Your Brand Playbook: The How & Why of Style Guides

Have you ever ordered a favorite restaurant dish in mouth-watering anticipation, only to take a bite and realize, to your horror, that it tastes different? That they have altered ingredients or preparation in some way so as to make it only slightly different but terribly, mercilessly unsatisfying? How could they?!! you scream internally. So, maybe you calm down and try to rationalize yourself into liking the change. But it never works, does it?

This is a form of brand inconsistency and a prime example of the psychological discord it can cause. Don't let this happen to you … or to your audience!

rules of branding

Consistency. By the Book.

In every presentation of your business – logo, print materials, retail environment, website, employee culture, etc. – your brand should be appropriately reflected. The process by which we initially discern and formulate your brand entails becoming intimately familiar with the essential realities and aspirations of your business. (We will be exploring this in detail in a future post.) This work is only valuable to the extent that it can be implemented consistently, in all aspects of your business. 

But how do you reliably get this to happen?

After the branding process is complete, Flight 9 (or, hopefully, any agency you're working with) gets to work codifying the newly established standards by compiling what is called a Brand Standards Manual or, sometimes, in its most simple form, a Style Guide. A style guide for a small partnership may be consist simply of logo guidelines, a color palette and some preferred typefaces, and run only 2-3 pages. On the other end of the spectrum, some large corporations, such as Disney, publish internal brand standards that are akin to a coffee table book. These can include everything from extended logo families for sub-brands to specific language requirements for marketing text, to minute details of employee attire and behavior. It all depends on what is appropriate to the given brand. 

What's important to recognize is that it is sometimes necessary to standardize a brand's features beyond the visual basics in order to effectively and reliably capture the essence of a business and convert it into profitable relationships. Having a nice logo and color palette is always the right place to start, but just like your mission is unlikely to be one-dimensional, your branding should not be, either.

Because It Works.

When it comes to visual materials, one of the safer ways to ensure consistency is to rely on a trusted agency or internal team to create or oversee all projects. However, with effectively communicated brand standards, you should be able to have work produced by multiple sources while still maintaining a fluid, harmonious overall look and feel. 

Here are a few scenarios where a Brand Standards Manual should be employed:

  • All printed and graphic elements

  • Website and all digital environments

  • Advertising

  • Design of architectural work environment

  • Email templates or signatures and other elements of external communication

  • Selection of retail employee attire

  • Trade show displays

  • Presentation templates

By codifying your brand elements, a lot of guesswork is eliminated, and you'll never need to worry about whether new team members or service providers "get it." They'll have the instructions for consistency at their fingertips.

Room to Play & Grow

There is no reason to fear that having clear standards will lead to rigidity and staleness. Rather, the framework provided by the standards should allow for a reasonable amount of creativity and risk-taking without fear of going against brand. In one sense, this framework should represent a safe place to experiment, as long as core features remain consistent. A style guide cannot dictate every minute aspect of branding, and it should not try to. It should simply enforce a collective understanding of where the boundaries are, so that no one gets lost.

Your brand standards should be revisited on a regular basis – frequently at the beginning and at least annually thereafter – and revised to reflect whatever natural evolution your business and brand may be experiencing. Certain original creative directions that are taken within the given standards may prove especially successful, and you may wish to incorporate their key elements into the larger brand as a way of providing new tools in your brand toolbox.

Importantly, it is crucial not to fall into the trap of believing branding is easy to dictate. It isn't. Your brand is a reflection of who people believe you to be, whether you have chosen to be viewed that way or not. Bad press or bad visuals become identified with a business without their say in the matter. Likewise, a wonderful review or an especially pleasing customer experience can happen by chance, helping elevate your brand, even if you never planned on it.

So remember: If your brand is not clear and consistent, inconsistency will become part of your brand. Fortunately, with a brand standards manual, there's insurance for that. And, as always, Flight 9 is here to help you.

Melissa & Kelly