6 Tips for Creating a Style Guide for Your Brand

brand style guide

You’re an entrepreneur – perhaps part of a small start-up, or an individual looking to make a splash. You’re not a massive corporation. On that basis, although you’re happy to work with a PR firm and make a press kit, you might draw the line at creating a style guide for your brand.

That would be a mistake. Such things aren’t just for monolithic giants – they’re for every company that wants to get their message out into the world in the best way possible. And as your business grows, creating a style guide for your brand is vital to ensure everyone stays on message.

What is a style guide and why is it important?

A style guide is one of the most essential documents for any business, yet it’s also often overlooked or ignored altogether, especially among smaller companies and startups. A style guide is a document that provides specific guidelines for presenting your brand in a consistent manner. The purpose of a style guide is to ensure that all collateral accurately represents the company with a consistent brand voice and design style. Creating a style guide with consistent brand elements allows you to differentiate your product, deliver memorable messaging, and build brand recognition and customer loyalty.

Why you need a style guide for your brand

Without a style guide for your brand, you’re much more likely to appear unprofessional, unorganized, and lacking a clear vision. For example, a company I once worked for lacked a brand style guide. Individual people would smash together their own presentations in PowerPoint, with no thought as to how they looked. Despite having over 60 staff, this SME came across like a half-hearted university student. It must have cost us business. Don’t let that be you.

Creating a style guide for your brand

1. A style guide should be simple

style guide should be simpleYou can head to the Internet and find all manner of style guides to peruse and download. Be mindful that most of them will have been created by agencies over a number of months – or even years. You don’t have that luxury – and may not have the budget to outsource.

Therefore, when creating a style guide for your brand, decide on the things you consider most important from a branding standpoint, and realize your guidelines can initially be a few choice paragraphs and images on a single sheet of paper. This basic foundation of a style guide can subsequently be built on and expanded as necessary.

2. A style guide should ensure consistency

style guide should ensure consistencyThe main reason for creating a brand style guide is to keep things predictable. When your output has that element of visual and tonal consistency, it promotes trust and competence. It means people know what to expect from you.

There are other benefits, too. A style guide provides guidelines to the press, your visual and copy assets will more likely be used in a manner you’re happy with. As for internal use, you’ll find people are more productive when they have some rules to work from – and messaging will be far more coherent.

3. A style guide controls your visual content

style guide controls your visual contentShow how your logo should be used. State acceptable color variations, for example when it’s used on different backgrounds – and also the kinds of backgrounds you consider acceptable. Define preferred positioning, minimum sizing, and how much space should be left around the logo.

List your brand’s color palette in your style guide – core and secondary. Show how the colors should be used, and what their values are (Pantone/RGB/Hex). Similarly, list your core typefaces, along with hierarchy/use-cases for headings and document structure. That can be especially useful for staff when creating presentations and pitch documents. If your brand has a non-standard spelling, outline that, too, although be mindful some editors will ignore it. (In-house staff, however, should not!)

Where possible, show correct and incorrect variations of all these things, provide instructions for web and print, and be aware that there must be some flexibility – just not too much!

4. A style guide should identify your brand voice

style guide should identify your brand voiceEven if a brand is a physical manifestation of a single person, you need to get down in writing what that personality entails. As companies grow, it’s even more vital to have a consistent tone and attitude in official literature – but that’s also infused into the company as a whole in general communications.

Be human and not self-important. Outline word usage – phrases and words you like, and those you do not. Feel free to throw grammar preferences into the mix. Hire a content manager for crafting words in the same way you’d hire a designer to make a logo, and heed their advice. At the very least, have someone proof your copy, so it’s not littered with embarrassing and unprofessional typos.

Have people you trust read through this aspect of your style guide, and provide feedback. Aim for appropriate and engaging. If someone says, for whatever reason, “that really doesn’t sound like you,” it’s time to rethink.

5. A style guide should emphasize your brand core values

style guide should emphasize your brand core valuesEverything mentioned so far is the ‘meat’ of your style guide, but it pays to place at the start something that’s really about who you are. What is it that makes your brand what it is? What does it do? What problems does it help solve? Call this what you want – a ‘vision’ or a ‘mission statement’ – but this content needs to be there in some form.

You can keep this short. If you’re a newcomer, no-one wants to read a novella before they find out how to use a logo. A couple of sentences might do. Also be mindful that you can split how things are shared – perhaps you provide a few sentences to the press, but have a more detailed document for your employees.

6. Share and update your style guide

style guideOnce you’ve finished creating a style guide for your brand, give people access. Put a version online as part of your press kit. Centrally share it in-house with staff. If your company is just you, still keep the style guide handy for reference when you’re working on new material to send.

Finally, don’t let your brand style guide be neglected. Your brand will continue to evolve, and so too should your guidelines. Adopt versioning, so that you always know people are using the current take on the style guide, and revisit the latest release at least quarterly – even if only for a brief sanity check, to ensure it’s still relevant.

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