Establishing Brand Guidelines: 5 Tips for Success

Your brand is ultimately in the hands, or rather the minds, of your audience. The perceptions they have about your company, products, or services essentially formulate your brand. Your brand guidelines, meanwhile, can help you to control many aspects of how your audience perceives your brand.

Through your brand guidelines—best delivered as a PDF for maximum accessibility and document integrity—you should be able to turn everyone responsible for communicating or representing or interacting with your brand into knowledgeable and passionate “brand ambassadors.” Here are five steps for success:

Step 1: Know your audience.
When planning your brand guidelines, be very aware of the scope of your audience: marketing team members—both creative and editorial, customer service representatives, sales staff, marketing agencies, and so on. The audience you need to inform obviously will have direct bearing on the content you include in the document.

Step 2: Make it easy.
Your audience needs to know why it’s important to be an ambassador of your brand at every turn, but also understand how they can do it. The guidelines therefore should be easy to follow. Generally, starting at a very high level and then drilling down into more specific details is a good approach. Consider the broad strokes outlined below:

  • Your brand: An inspirational overview of the brand idea including beautiful examples of the brand in action. The first section should inspire everyone who reads it to be (and understand the responsibility of being) a brand ambassador. If you have a manifesto, this is its home.
  • Key brand graphics: The logo and/or nameplate and the rules for using them. Include other relevant elements, such as supporting brand graphics, images, color palettes, and typography.
  • Using your brand: Examples and guidelines for creating the main assets, such as your identity system, and print and digital marketing assets.
  • Brand voice: This is how you define the way your brand “sounds” to the audience. This may be as detailed as a complete editorial style guide, or some simple guidelines regarding the tone of your company’s written communications. Don’t forget to consider how customer service people interact with your audience on the phone or in physical locations.
  • Layout: Your brand guidelines should show as much as tell. This means using the guide itself—front cover, back cover, section dividers—to demonstrate how the brand can be used effectively.

Step 3: Be thorough.
Depending on the size and type of your company, there are many different areas the brand guidelines could delve into. This short list outlines some common topics:

  • Logo/nameplate and usage, including different colorways and when to use them, clearspace, minimum sizes, and typographic rules. Here is an example of guidelines for a logo structure and clearspace:


  • What secondary graphics such as patterns, icons, or possibly, photography, can be used and how? If applicable, go into detail about photographic style.
  • The use of color to define the brand. What are the primary and secondary palettes? What are the different colors used for?
  • Typography: What fonts are used for what purpose? Be sure to include font specifications for print, web, and standard office applications.
  • A section on digital applications such as email, sales landing pages, and, of course, your website and social media properties.
  • Guiding principles for your product packaging and any other specifics, such as trademarks.

The relevant marketing collateral for your organization also should be covered in detail. This can include instructions on anything from what email templates to use to how to format data sheets.

Step 4: Be consistent, consistently, because consistency is king.
One of the keys to establishing top-of-mind brand guidelines awareness with your audience is consistency. Provide examples to show users how to provide a consistent brand experience for your audience. (Note: If you’re preaching consistency, be sure to follow your own guidelines in the document.)

Step 5: Be the brand.
Brand guidelines can be quite complex, or very simple, depending on the size, breadth, and specific needs of your organization. And remember, while the document must include specific rules and details about how to use your brand, it shouldn’t feel like a mandate. Instead, it should be seen as a friendly guidebook for enrolling in your brand mission everyone who works with your brand.

Next month we’ll delve into the best practices for preparing the digital files to accompany your brand guidelines.

Need some help developing your brand guidelines, a style guide, or marketing messaging? The Content Bureau is here to help.

By Benjamin Lovejoy