unique effect on your audience. With the huge range of typefaces available, you’re sure to find something that accurately reflects your brand. This section in your brand book should contain all the nitty-gritty regarding the font(s) you’d like used within your brand, as well as where and how each font should be used (for example, in posters, on webpages and even in ad campaigns. You should identify at least two fonts: a primary typeface to be used for the body text, and a secondary typeface for the headlines. As with other sections, this can be as complex and detailed as you need, or basic and to the point. Take a look at Yale’s typography guidelines:
The section goes on to give examples of the way the font’s variations should look on websites (shown below), in print, and on campus.
In this case, we can see that the font perfectly reflects the brand that it represents, and Yale refers to the ways in which this is achieved throughout the guide. It has a classic feel to it and is by no means anywhere close to the likes of a lighthearted font such as Comic Sans. The Yale typeface reflects the history of the institution, and its seriousness is further emphasized by the font’s simplicity.
Those little symbols scattered all over your web pages – such a simple thing to overlook. But they’re majorly important, so make sure you get them right. When designing your icons, keep a checklist of all the elements you need to consider nearby, as this will help you in staying consistent and focused on keeping them relevant to your brand. They may be small, but they add to the overall experience the client has when interacting with the company, and create a cohesive (and therefore trustworthy) impression: when small details are considered, nothing looks out of place.
Include your entire iconography in the brand manual, as well as when, where and how each icon should be used, and don’t forget about icons for any apps you have as well. Also make sure to specify what parameters should be adhered to when creating new icons, as iHeartRadio has done:
Dedicate a page (or a few!) to examples of imagery that reflects the company’s message, principles, and product. These should be pictures that you’d like to see used in the brand’s design and marketing. You may want to place a focus on black and white photos, or you may want pictures that reflect your target customer base. If your product allows it, try to include images of people reacting positively to it in a positive light.
A brand guide should convey the brand’s character, mission, and approach, and detail ways in which this can be reproduced by the employees. A successful brand book will create a meaningful connection with customers.
Each brand has a story – and every company was once just an idea. You can keep this part short and sweet, but the more detail you go into, the more your clients will be able to connect to the brand. It’s like getting to know a person: everyone you’ve ever met seemed unfamiliar and distant at some point, but once you got an idea of their personal history and found some kind of connection with it, most likely you couldn’t help but feel closer to the individual in question. The same principle applies to your brand – it is also a kind of living, breathing entity in its own right. It represents a set of ideas that need to be expressed openly and with character, in order to allow the world to bond with it.
Your company’s values will emerge out of your story. What does your company stand for?
Jamie Oliver’s brand clearly outlines the key principles that the company strives towards. This not only creates an appeal for the client but also reminds everyone working within the organization to stay true to these values in everything they do – from design to communication.
Specify the kind of language used by your company, by keeping the text in the brand book true to this style. Whether you’re a serious establishment (such as Yale University) or a warm-hearted brand whose main purpose is to create meaningful connections, use language that reflects your intentions. This adds further depth and character to your brand, bringing it to life and allowing it to speak to the world, simultaneously setting the tone in which you’d like the world to communicate with the brand.
Make your book as detailed or as basic as you need. Place an emphasis on things that matter most – perhaps fonts are not as important, to you, but the color scheme is a crucial element of your brand. Of course, the more detailed the guidelines the better, but it’s impossible to include everything! Go in-depth on the features that matter most. However…
Do include technical details of the design aspects, to allow new and old designers to quickly refer to them whenever necessary. This is the one section that it would be wise to invest some time and effort into, as it’ll not only make employees’ work so much easier but also allow you to remain perfectly consistent with all logos, icons, and colors.
Devote a section to the Do’s and Don’ts – this will prevent any unexpected surprises and ensure that your brand is communicated just the way you like it, and will prevent anyone from getting too creative with your logo, color scheme or layouts.
Lastly, remember to stay consistent all throughout the brand book. Things that may at first glance seem unrelated – such as your color palette and the typography – should all come together like pieces of a puzzle to construct a cohesive, uniform picture of the brand.
In order to get the most use out of your brand manual, ensure that you:
It’s not hard to guess which company this brand book belongs to, even if the tell-tale drink name were to be removed, which just goes to show successfully the brand’s marketing strategy (and therefore brand manual) is. Coca-Cola’s classic red is all over their guidelines, immersing you into the brand environment.
Apple’s brand and photography guidelines clearly express what to avoid in written form, accompanied by visual examples, ensuring minimal confusion.
General Electric provides a thorough analysis of each and every key component of the brand, establishing a connection with the reader, consumer, and potential business partner.
Jaguar Land Rover cover their products in the brand manual – each has its own personality and character, which is reflected in the language used to describe them, the photo and color choice.
This is a great example of a brand book that has stayed true to the company and each product by highlighting the difference between the Jaguar and the Land Rover, what they stand for individually and as part of the brand.
A brand guide or brand book is not only a condensed, paper or electronic version of the brand. Above all else, it is the soul of the company, the very core of its existence. If you’re just starting out, it may feel overwhelming to even think about putting together a brand guide. But remember that it can be as complex and detailed as you require – or very basic, and include only the features you deem crucial.
When creating your brand identity guidelines, make sure to include both technical and communicational components. Remember to keep all of these consistent with one another, to ensure a coherent brand identity that your clients can connect with and, as a result, stay loyal to. Keep in mind that you’re also creating these guidelines for yourself and for your team, too, as it’ll make design and marketing projects immeasurably easier – and more successful!
About the author: Diana Raz, content writer on technology and design issues
Title image from the Abstract pack of free vector illustrations on Ouch
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