Think of any successful company and you should have a clear idea of their branding. Branding sets your business apart and makes you memorable, but it's also important for establishing who you are and communicating your values to customers, clients and partners.
Without established branding, your business could lack focus and a clear identity. That's why it's important to take the time to set brand guidelines that everyone who works for and with your company should stick to, from management and employees to SEO agencies you hire.
These guidelines should be clearly laid out in one or more style guides.
What should a style guide include?
Branding doesn't only cover visual elements, such as your logo, color palette and imagery, but also the style of language you write in and the messages you convey.
Every part of your branding needs to be thought about carefully to make sure you're putting across the right message. It should be cohesive across all marketing channels, from your business website to other online and printed materials.
Following are the 6 essential topics every branding guide should cover and some ideas for getting started with your brand makeover.
1. Mission statement
Besides making money, what are your business objectives? If you haven't already worked on your elevator pitch, come up with a short description of what drives your organization and the goal you're working towards.
Your mission statement might be expressed as your tagline or kept private. Either way, it can help define your brand values and personality that will be reflected in your branding decisions, by making sure everyone's on the same page.
2. Editorial style
How do you want your business to sound? Defining a consistent editorial style will ensure that everyone who creates content for your website, social media and marketing materials is talking in your established voice – whether it's in text, images, audio or video.
Editorial style covers:
- Tone of voice – the type of language you use should reflect your brand personality and be easily understood by your target audience. Creating personas for each audience segment can be a useful tool for keeping them in mind when you create content.
- Style guide – the nitty-gritty of what spellings, punctuation, abbreviations and other stylistic choices your brand is committed to. Rather than creating your own guide from scratch, point your writers to an established press style guide.
- Dos and don'ts – highlight points specific to your business that you want your content creators to be aware of, such as how your products should be presented and other companies that shouldn't be referenced.
3. Logo & colors
If you already have an established logo and color scheme, consider whether these match your brand personality and values or if they need an overhaul.
If you're starting from scratch, know that your choice of colors will influence how people feel about and interact with your brand, so they need to be chosen carefully.
Your brand guidelines should define:
- Color palettes – the specific range of colors you want identified with your brand (ideally with Hex/RGB codes to ensure coherence). Your palette can be as minimalist or varied as suits your brand, and you might want to specify different palettes for different situations.
- Logo use – all acceptable variants of your logo to be used in different locations, including details of placement, sizes and colors.
Another important visual consideration is how your text looks on the screen (or printed page). Just like colors, typefaces have different associations that suit some brands more than others and should be consistent across all channels.
Your style guide should define the font styles, sizes, colors and other attributes to be used in different situations. Many brands choose different styles of fonts for headers and subheadings to the main body text. You should also think about text in images and video captions.
If you want to avoid the most commonly used typefaces (such as Arial and Times New Roman) to help you stand out, you still need to use fonts that are preinstalled on most operating systems. If you use a more niche or custom typeface, it won't display correctly for everyone.
5. Images & video
Every website needs images to attract and engage visitors, but not every site chooses its images with care. Image use should also be covered by your brand guidelines.
- Photos – whether you're using original photos of your products and your team, stock photos or a combination of the two, these should be visually consistent and fit your brand. If you're using stock photos, make sure you have the right to do so.
- Graphics and icons – remember your color palette and audience personas when designing graphics or choosing stock graphics that suit your website and other channels. Usage restrictions may also apply to stock images.
- Video – whether you're uploading product demonstrations, interviews, live streams or other video content, make sure your branding is prominent in the video and presented consistently.
6. Website layout
Users have high expectations of web design in 2020 and good user experience is an important ranking factor for SEO. Your website needs to be easy to navigate with consistency through all pages and across desktop and mobile versions.
This includes page elements like:
- grids and margins
- main and sub menus
- hierarchy of headers, subheadings, body and forms
- links and buttons in menus, forms and body copy
- social media buttons and other icons
An easy way to make sure your pages are consistent and responsive across all devices is to use a customizable theme.
Once defined, your branding guidelines should be followed closely, but they're not set in stone. There might be occasions when breaking your own rules is necessary to avoid being restricted or make more of an impact, which should be judged case by case.
More crucially, you should update your style guide regularly to reflect changes in user preferences and other online trends over time. Make sure everyone is informed of these changes so your website and content marketing remain consistent.
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