Oh, the humanity! A shocking number of businesses are oblivious to the countless ways their brand identity is being assaulted by people on the payroll. These companies are looking the other way and averting their eyes from the accumulating injuries sustained by their revered brand identity, taglines and key messages.
Reasons vary, but more often than not, the organization’s execs are simply unaware of the misuse and resulting damage. Further, they may not be familiar with the simple solution that will protect the brand that the company and its employees have worked so hard to build—creating a brand identity usage guide.
The purpose of such a guide is to establish a consistent application of the brand identity across all marketing efforts. A coherent look and feel of all branded communications is critical for building a solid brand and image. Any use of the brand’s logo, taglines, and other brand elements must adhere to the standards set forth in the guide.
So what are the critical components of a brand identity usage guide?
Typically, we find that a brand guide must be customized to fit the needs of a particular organization. Here are 13 common denominators that fit most brands:
1. Mission Statement
This brief statement will spell-out the organization’s purpose and guide its branding and marketing actions. A mission statement will offer a foundation for strategic planning, providing a clear path for decision-making.
2. Brand Purpose
Here, you’ll define the core purpose of your business—why your business exists—which will serve as the basis of your brand. It is the promise you make to your constituents (typically your customers).
Your organization reaches out to its target audiences in a variety of ways. Every touchpoint is an opportunity to strengthen the brand and convey its distinct spirit to customers and prospects. Each communication builds awareness of and recognition for your organization’s commitment to its audiences. These touchpoints will nurture a bond with your audiences, and create loyalty toward the brand. Touchpoints may include home pages, landing pages, traditional or online advertising, direct mail, customer service, e-mail, industry events, new business development, employee relations, social media, PR and promotions.
4. Key Messages
Serving as the foundation for all written communications, these brief statements, three to 10 or so, are high level and reinforce the organization’s mission statement and brand/business purpose.
Taglines are memorable phrases that summarize a brand’s personality and substance. The guide will specifically describe how and when taglines are to be utilized in all types of communications.
The logo is the primary visual symbol of the brand, appearing on every marketing piece and providing instant recognition of the organization’s efforts to reach its target audiences. The brand guide will offer a logo design rationale and history. It will dictate exactly how, where and when the logo is to be utilized, placed and positioned. Logo fonts, colors and sizes will be emphasized. The level of detail is directly tied to how serious the organization is about usage compliance. Specific examples of how to properly use the logo should be included. “Don’t Do This” examples may also be appropriate.
7. Color Palette
Few things can compete with color for igniting the senses and motivating people to take action. Define the print and online color values for the primary colors that should be used to represent the brand across all marketing mediums, including promotional items. For each Pantone and Web-friendly color value, a sample swatch will be displayed for reference. Secondary colors approved for accent use may also be defined here.
The typestyle used to display copy makes an important contribution to the brand identity. The appearance of text should be inviting and easy to read. The Brand Guide will define the exact fonts, sizes and emphasis approved for use in print and online communications. Details such as formatting for headlines, body copy, headers and subheaders, links, etc. should be included, along with examples.
9. Paper Stock
Printed marketing collateral such as brochures, letterhead, posters, buckslips and flyers, may require Brand Guide specifications such as paper stock. Here, the type of paper, its thickness and weight, and comparable alternatives will be defined.
10. Examples of What Not to Say/Do
To ensure that common errors are mitigated, it may be critical to include instructions and examples of what NOT to say or do in branded marketing communications. In addition, or alternatively, addressing commonly asked questions regarding brand compliance makes a wise inclusion.
A brand is often expressed through a variety of photography that is meant to support key messages and convey a strong sense of meaning. Images should appeal to target audiences. A rationale should be provided for selecting imagery, along with a range of approved image samples. If a library of approved imagery exists, the guide will instruct readers as to how/where this library can be accessed.
12. Assets Library
A well-organized and easily accessible assets library (most often via an online portal) provides all internal and external parties involved in promoting the brand access to view and download the approved brand guide, color palette, logos, imagery, marketing materials—including letters, envelopes, self-mailers, brochures, promotional items, email templates—and more. The guide will instruct readers as to how/where this library can be accessed.
13. Approval Process
Some organizations may require that branded marketing materials undergo a review and approval process prior to production/launch. The brand guide will provide a summary of the process and how the reader can initiate it.
Branding is as much—if not more—a strategic and methodical process as it is a creative service. In fact, if you embark on a branding, or rebranding, initiative without the proper investment in fact-based research and strategic planning, you’ll eventually learn that your focus on creativity and design has been largely wasted. And we all realize, in a down economy, a company’s shrinking marketing budget should be put to work—with measurable results and a positive ROI.