Episode #51:

Boost Value With a Brand Style Guide

Brand guide.

After designing a logo for a client, do you provide a brand style guide along with the files, so the client has guidance on how to use the logo? If not, you’re missing out on positioning yourself as an expert, adding value to your work and charging more.


Show Notes

Brand style guide template


Are you loving and leaving your clients after a logo design? After you’re done designing a logo for a client, do you hand over just the final logo files and walk away? Or do you provide a brand style guide along with the files, so the client has guidance on how to use the logo?

If you’re not providing a brand style guide, you’re missing out on an opportunity to:

  • position yourself as an expert, not just a doer;
  • add value to your work; and
  • charge more for that added value.

What is a brand style guide?

First, let’s talk about what a brand style guide is. A brand style guide may also be called a “brand guide,” “brand standards,” “brand identity guide” or “brand guidelines.” Whatever you or the client want to call it, a brand style guide is a document for clients and any vendors they use (say, other designers, a copywriter or a printer) to refer to.

Whenever you design a logo, it’s good practice to also create and provide a style guide. In other cases, like if you’re designing other materials—not a logo, so a brochure, website, etc.—the client may provide you with their existing logo and brand guide, so that you can follow the guidelines they already have in place.

The brand guide could be a few pages long, or it may be close to a hundred pages. I’ve seen one that was 72 pages for a worldwide organization.

Why are brand guidelines important?

A brand guide dictates how a company wants to represent itself in the marketplace, how they want to be perceived.

So the brand guide—when it’s adhered to, at least—acts as a compass, guiding employees and vendors on what to do and what not to do about how the brand should look, feel and sound. The brand guide helps them communicate in a consistent manner, and that consistency builds trust with the client’s audience and demonstrates to them what the company stands for.

Who needs a brand style guide?

Not every client needs an extensive brand guide. One-person or small businesses could possibly get by with just a guide of only a few pages talking about the visual elements.

I think that every client should, at a minimum, get a guide that details their brand colors and typefaces.

But the larger the company—the more people involved, the more that come and go over time—the greater the potential for someone to go rogue and not follow the guidelines. In these cases, you may have several departments referring to this brand guide—customer service, sales, marketing, design and communications departments.

Some may even have multiple offices or a franchise, so that’s even more people who need to be aware. Everyone needs to be on the same page to understand the brand and to know how to convey everything consistently.

In those cases, it’s even more important to create an extensive brand guide, and the greater the value it will have as well. And, of course, charge more in those cases too.

What’s in a brand style guide?

Visual Elements

A brand guide includes information about the logo and visual elements and their use.

Logo

When it comes to the logo, some things to include are:

  • showing the various acceptable color versions,
  • specifying the amount of clear space around the logo,
  • minimum size to be used,
  • placement on various types of backgrounds and
  • scaling the logo.

Color Palette

The brand guide should show the colors used in the logo. The color information should include colors for printing and the web.

For print, you want to list the Pantone colors and CMYK values. What a lot of designers don’t do, however, is check the uncoated Pantone guide to see how those colors would appear on uncoated paper. There are lots of colors that shift to another color on uncoated stock.

I’ve mentioned on the podcast quite a few times how one client uses 123, which is yellow. But on uncoated stock, it becomes more orange. So, in their brand guidelines, I specked 123 for coated papers only and 115 for uncoated papers, to ensure yellow either way.

This happens because uncoated paper soaks up more of the ink, making the colors appear darker. Uncoated paper also doesn’t reflect light as much as coated paper does.

Another example is that for one of their other colors, which is a darker color, I specked a slightly different CMYK build for the uncoated version. It has about 20% less black in it because of how much darker it will appear on uncoated paper.

A lot of dark blues look more purple or blue-violet on uncoated paper. It’s important to check the Pantone guides and address this where necessary.

Then, for the web, you would list the RGB values and hexadecimal codes. Keep in mind: it’s a good idea to let the client know that different monitors, web browsers and platforms (Mac vs PC) can display these colors slightly differently. I mean, if I (and I’m on a Mac) look at my website in Chrome, Safari or Opera, it looks the same. But when I view it in Firefox, the orange is much more vibrant.

Now, if you’re including a full color palette, not just the colors used in the logo design, then you’d want to provide the same values for each of those colors as well. Then you can also specify which are the primary colors to be used and which are secondary. You could optionally show tints of each color.

Typography

A brand guide should address typefaces:

  • which serif typeface;
  • which sans serif typeface;
  • what typefaces to use if those are not available, such as Georgia and Arial;
  • where to use each type, such as for headings or body text, if that is applicable, and that could involve showing screenshots of various types of materials and pointing out the styles used in various places;
  • where to get them, which could be a folder on the client’s server, a hyperlink to download them from Google Fonts or where to purchase them.

Imagery

A brand guide could address which types of imagery the client should use going forward:

  • photos,
  • illustrations,
  • icons or
  • custom photography.

You could even detail what type of content they should look for in the imagery (meaning what should they look for images of), plus the style and crop they should look for. You could also provide size guidelines for different uses. For example:

  • size of the home page image,
  • size of a blog page image,
  • size of an image used on a cover template,
  • social media image sizes.

If there is a certain style to be used for bar graphs, pie charts and infographics, examples of those could be shown as well.

Design Elements

If you’ve created some design elements as part of a client’s branding, you could address how they are to be used (certain colors, opacity, etc.) and placement (maybe always in the same place on a brochure or publication cover, for example, or used as a background image.

Templates

A brand guide, especially one for a large company, could display images of the letterhead, business cards, e-mail signature, a press release template, social media templates, plus acceptable variations of any publication cover designs, newsletter layout and PowerPoint file slide templates.

You could even go so far as to show placement of the logo on front and back covers, if there is a requirement, and how to place any design elements.

Another idea would be to show images of the preferred grid used in InDesign, showing the options for one, two, three or more columns as well as the width used for a sidebar.

Paper Stocks

The client may have no preference at all for paper, but some—this would be more typical of larger, more corporate clients—want to use certain paper stocks to help achieve a certain look or further advance their branding, convey something to their audience.

For instance, Yupo is a really cool synthetic paper that is waterproof. It comes across as cool and durable.

Or you might have a client who wants to be seen as eco friendly, so they only want to use tree-free paper like Yupo, or recycled or FSC Certified papers.

Maybe they want to use certain cover weights and finishes for publication covers and then specific text weights and finishes for text pages.

Messaging and Tone

If you’ve done brand strategy work for the client, the brand guide could also address the brand messaging and tone. This is the wording the client should use when communicating verbally or in writing. Some points to consider would be:

  • Should it be formal and professional?
  • Should it be technical jargon?
  • Should it be cool and hip?
  • Should it be fun and friendly?

Of course, this depends on their audience too.

Chewy.com is a great example I can use to explain messaging. Chewy sells pet products and their site has a fun, friendly feel to it. They have lots of helpful videos on there too, and even those are fun and reflect the brand.

But the most clever part is how they communicate with you one on one. Whenever you chat with them online, they greet you with “Woof! How may I help you?” or something similar. They also often ask your pets’ names and tell them to give them a pet for them. That’s the style of how they always talk to customers. They also send out personalized cards during the holidays to thank ongoing customers.

So the visual parts of their brand plus the customer service, their messaging, everything, all ties together. It makes for an amazing experience. It feels so awesome, in fact, that I wish all companies were like them. Most companies could learn a lot from them. But I digress…

Story and Values

A brand guide could also include information about the company’s mission, vision and values. This lets employees understand the background and the goals they are working toward, and the values they need to always keep in mind when communicating on behalf of the company, so everything is presented cohesively.

It could also include the company’s unique positioning statement, what sets them apart from the competition. Even who their target audience is: “We exist to serve ____ with _____.”

Resources

A Resources section could optionally be added to include information such as:

  • where to find the logo file formats on their servers or an intranet;
  • where to find any existing templates in InDesign, Word, PowerPoint, etc. on their servers or an intranet;
  • where to download the typefaces;
  • preferred places to buy any stock images;
  • preferred editorial style guide, such as if they use Chicago, MLA, AP or AMA or something else;
  • preferred vendors (outside designers, printers, mailhouses, etc.) and their contact information;
  • glossary of design and printing terms.

So you can see there is no set way to create a brand guide, and there can be quite a lot depending on the needs and size of the client. I’ve made it a lot easier, so I hope, by creating a brand style guide template for you, available for purchase.

It is 17 pages and set up with minimal design that you can easily modify to accommodate the client’s branding. It uses master pages; paragraph, character and object styles; and lots of notes and guidance about what to include for a basic guide as well as for a comprehensive guide.

It also has the core sections already set up with text that you can fill in with a client’s information and modify as you please. I’ve also included a PDF of a sample brand guide so you can see how a finished one could look. But I recommend you change the design to suit your client.

Get the brand style guide template

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