03 Nov The Importance of a Branding and Identity Style Guide
Consistently communicating the brand platform at every level of interaction with customers is key to increasing brand engagement in a saturated marketing landscape. Psycho-sensory research tells us that the majority of information is communicated through nonverbal or sensory channels. A clear, coordinated visual identity is therefore critical to formulating and executing a successful brand-building strategy – one that reinforces brand perceptions and manages audience motivations and expectations.
Communicating with too many voices and with too much variation can compromise brand equity and confuse audiences by expressing multiple personalities and leave messages open to interpretation. Communicating with a universal set of style and formatting conventions is necessary to articulate brand promises and strategic priorities, maintain a reputation of reliability, generate consumer confidence and build a personal relationship with customers. This is as true for B2B brands as it is for B2C brands.
A corporate identity style manual standardizes the creative approach to support a brand identity that is easy to recognize and heightens visibility and credibility in the minds of customers while upholding the integrity of the brand. A style guide is a system of policies and procedures that controls the formatting and visual presentation of all company communications, including the treatment of logos and typography, photographs and illustrations, and the management of templates, color palettes and editorial stylebooks.
As the symbolic representation of a brand, its character and its fundamental principles and values, a logo is the single most important graphic element and serves as the visual signature of the brand. A style manual establishes the usage preferences for logos, wordmarks, icons, tag lines and other identifiers. These include consistent positioning, orientation, proportional relationships and minimum size requirements, as well as color and style variations and logo configurations as they apply to every situation. A style guide will demonstrate the process for determining clear space requirements around the logo to optimize visibility and deliver the most meaningful and intelligent targeted impact. In addition, a style manual will provide examples of the correct use of trademarking, registration marks, company boilerplates, copyright statements and disclaimers across marketing materials intended for internal, external and international distribution.
The use of a specific set of compatible font families that reflect the individuality of a brand is essential to achieving a universal tone of voice and can greatly improve the legibility and clarity of company correspondence. Selecting a typeface that is distinctive, memorable and recognizable can trigger sensory reactions that influence the way consumers feel and form an emotional association between the typeface and the brand experience it represents. A style manual will regulate the number of allowable weights and styles and determine the proper spacing and formatting of letterforms. Furthermore, a style guide manages the visual hierarchy of headlines, subheads, body copy and other style preferences. An alternative set of typefaces should also be provided as a substitute for fonts that may not display properly across all formats and devices, such as Web-based applications, Microsoft Word documents and PowerPoint presentations.
Style guides establish color palettes to determine which primary and secondary colors a brand should utilize to create meanings, emotional impressions and perceptions about the character and attitude of the brand. An approved corporate color palette should be a selection of colors that combine and complement each other to form a visual identity that is easy to recognize, attract attention and potentially influence the moods and behaviors of end users. A style guide should summarize which combination of colors and contrasts produces the desired emotional effect while being mindful of how specific color schemes can yield entirely different emotional reactions, associations and interpretations across different demographics. Moreover, the use of too many colors when branding a specific product or corporate identity can diminish the impact of a marketing campaign. Brand style guides outline which print- and Web-specific color spaces, color builds and other specifications have been approved for corporate communications and which file formats are preferred for printing and duplication processes.
Imagery plays an important role in projecting the personality of a brand and strengthens the personal and emotional relationship a brand shares with its intended audience. A style guide is the blueprint for the overall brand image philosophy governing all visual assets, including clip art, photographs and illustrations. Many style manuals regulate the composition of subject matter, depth of field, image resolution, file formats, content positioning and expressive tone. Photographs that feature professional models posed in a studio environment, for example, may not be as compelling or represent the brand as effectively as candid, informal photographs of people taken under natural conditions that have not been staged. A style manual will also designate the correct use of captions and credits.
A fully integrated system of brand identity elements involves adopting a set of editorial guidelines to manage the treatment of language across multiple documents. An editorial stylebook is a collection of rules that enables a team of employees to develop marketing materials from the same perspective, with a single vocabulary and with a consistent tone of voice. Identity style manuals often defer to a specific editorial stylebook on matters of spelling, grammar, punctuation, hyphenation, capitalization, the use of italics and other aspects of language mechanics to improve accuracy and clarity across branded communications.
There are hundreds of different and highly specialized editorial stylebooks that cover formatting considerations across a multitude of audiences, publishing venues, academic disciplines and professional applications. Major stylebooks include the Chicago Manual of Style, the MLA Style Manual and Guide to Scholarly Publishing, the Business Style Handbook, the Associated Press Stylebook and the Microsoft Manual of Style. The stylebook published by the Associated Press is regarded as the industry standard that sets the parameters for objective documentation among the majority of journalists, news organizations and public relations firms due to its emphasis on brevity and impartiality.
A corporate identity manual should encourage producers of marketing content to abide by the same language and information resources – such as dictionaries, words lists, directories, technical manuals and professional handbooks – to guarantee consistent spelling in cases where guidance differs between reference materials. In addition, a set of internal “house rules” may be necessary to provide for specific style and formatting preferences when a brand chooses to deviate from the recommendations of a particular stylebook. This could include the conventions of brand-specific nomenclature and the use of active verbs and tenses and matching sentence structures to advance the brand positioning process.
The use of templates and grid systems for layouts produces a balanced look and feel across creative solutions. It is important to maintain proportional relationships with corresponding centering and alignment between textual and visual components. A style guide determines the rules that govern every aspect of content management, including the hierarchy of information; the measurements of horizontal and vertical dimensions; the appropriate sizing and spacing of text columns; the styling of charts and tables; the appearance of borders, backgrounds, and cover layouts; the acceptable use of negative space; the color, weight and texture of paper stocks; and universal interactive coding standards, website navigation, graphic interfaces and icon functionality. The uniform arrangement and positioning of graphic elements contributes to a distinguishable, individual visual identity, and following these template specifications will ensure that information is organized and presented in a way that is visually appealing, user-friendly and easy to understand.
A corporate identity manual saves time and increases cost efficiencies by simplifying the creative development process – less time is necessary for employees to be trained to learn brand-specific style practices, and less time is spent having to identify and correct mistakes. A style manual provides guidance and functions as an easy-to-use resource to answer questions, clarify production procedures and resolve problems as they occur. Style manuals streamline workflow and improve the quality of deliverables by reducing discrepancies, inconsistencies and miscommunication and improve the overall appearance and integrity of creative executions.
To be effective, a style guide must be accessible to employees and understandable by every person involved in the messaging process. This is especially important when a company works with third-party contractors such as Web developers, graphic designers and freelance photographers. It should be concise, easy to understand, and include specific examples of correct and incorrect branding. If it is too lengthy, complicated and tedious, nobody will take the time to read it. A style guide should also stress the importance of adhering to a specific system of identity standards by explaining why the use of certain branding elements is important and appropriate. The guide should not merely provide a list of acceptable branding practices, but should articulate the fundamental mission and philosophy that drives the brand campaign and provide reasons why committing to a particular creative approach is integral to maintaining the identity of the brand.
Brand guidelines should be flexible enough to be updated as the brand evolves and provide a framework that provides designers with enough creative latitude to develop new ideas. On the other hand, style guidelines should not be so ambiguous or interpreted so loosely that the brand identity becomes diluted and messages become incoherent.
A style guide should also address the protocol for special situations where a deviation from the style regulations and logo usage preferences cannot be avoided. Examples include oversize or unusual formats such as booth graphics, signage and advertising in outdoor environments; broadcasting and videography; branded merchandising such as clothing and promotional materials; marketing in foreign countries with different languages and trademarking practices; audio messaging, such as radio advertising, where visual branding is not possible; and branding across social networking platforms, apps and other emerging media.
The absence of a consistent creative strategy can cause confusion and create the impression of disorganization and negligence. At the very least, it is a lost opportunity to strengthen the brand image. Failure to incorporate and comply with a system of identity standards could also result in the inappropriate use of logos, trademarking and disclaimers, as well as the use of imagery and other branding elements that are misleading, out-of-date or which misrepresent brand offerings in such a way that could have potential legal consequences. On the other hand, the dedicated use of identity standards ensures a cohesive visual approach at every point of engagement with customers and forms the perception of stability, professionalism and credibility. A company with a clear central identity is a brand that cares about accuracy and is focused on the way it interacts with consumers, and is a brand that can be trusted. Implementing and adhering to the style guidelines of a carefully considered brand standards manual is crucial to the success of any strategic marketing campaign.