Sure, you know your brand. Chances are that’s partly how your company or your career at your company started – with an idea for a brand or with a desire to be a part of the existing brand. You may have loved what the brand stood for, or how it would reflect on your resume. Your organization’s brand is located at the very core of your answer to the omnipresent “so what do you do?” question at cocktail parties, business mixers, and family functions. But how well do you really know your brand? Is it difficult to explain your brand to others, including those that you hire to develop or represent you brand?

If you had to pause before answering, there’s a good chance that your organization’s brand may not be as well-defined as you thought. Enter the need for branding guidelines. Branding guidelines serve as your playbook for brand development, your internal culture, the types of people you’ll want to hire, and your unique value proposition that will allow your brand to conquer the competition. Branding guidelines don’t just come together overnight, however; a lot of time and thought need to go into a well-structured and detailed document so that there is no margin for mis-interpretation of your brand. Here’s how to build branding guidelines for your brand, no matter how large and established your brand is or isn’t.

  1. Start with an introduction.

    This sounds simple enough, and it is. The purpose of the introduction to brand guidelines is to set the stage for the information yet to be presented. It’s important to explain what platforms the brand guidelines are applicable to, whom the brand guidelines are intended for, and go outline what specific information is included.

  2. Define your organization’s Purpose, Mission, Vision, Values, and Positioning.

    This is a critical step for brand development, and it’s one that many organizations get wrong. At Fidelitas Development, we’ve constructed a proprietary process that allows us to help a client get to the root of their brand’s existence – their true purpose and vision for the company, along with how they’re going to achieve that vision (the mission statement). The values are a critical component that help set the tone for ongoing brand management, both internally and externally. These shouldn’t be fluffy, poster-friendly pieces of propaganda. Instead, they should ring true to the core of the brand’s purpose, vision, and mission. These values, integrated with the brand’s mission statement, will help define the brand positioning that all future marketing endeavors should be based upon.

  3. Specify your target audience.

    While most entrepreneurs and charity leaders have an idea who their target audience is when an organization is founded, this is more accurately described as a moving target audience – it will likely shift slightly as the organization and brand grow and develop over time. It’s critical that everyone on an organization’s team, from fundraisers and salespeople to CMOs and Founders, understand the brand’s target audience. Brands should get as specific as they can. For example, instead of listing a target audience as “adults ages 35-64,” a target audience is much better described as “Females ages 35-64 that have children with an average household income (HHI) of $60,000-$80,000.” Both statements are correct, but the latter gives far more insight into the proper tone of the brand messaging and marketing materials.

  4. Clearly define your brand’s logo guidelines.

    The devil is in the details when it comes to logos as a part of your brand management strategy. It’s important to involve the creator of your brand’s logo in this discussion; no one knows the logo and its proper use better than they do. In this section, it’s important for an organization to elaborate on proper logo variations, if any, and other specifics like logo clearspace (the minimum amount of space around the logo at any given time). Your brand’s logo guidelines are critical for signage orders, printing, and even work uniforms. Remember, consistency is key.

  5. Present a color palette.

    When Fidelitas Development constructs a set of brand guidelines, we typically include four main colors, defined in CMYK, RGB, and Web formats. This should cover all future design endeavors for a brand. We typically go one step further by presenting proper color tint options for the four primary colors as well, which gives the client a broader selection for future marketing materials.

  6. Include typography and font options.

    While many founders and CMOs select their typography based on personal preferences, a brand will stay truer to itself if the typography is considered in conjunction with the brand guidelines at-large. The Fidelitas Creative Team has a distinct system for selecting the right fonts for each client’s brand guidelines. Ideally, the fonts selected in the typography allow for a subtle reinforcement of the overall brand in all pieces of of a brand’s collateral, both internal and external.

  7. Clearly define the tone of the brand.

    The tone or mood of a brand should tie it all together in a set of brand guidelines. This section should reflect the brand’s story as well as the culture of the organization. Remember, if it’s not authentic, your customers will sniff it out in a heartbeat.

  8. Showcase ideal imagery.

    The imagery section is determined by a combination of the brand’s tone, positioning, and target audience. This section should highlight the ideal types of imagery to use in marketing materials ranging from brochures and websites to television commercials and office decor. It’s important for Founders and marketing leaders to keep these imagery guidelines in mind at the office; they can play a key role in shaping the atmosphere at the hub of your organization’s culture.

Extra Credit:

  • Include social media guidelines to ensure your brand’s presence remains consistent across all channels.
  • Web standards and styles will come in handy the next time you need to rebuild your website, so it’s better to include them from the get-go.
  • Business document templates for items like business cards, letterhead, envelopes, and folders will save marketers time later.
  • B2B brands ought to consider including presentation templates as well to make it easier for the sales departments to maintain brand consistency.

Do you have your brand’s positioning, target audience figured out? If not, sorting out the logo guidelines and color palette will be efforts in futility. This in turn makes imagery, tone, and typography irrelevant until the positioning and target audience are well-defined. It’s important for marketing leaders and founders to start there and work their way down the list.