What are brand guidelines? They’re the keys to the castle—to winning new customers, building trust with investors and the media, and making your mom (who thought your small business goals were too lofty) proud! Branding, to put it simply, makes your small biz look too legit to quit.
Brand guidelines are much more than a logo. They define your brand’s entire VIBE. And how that inspirational essence translates online, in stores, or through your business cards and fleet vehicles.
Read on for a rundown of the 5 small business brand strategy essentials that make up a winning brand kit.
What are Brand Guidelines? A Quick Summary.
Brand guidelines or a “brand kit” are design guidance put together by a professional design team to ensure your business’s visual identity is consistent, strategic, and representative of your preferred aesthetic.
As a business owner, translating your creative vision can be hard. This is why brand guidelines exist. So you aren’t stuck constantly explaining how branded creative should look and feel. And so you yourself understand the nuances of your brand and why sticking to your brand guidelines is important for business growth.
Brand Guidelines Should Define:
1.Your main logo design. And, possibly, alternate use logo versions specifically for use on social media or to brand your service truck fleet.
2. Complementary brand colors. Used in your logo and marketing materials, like your website and product packaging.
3. Typography and fonts. Will your brand use custom typography? Your designer will advise which font families look great with your logo and convey the message of your brand. And give you guidance as to which fonts should be used where. Like in headlines, subheads, and paragraphs on your website.
4. Logo Usage Guidelines. These explain how the logo should and shouldn’t be translated for common uses, like on business cards or social media post designs.
5. Mood Board and Photography Guidance. Examples of your branding used in real-life ways. How your colors will look paired with on-brand photography styles and design elements—like shapes, textures, and web icons.
What Are Brand Guidelines? The Deep Dive.
We’ve already answered the whole “What are Brand Guidelines” question on the surface level. But for those of you who want to truly understand your brand strategy…here’s an in-depth explanation of each of the 5 basic components of a brand kit.
#1 Logo Concepts
When you’re building your brand guidelines, your designer will usually include at least 3 logo concepts for you to review before selecting a final logo. Unless you already have a strong idea of what you want your logo to look like, logo concepts are meant to show several very different directions you could take your brand.
This helps you to decide what you do and do not like. Because not everyone is a designer! Sometimes you aren’t sure what you want until you see what you don’t want. You’ll receive multiple file-formats and color choices for your final logo. You may also receive “alternate use” logos, which are forms of your logo designed for specific uses.
Helpful Things to Keep In Mind When Selecting a Final Logo Concept
• Which specific design elements (shapes, fonts, etc) you like/dislike. You can always combine logo versions and other brand elements to make the perfect brand identity for your small business. That’s the entire point of logo concepts! to get to the bottom of what you like so your designer can draw from the visuals you love.
• Where will you use your logo? For example, if it needs to be on the side of a truck you’ll want it to be simple enough to see clearly from a distance. If you’ll use it on social media, you may want a watermark version.
• Did you get a .png of your logo? You will definitely need this file format for use on social media designs, advertising, and your website.
• Is your logo high resolution? You will need high resolution files so your logo design looks great whether it’s blown up or shrunk down.
Pro Tips for Logos
Make sure your designer delivers diverse file formats of your final logo design. PNG, SVG, PDF, PSD, Ai, and EPS are standard file types. Talk with your designer about how you’ll use your logo to make sure you have what you need.
This is especially important if you use a freelancer, as you may have to pay extra for new file types later. You might not even be able to track them down again when your project is complete! One of the benefits of designing your brand guidelines with a branding agency like LoudBird is that you’ll never have trouble keeping in touch.
#2 : Color Palette
Your color palette is a grouping of complementary colors that will appear in your logo, on your website, and on your packaging or any other design elements.
When speaking with your designer about your color palette, keep in mind what message your colors will send.
- Red/Orange = Passionate, loud, high energy, hunger-inspiring
- Yellow = Happy, fun, whimsical, sunny
- Green = financial, natural, nurturing, healthy
- Blue = trustworthy, educated, powerful, professional, calming
- Purple = Luxurious, vibrant, moody, lavish, high-end, royal
- Pink = Loud and bright or soft and feminine
- Black = Sophisticated, strong, minimalist, bold, classic
Pro Tips for Color Palettes
Make sure your designer includes hex codes for online use, as well as CMKY for print applications in your brand kit. You’ll need to pass these color codes along to graphic designers, website development, and employees.
It can also be handy to have pre-lightened and darkened shades of your brand colors, especially if your colors are intense or bright. This way if you have to tweak colors slightly in some designs, your final product will still be on-brand.
#3 Typography and Fonts
You should receive font suggestions for headlines, subheads, and paragraph copy. This is very useful for your website. Make sure to use these same font combinations on your website, social media, and in any other marketing materials to maintain consistency.
Popular fonts types you might encounter:
- Serif. Traditional lettering, has anchors on each letter. Used for headlines, body copy.
- Sans serif. Modern, sleek lettering. Used for headlines, body copy.
- Script fonts. Fancy lettering—think cursive or calligraphy. Can be used for logos and headlines.
- Display fonts. Quirky and bold. Can include shadows, outlines, etc. Only suitable for logos and possibly headlines.
Pro Tips for Typography and Fonts
Make sure your designer delivers web-approved fonts so that your website will appear correctly on all internet browsers and email servers. A great resource for web-safe fonts is Google Fonts.
#4 Logo Usage and Photography Guidelines
These do’s and don’ts help people who will use your style guide stay true to the original designers vision.
Examples of usage guidelines could be:
- Which types of shapes should your brand use for things like icons, social media imagery, and packaging?
- Is there a minimum or maximum size the logo should be blown up or shrunk down?
- Should your logo never be placed less than 20 pixels from the outside border of an image?
- Should specific logo colors or versions be used for specific applications? For example, maybe you only use a simplified logo that is easy to see on mobile for social media posts?
- Should images always be edited in a certain way to complement your logo? i.e. bright, vibrant images or muted, faded photography effects?
- What tone should images have? Should subjects be obviously happy? Outwardly sexy? Moody and pensive?
#5 Mood Board
Your mood board is a collection of images, textures, conceptual shapes and other relevant design elements that your designer will create to convey the mood of your brand.
You can help your designer out by sending them photography styles you like, Insta feeds you admire, or websites you’d like to emulate.
When brainstorming for your mood board, your designer might ask you if you see your brand as a certain “mood” or combination of descriptors like:
- Fun, vibrant, bright, cheerful
- Dark, brooding, witchy, sultry
- Girly, neon, flirty, sassy
- Light, airy, pastel, dreamy
- Earthy, grounded, natural, honest
To nail this down, we like to try to get our clients to picture their brand as a person. How would he or she act? What might their name be? What quirks might they have? How would they talk to someone?
How Will I Use My Brand Guidelines?
Anyone who will be creating assets for your brand needs to have design rules that have been approved by you. This way you and your core business team aren’t stuck wasting time explaining your brand.
• Educate New Hires.
Especially in creative roles.
• Inform Contract Employees.
Freelancers or temporary staffers who need to understand your brand.
• Align Website Design and Marketing Agency Partners.
Ideally, you’ll have the same agency handle branding, website design, and other marketing like social media and SEO. But it’s best to have strong brand guidelines, just in case you need to involve a new agency down the line.
• Encourage Media and Press.
Make it easy for journalists to cover your small business by providing quick brand facts, your logo files, and how your brand should be represented in a press kit. Your brand guidelines will inform this document.
• Streamline Advertising.
Make developing effective advertising assets faster with easy-to-follow brand guidelines.
Why Do I Need a Professional Brand Kit?
A professional brand kit keeps your branding focused and helps you avoid headaches while promoting your business—like conveying your preferences to a website developer or graphic designer. Or passing off design files to a billboard advertising company. Or hiring a social media agency to manage your social media.
We recommend starting with a high-quality brand kit that you can use as a springboard for your entire digital marketing strategy. Investing in a solid brand identity is the most important step you’ll take in launching your business. Other than a slick website and Google-wooing SEO strategy, of course.
Which Other Brand Elements Do SMB Owners Need?
Now that we’ve thoroughly answered our original question, “What Are Brand Guidelines” , it’s time to quickly discuss the other ways you can convey the vibe of your brand.
Editorial Style Guide
Another part of your brand strategy you should be aware of is the voice and the tone used in your copywriting. This might be on your website, social media, advertising, or marketing materials. Commonly referred to as editorial style guidelines, the way your brand talks about itself and to its customers is just as important as your visual branding.
An editorial style guide keeps the messaging for your small business brand kit true to your editorial vision.
We always advise clients to think about:
- What tone your team will communicate in their writing. Friendly and approachable? Elite and luxurious? Educated and qualified?
- Are there words that you prefer or phrases you find offensive or completely cliche that you do not want used to describe your brand?
- What’s your audience profile? How would you talk to your ideal customer if you were having a one-on-one conversation?
- If your brand were a person, what personality traits would they have? How would they speak?
Editorial Style Guide Examples
MailChimp created our all-time favorite editorial style guide. Check it out!
We also love Buffer’s Style Guide.
Mission and Vision Statement
Your mission and vision statement tells your customers, clients, or patients what your brand stands for, what solutions it offers, and how it hopes to shape the future of your industry. Mission and vision statements are typically short, sweet, and fierce.
Mission and Vision Statement Examples
Your mission statement should concisely tell your audience why you do what you do.
One of our favorites is also one of the shortest at just 2 words: “Spread Ideas”. If you’ve never checked out TED, do it! Their mission statement may seem sparse, but it fits their brand perfectly.
Your vision statement should tell the world what you hope to accomplish.
Warby Parker’s is classic and impactful: “To offer designer eyewear at a revolutionary price, while leading the way for socially conscious businesses.”
How LoudBird Can Help
We hope you can now feel confident explaining if someone asks you: “What are brand guidelines?”
Especially if it’s your boss or business partner! Investing in quality brand guidelines that can grow with your small business is imperative to your success. Let us help! We’ll guide you through each step of your small business branding.