“Your brand is what other people say about you when you’re not in the room.” — Jeff Bezos
Building a successful company requires getting a number of things right. Delivering a quality product, maintaining consistent value, and providing outstanding service are pivotal in creating a great business.
However, highlighting a company’s brand can take any business to the next level singlehandedly.
The very best brands endure the test of time because they use logos, fonts, colors, and visual elements consistently. This consistency helps customers associate the brand’s value proposition with the imagery that it represents. Thus, developing language that communicates the brand’s essence and its unique value proposition is crucial in building a successful business.
The question is, how can brands develop the proper language needed to communicate with customers effectively?
Defining a Style Guide
Style guides are unique to each brand. Attempting to implement a cookie-cutter style guide is a fruitless endeavor.
After all, every brand is different and must, therefore, articulate its particular language to communicate with its unique clientele.
In this regard, a style guide is a set of rules that determine how companies and marketers present their brands.
In short, a style guide is a collection of guidelines that determines the look and spirit of a brand.
These guidelines encompass everything from linguistic to graphic elements. Thus, wording, color schemes, images, and logos must adhere to the prescribed guidelines.
It is worth noting that everything “official” from the brand must use the brand’s singular language to communicate with its customers.
Why Businesses Need a Style Guide
A style guide is a valuable document that marketers, brand managers, and business executives can use when communicating with their customers. In particular, a style guide is crucial when conducting multi-channel communication.
A style guide ensures consistency throughout a brand’s presence across print and social media, television, and radio. Additionally, a brand’s visual representation requires careful attention to detail to ensure a unique branding experience.
In short, a great band experience allows customers to “feel” a brand the same way regardless of the medium where they see it.
Overall, a brand should strive to elicit specific emotions from its customers. Therefore, maintaining consistency throughout its presentation is pivotal in ensuring customers react the same way each time they encounter the brand.
Creating a Style Guide
Crafting a style guide requires a combination of elements that accurately depict a brand’s spirit.
Moreover, a style guide should encapsulate the emotional response the brand wishes to cause in its customers.
Here is a closer look at the various elements that must comprise a style guide, regardless of a brand’s specific style or target audience.
Who creates a style guide?
Generally speaking, graphic designers, marketing experts, and copywriters create style guides.
As such, it is naïve to believe that a single person can create a comprehensive style guide.
While an individual can certainly produce a solid style guide, an in-depth style guide requires a multi-disciplinary team effort.
Specifically, style guide creators must have branding experience that enables them to capture a brand’s true essence.
What elements comprise a style guide?
A style guide can be as simple or comprehensive as needed. In general, a style guide is a living document. As a result, it evolves as the brand does. A simple style guide could be a mere checklist of the essential items to include in day-to-day communication, such as logos, fonts, and color schemes. The most comprehensive style guides may become detailed documents that include a wide array of elements such as:
- Mission statement
- Vision statement
- Brand strategy description
- Tone of voice
- Editorial tips
- Grammatical and linguistic guidelines
- Image requirements
- Color schemes
- Paper sizes
- User interface elements
- User experience recommendations
As you can see, the list of elements can be quite extensive. Nevertheless, styles guides can be largely simplistic. It all depends on the brand’s specific needs. A good rule of thumb is to strive for as much depth as possible.
Developing a guide as comprehensively as possible ensures that no aspects go unnoticed. This approach is highly important, especially as the brand gains a stronger foothold in its market. Lastly, it is crucial to provide clear examples throughout the style guide. In doing so, anyone referencing the style guide can get a clear picture of how they must represent the brand’s image and voice across all channels.
How to Create a Style Guide
The creative process behind a style guide largely depends on a brand’s specific identity, needs, and target audience. Nevertheless, it is a good rule of thumb to be as detailed as possible.
Producing a detailed style guide essentially means that it should be quite comprehensive. While that may represent a significant upfront endeavor, it will pay off in the long run.
Initially, producing a basic style guide will most likely mean updating and expanding it as the brand’s identity develops.
Hence, the creative process must first contemplate the brand’s mission and vision statements along with its overall brand strategy.
Having a clear picture of where the brand is going greatly facilitates developing a coherent style guide that addresses all areas.
Here are five essential steps to consider when developing a basic style guide.
1. Logo Guidelines.
All great brands have unique logos that easily connect with their customers. Thus, an effective style guide must begin by clearly defining its logo, including size, dimensions, color scheme, and graphic elements.
Producing a logo requires the services of a talented graphic designer. The graphic designer, whether in-house or outsourced, must understand the brand’s identity.
2. Color Scheme
Having a clearly defined color scheme greatly enhances the brand’s image.
There is nothing worse than having inconsistent coloring and shading across multiple channels. Therefore, standardizing the brand’s color palette is an essential element of an effective style guide.
Typography applies to print and online materials. This element includes fonts, size, and layout.
All official communications must follow the same standards. This approach ensures that the public quickly recognizes when a document is authentic.
4. Tone of Voice
A brand’s tone of voice includes all linguistic elements it uses to communicate with customers. For instance, the style guide must establish the degree of formality used in spoken and written communication. Also, grammatical, spelling, and punctuation conventions must receive careful consideration.
An important recommendation in this regard is a list of writing do’s and don’ts. This list should include words and expressions to avoid while highlighting ones to use. For example, the style guide may explicitly request the use of inclusive language and gender-neutral pronouns.
The style guide must describe the brand’s tone of voice to be in line with the brand’s identity. In doing so, communication can resonate with the target audience. Failing to address the right tone of voice may cause communication to fall flat with the target audience. As a result, the brand’s image will suffer.
5. Clear Examples
Every element that goes into the style guide must have examples to reference. Abstract definitions may leave room for misinterpretation. Therefore, providing clear and detailed examples provides the depth needed to accurately represent the brand’s identity. An effective style guide should also incorporate examples of things to avoid. Providing examples of things to avoid helps focus the brand’s image.
Please bear in mind that there is no pre-set size for a style guide. It can go from a few pages to hundreds. Ultimately, a style guide’s size should accurately reflect the depth needed to represent the brand’s image and identity properly.
Examples of Great Style Guides
There are brands that have gotten it right. These brands understand their identity and their value proposition. As a result, their style guides reflect this understanding. Here are five great style guides that serve as a reference point for anyone looking to build a style guide from scratch or update an existing one.
The Apple Identity Guidelines thoroughly describe what every Apple employee needs to know about representing the Apple brand. To put this concept into perspective, the document states the following:
The Apple identity is a seal of approval and a promise of excellence.
When you are authorized or certified in your business area of expertise, you also represent Apple.
By following these guidelines, you reap the benefits of the Apple identity and contribute to its strength.
Indeed, the Apple Identity Guidelines make a strong statement about how individuals represent the brand through their actions. As a result, the guidelines provide specific actions on the following:
- Using Apple Channel Signatures
- Signature color
- Clear space and minimum size
- Signature mistakes
- Email signatures
- How to Use Apple Assets in Branding
- Reseller Store Identity
- Store exterior
- Store interior
- Editorial Guidelines
- Product names
In total, the Apple Identity Guidelines consist of 64 pages. It is a thorough document that provides everything Apple employees need to know to represent the Apple brand accurately in daily activities.
The Twitter Brand Guidelines are a great example of keeping a style guide short and sweet. Twitter has ensured that its brand guidelines keep branding elements concise. This approach ensures that employees have all the information they need without overloading them with information.
At 16 pages, the Twitter Brand Guidelines cover the following:
- Use of logo
- Social media icons
- Use of hashtag and handle
- Standards on the misuse of the Twitter logo
- Legal trademark guidelines
In particular, the Twitter Brand Guidelines offer this introduction:
We’ve created this guide to help you use some of our core brand elements – our logo, #hashtag, and the @reply, and Tweets. It shouldn’t take long to read (we kept it short). Definitely check it out before you get started.
The Twitter Brand Guidelines strive to keep things simple. Thus, it is a good example of how a comprehensive style guide can also be concise.
Dell Technologies’ Brand Identity presents its style guide uniquely. Specifically, these guidelines state: “We have a unified brand identity and language for Dell Technologies.” This document highlights an important issue: When companies have multiple business units, they must ensure that their brand identity remains consistent throughout each unit.
Dell has created a website where its brand identity guidelines are available. Here is a look at the areas these guidelines cover:
- Brand FAQs
- Third-party asset request
- Lifestyle imagery
There are two things worth highlighting.
First, Dell’s voice aims to reflect its identity through language. The guidelines state the following: “Voice is how we say things and express our brand’s personality. It’s the style in which we connect with people – the words we choose, the rhythm, tone, and punctuation.” It is evident that Dell places a great value on the appropriate use of language to communicate with its customers.
Second, Dell’s style guide includes a brief overview of the brand’s journey.
Including this element can help users get a good sense of where the brand comes from and where it is headed. Thus, it is good to include a brief history to punctuate the elements contained within the style guide.
Prestigious organizations such as Yale University go a long way toward cultivating a specific brand image.
Yale has created a short and precise brand guide that encapsulates its organizational brand philosophy. Its style guide begins by communicating its history, tradition, vision, and philosophy.
An interesting aspect of the Yale style guide is the recommended usage of school mottos.
When organizations have mottos, slogans, and catchphrases, they must ensure their proper use.
Therefore, including guidelines on how to use them accordingly avoids misuse or misrepresentation.
Walmart’s Associate Brand Visual Identity is a collection of guidelines that establish how Walmart associates must communicate in accordance with Walmart’s brand identity. In particular, the style guide’s voice and tone section lead to establishing effective communication. It contains guidelines on:
- Dashes and hyphens
It lists the following values to highlight its voice:
The guide also provides examples of do’s and don’ts:
- Don’t: Yowza! Keep this up, and you’ll be CEO by the time we hit Q3!
- Do: You’re on track to meet your Q3 goal.
This example highlights how overly friendly and insincere conversation negatively impacts Walmart’s intended brand image.
By being overly friendly, the true message of encouragement gets lost.
Please note that Walmart’s style guide is comprehensive though not overly extensive.
Thus, it is possible to communicate a substantial amount of information without overloading content.
A Final Reflection
Building an effective brand depends on maintaining consistency throughout communication with customers across all channels. Brands can rely on a style guide to maintain consistency while ensuring that all stakeholders sync their communication styles.
Indeed, producing an effective style guide can impact a brand’s overall appearance significantly. Therefore, investing in a solid style guide is one of a company’s best decisions. With the guidelines presented in this article, any brand can take the first step toward building an effective style guide to suit their voice, spirit, and image.