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Amy Alexander
By Amy Alexander on February 17, 2016

The Do's and Don'ts of Brand Guidelines

Writing a great set of brand guidelines is well worth the effort. Guidelines surrounding your identity are unique because they provide an opportunity for employees, designers, writers, stakeholders, and outsiders to interact with your brand. Suddenly, an employee can be your greatest promoter, catching the vision of your organization.

The key is to produce a toolkit of creativity. This is a written expression of your brand’s personality that will ideally spark a well-branded fire in the community.

The Do's of Brand Guidelines

Do inspire.

Inspiration is absolutely essential. Fill your brand guidelines with examples from the community. Display a t-shirt created for a recent event or group outing, or use the best marketing materials you’ve produced to kickstart brainstorming. And, don’t forget to have your guidelines professionally designed so that every page exudes the personality of your company’s identity. Check out these beautiful examples of brand guidelines.

Do include your brand platform.

Much of a brand guidelines booklet will pertain to design. Typefaces, PMS colors, logos, and imagery will all be discussed in detail. However, a brand platform is like a dictionary built just for your company or organization. Filled with brand vocabulary, your platform is gold to any freelance or staff writer. From marketing taglines to email updates, users of your brand guidelines should be encouraged to consult the brand platform for brand-specific ways to discuss the company.

is your branding invisible

Do practice listening.

Brand guidelines are a chance to crystallize what your company is about. Internal buy-in is the perfect way to ensure a smooth release and speedy adaptation to your new set of guidelines. Get input from stakeholders and employees. Make sure people feel heard (it can be our secret if you choose to ignore 90% of what you hear).

do consider your brand story.

As you work to inspire and set a foundation for your brand voice and visuals, the best way to create authenticity is to hear from customers and identify your unique Brand Story. Documenting the incredible experiences of your employees and clients creates an essential starting point for multiplying the good things that your company is doing. It also allows an opportunity to shift and fix the negative stories.

Watch this video about developing your brand story >

connect your brand guidelines to your brand story

The way you present your visual and written brand needs to be guided by the brand narrative itself. The tone, visual approach and other elements are all part of communicating that brand story. Capturing your brand story should always precede the development of brand guidelines.

The Don'ts of Brand Guidelines

Don't micromanage.

The fastest way to squelch creativity--and send someone away with zero inspiration--is to spend every page of your brand guidelines explaining what cannot be done with each of your brand elements. Certainly, you’ll need to spend some time showing how not to use the logo. But, throughout the guidelines remain primarily positive.

Whenever possible, show how they should use a brand element. This is also a crucial governance note. It’s important to keep a close eye on how your brand properties are being used. Your art files should not be freely passed out. However, try to compromise. Empower and inspire the community to express your brand in the proper ways. Otherwise, you’ll spend twenty pages of brand guidelines reminding the reader to email so and so, or fill out such and such form, before they do anything that pertains to your identity.

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Don't forget the digital world.

In the midst of print publications, the digital world can often be forgotten in brand guidelines. Don’t make that mistake. This is the perfect opportunity to include social media and web guidelines. Remember that your brand is alive in every employee. From their customer service interactions via telephone to their responses to Twitter enquiries, every employee should know exactly what is expected of them. And, they should be inspired to live out the company brand.

Customer interactions on your website should also be branded. Not only the aesthetic, but the language, navigation, imagery, and overall experience someone has on your site should reflect your identity. If your company has decentralized control over what goes on the website, this is a particularly crucial section to include.

Don't develop in a vacuum.

This goes hand-in-hand with taking time to listen. If you sit down with a small group and determine every element of your brand guidelines, it will be an uphill battle when you send your new rules company-wide. The truth is, this is a gift to every department. Take the time to help them feel that way, remaining transparent and ready for feedback as much as possible.

is your branding invisible

Published by Amy Alexander February 17, 2016
Amy Alexander