The Foundation of Branded Marketing
Last week I introduced the acorn and the tree, a story of perspective. Professional marketing isn’t just available for businesses with large marketing budgets - it’s all about building the proper foundation.
When the topic of a brand style guide comes up, many of the small business owners and operators that I talk to usually respond with something like this; “I don’t need a brand style guide, I've already made all these decisions" - or my personal favorite - "I know it when I see it because it's all in my head.” That’s well and good, but knowing conceptually what your brand style is - and documenting that style - are for two different purposes.
And both are critical to the health of your marketing program.
It’s like that emergency file you keep with all of your important logins and passwords; there’s nothing more reassuring than knowing where to go to find critical information when you can’t remember it or need to access it quickly. Why wouldn’t you treat the core components of your business’s brand with the same care?
When you started your business, you probably:
Had a logo designed, or designed one yourself.
Had stationary, business cards and other collateral pieces designed and printed.
You might also have:
Designed and launched a website.
Ordered store signage.
When you first get started, your brand is new and pieces are developed all at once. As you grow and evolve, you introduce new pieces, new team members, and new channels to communicate with your clients. This is where all of that conceptual knowledge gets tricky. While some evolution in your marketing is natural over time, consistency to your core brand style is key to making sure your audience recognizes your brand when they come across it.
So what should you have in your style guide?
It starts with five basic components, but can get as detailed as you’d like. Some choose to include things like target demographics, the ideal customer avatar and a competitive analysis of brands they want to emulate.
Personally, I like to also include major details or decisions I make for my brand that I want to carry forward for consistency. Some of these things might not come up frequently, so when they do I can look back and review it any time I want a refresher.
Want to start developing your own brand style guide? Let's do it! Time to get that beautiful knowledge out of your brain and on to paper!
Start here: ⬇️
Your Brand Mission & Vision Statement
Who are you and who do you serve? Where do you want your brand to be in five years?
If you can’t distill this in to a few sentences, you might find it difficult to make sound marketing decisions for your company and/or your audience moving forward. Effective marketing doesn't talk to everybody about everything; it talks to a specific audience about a want, need or desire its brand can fulfill.
Your Brand Logo
Include any variants you may have such as icon only, icon with text, text only; plus square, vertical and horizontal treatments. It is also important to have your logo files in one place, and available in single-color alternates. Start with your primary full color logo and go from there.
Versatile logo options include all white on a transparent background, in the event the logo will be used on a dark or black background; or all black if being used in a black & white environment to ensure the crispest clarity.
Side Quest: Figure out how small you can print your logo before it becomes difficult to read. Once you’ve done this, document a minimum production size to ensure your logo is always clearly displayed.
This prevents unwelcome surprises, especially in the realm of logo giveaway items such as pens and other small trinkets. If the print area is below your minimum size, use one of your brand fonts and plain text instead.
Your Brand Fonts
Include any fonts used in your logo, plus select a primary “copy” font that you’ll use on your website, in word processing programs and in advertising designs.
Side Quest: Did you know that unless it is in an image, your virtual font may look different on a viewer’s screen if they don’t have the font you’ve chosen installed on their device? For this reason, it’s smart to also select a secondary copy font to use when you have access to only universal fonts.
This comes in to play in some email marketing programs like Constant Contact, since they are designed to be delivered across all screens. Look within the virtual marketing platforms that you use for your business, and pick one that works where you’ll be using it.
Your Brand Colors
Colors are key to solid branding, and come up way more often than you’d think in the promotion of your business. Document your primary brand colors and select a few compatible alternate colors that can be used in the promotion of your business.
Side Quest: Color codes come in different types for different purposes, which you may or may not be familiar with. The most common types are PMS, CMYK, RGB and HEX. PMS and CMYK colors are for print; RGB and HEX are for onscreen.
Not all colors are equal, so to avoid issues in reproduction it is important to know what your true brand color codes are across the various types. If you worked with a designer, ask them to provide you at least two of the color codes - one for print and one for online - for each of your brand colors.
Your Brand Terminology
What do you call your customers? Is your business casual and conversational or reserved and refined in its tone of voice? Are there any nicknames that are off limits for your business*? How about words or phrases that you do not want your business or brand associated with? On the other hand, are there specific words or phrases you do want to be associated with?
This is your chance to jot down some do’s and don’ts, so future staff and partners know too.
*Funny yet true, SO2 is the chemical compound for sulfur dioxide, so my brand style guide strictly prohibits shorthand reference to the brand as SO2. A bit overbearing? Maybe. But I don't want my brand to be accidentally synonymous with a toxic gas!
Think of putting these things down on paper as paying it forward to your future self. Instead of having to disseminate this information to new members of your team one piece at a time, they can review it all in one place and provide you drafted pieces that carry through your original vision for the brand. The dream is to not have to do this all yourself one day - why wait until then to get ready for it?
By taking the time to document just a few critical pieces of style information today, you will have an incredible resource for yourself, your employees and your future marketing partners tomorrow.