Smart brands stand out. The smartest brands realize that in order to distinguish themselves from their competitors, they’ll need to form a well-constructed brand identity—a process that goes way beyond logo design. Your brand’s identity is more of a philosophy than an image. It is what brings your business to life, reflecting its mission and setting you apart in the market.
In order to determine and maintain a consistent identity throughout all aspects of their brand, many business owners will turn to a brand style guide. A style guide is an incredibly valuable asset for brands at any stage of their development, and if you’re ready to dominate the marketplace, it’s a good idea to start creating one.
In this article, we’re going to shed light on exactly what a brand style guide is, why it’s such a powerful tool, and how to create one that will evolve with your business as it grows and develops.
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What is a brand style guide?
A good brand style guide acts as an encyclopedia for your brand identity, and is an integral part of your brand strategy and brand positioning. It will define each element of your brand’s character, covering everything from its mission statement and use of language to distinct color schemes and imagery.
Constructing a system of rules that will outline your brand’s aesthetic standards and the voice behind them, the best style guide examples will pinpoint the attributes of your brand identity design and bring them to life.
Why are brand style guides important?
A consistent brand identity is vital for the growth and success of your business. Once you’ve built a brand that is a unique entity, your style guide will define exactly how its message should be reflected in order to ensure current and potential customers continuously recognize it across all its individual assets.
A complete and detailed style guide will forever dictate your brand’s presence to employees, partners and stakeholders. This is critical, especially when handing over writing or design projects, or distributing your products to third party sellers. Your associates can always refer to your brand style guide to understand the fundamental details of your business’s mission and appearance.
How to create a brand style guide
There’s nothing like taking all the brilliant ideas you’ve come up with for your brand, understanding what matters most and putting them in one concrete place. Creating a brand style guide will entail some brainstorming and strategic thinking, but once you’re done, you’ll have an aesthetic bible for your business that you’ll always be able to modify and refer back to.
01. Define your brand identity
What is your brand’s identity? Before you create a brand style guide, take the time to flesh out the personality of your brand. You’ll start by defining your brand’s goals, values, mission and target market - its raison d'être. From here, define how these details will be expressed by the look, voice and behavior of your brand. Is your brand empowering and uplifting? Or friendly and informative? Perhaps it is ambitious and professional? Whatever your personality, each element of your design should reflect your brand’s character.
02. Research your competitors
Check out what others in your field are doing with a bit of market research - who wore their brand identity better? Take note of what you like and don’t like, and use this as inspiration for your own brand style guide. This type of research can be a means to rule out what isn’t working or to take note of what’s already been done. Since your goal is to stand out, you don’t want to use aesthetic combinations that might lead your brand to be confused with others.
03. Include all the essential elements
Each brand’s style guide is unique, and will differ in detail and execution. One common goal to keep in mind is to make sure your style guide is cohesive, easy-to-apply, and includes the following tangible components:
Iconography & photography
Tone of voice
04. Make a list of collateral brand goals
Think about your collateral goals and how your brand style guide will address them. Will your advertising materials be printed, digital or both? If you are selling or distributing products - whether at a physical location or using your online store - you will want to consider having a section devoted to product branding and packaging. If you have a strong focus on social media or blogging, you’ll want to emphasize your brand’s copy and tone of voice.
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05. Plan for brand evolution
Some of the best brands are remembered for their eloquent evolution. Your brand style guide is a living, breathing document that you’ll revisit as your business grows. Lay down a solid foundation so that the ongoing development of your brand’s identity will be easy to apply. Pro tip: designate a place to keep new ideas as they come up so you can find them when it’s time to review.
What to include in your brand style guide
Now that you understand what a brand style guide is, let’s go over in more detail the essential elements that should be included in yours:
Introduction: Your brand’s mission
We recommend that you start off your brand style guide with a clear and concise introduction. Tell the conceptual story of your brand by including a version of your mission statement with an overview of what your brand looks like and why. This will help employees and stakeholders understand your brand and develop a connection with it. You can also develop your brand manifesto and explain the importance of your brand style guide in this section.
Your logo design is the signature of your brand and you’ll want to present it at the start of your style guide. In addition to showing it off, this section should highlight any of its variations and include all the specifications for using your logo in design - such as the spacing around it, size rules, file formats, etc.
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Typography can set the mood for your words and give off a range of vibes, thanks to the myriad fonts, styles and sizes that are available in our day and age. Your brand’s typography choices will be a subtle, yet distinct aspect of how your message is interpreted by customers.
In this section of your style guide, you should note the primary and secondary fonts your business will use, the hierarchy of fonts (sizes, heading, etc.), and various weights and styles. Designers and vendors will refer to this section frequently.
Choosing the perfect colors to represent your brand is fun business. It’s also crucial to maintaining consistency. Some businesses even go so far as to trademark colors of their own (think of Tiffany’s unmistakable Robin Egg Blue - synonymous with class and sophistication, or Post-It’s famous Canary Yellow, trademarked by 3M).
Color can deliver strong feelings to customers, and a single brand might have 5-10 colors that reflect their spirit. In this section, you will include the brand colors that make up your palette. Remember to include some neutral colors among the more distinct shades that you want customers to connect with your brand. In addition, define which colors, hues, and tones will be used for precise facets of your branding, such as text, buttons, illustrations, etc.
Iconography & photography
Advertising, websites, blog posts and other material for your business will require the use of iconography and photography. Whether these are borrowed from the internet or customized for your brand, these images are part of the visual system that carries your message to targeted audiences, and should remain consistent with your identity.
In this section, identify the qualities your brand’s imagery should include and how your visual assets should look and feel (bright, natural, vintage, etc.). You might even create custom illustrations for your brand - in which case you will also define your illustration style.
Defining the way to structure your content is something that should not be overlooked in a brand style guide. A grid system will lay out the architecture of your brand’s visual components, making sure all of your materials look neat and well balanced. This system can outline measurements for margins, spacing and columns - details that are especially important for directing the layout of printed material assets like business cards and company letterheads, as well as your website design.
Tone of voice
Who is speaking to your audience? Establish your brand as a unique personality by developing a prolific voice. Like other aspects of your brand’s identity, a tone of voice should be strong and consistent in order to be impactful. Check out this story of how Wix developed a consistent voice for inspiration.
This element of your brand style guide will help writers adopt the right language when crafting any kind of copy for your brand, from advertisements to blog posts. By exhibiting a consistent tone, audiences will get to know the character of your brand, and will learn to recognize and trust you.
Examples of brand style guides
Here are a few strong brand style guides, for a more extensive list and inspiration you can check out our style guide examples:
The branding for Spotify is simple and modern. In their brand style guide, they note that the primary Spotify logo is portrayed in a memorable green color, and will sometimes be combined with a wordmark. Additionally, they specify that their logo can be used in black or white, and which background colors are suitable for each variation.
Starbucks’ brand style guide gives a high-level overview of how the brand first came to life and how it has since evolved. The beloved coffee brand introduces the fresh design system they have created, which reflects the diversity of their customers’ experience while maintaining the core elements of their brand.
Netflix lays out their primary logo in signature red on top of a black background. Their brand style guide explains that this layout reflects a premium cinematic feel, and that the logo’s arc represents the arc of a vintage CinemaScope. As you can see, the iconic logo can also appear in white - although they specify that this is on very few occasions, such as in this video watermark.
LinkedIn’s branding premise is that it should be accessible and inclusive to all audiences. The style guide explains how the brand has changed over the last 16 years to communicate better with its community and adapt a more modern style. It outlines the brand’s logo, illustration, typography and colors, which aim to convey LinkedIn’s warm community.
Presenting a clear and efficient style guide that includes the core elements of its brand identity design, Uber describes its assets as bold, flexible and localized. Although Uber’s grown in its lifetime, the company maintains a consistent presence that is recognizable and dependable.