Your brand guidelines are one huge brand asset that contains everything you’ve done so far for you to use. Think back on the cornerstone documents I mentioned in a previous article, along with the one I wrote about using templates in your brand, and how workflows and client journeys connect with your brand.
Because, at the end of the day, your brand guidelines are all of that and more. First, I want to go back to yet another article I wrote on the importance of style guides for your brand. To summarize that point, there are three types of style guides, content, design, and brand.
Your content style guide focuses on your language, voice, tone, and basic rules (ex. Canadian vs American spelling). Your design style guide focuses on your colours, fonts, logos, and other visual elements (ex. patterns or photo styles). And your brand style guide is a combination of the other two, plus a few extras like your brand's vision, mission, personality, and so on.
This brand style guide is what is also known as brand guidelines.
Inside this one huge asset, you’re going to find everything you or anybody else is ever going to want to know about your brand. That’s the point of it… to collect everything in one place, organize it, and make it easy to use.
WHAT TO INCLUDE IN YOUR BRAND GUIDELINES
Here's a quick breakdown of some of the information that you can include as part of your brand guidelines...
Your entire brand positioning including information about your target audience, different segments, ideal client bios, list of competitors, differentiator, and maybe even your awareness goals and platforms. Think about everything that tells you where and how your brand is visible and to who.
The meaning behind your brand and what propels it forward. This can be your mission, vision, purpose, and values. Focus on statements that you love and can easily pick out to throw into a marketing campaign when you're short on ideas, but also statements that keep you going forward and striving to be you.
You into enneagrams? Add in your numbers, add in your clients' numbers, talk about what makes your brand human and how to keep going that way. The earlier mentioned content style guide? That would go in here as well with your spelling, specific word usage, voice style, and different tones.
Libraries, clouds, boards, collections, accounts, or whatever you want to call them… basically, any and every place where your brand is used in any way or is storing information. This can be multiple places or a single one (though a single is easier to share if you decide to hire someone to help you out).
You can also include any collaterals for your brand that you've already created, such as social media graphics, posts, business cards, letterheads, packaging designs, printer shops you are or will be using, promotional products and materials, and so on and so forth.
And then, there are the previously mentioned templates. These can be the exact template files for your work in the form of content breakdown, social media graphics, invoices, proposals, design briefs, and so on. Templates can also be the instructions to create any of these or anything else.
And linking back to the previous articles I mentioned, all of your workflows and client journeys can also be part of your brand guidelines. This can help
I HAVE SOME TRICKS FOR YOU
Now... there are two tricks I want you to think about before you go collecting and organizing and designing everything.
LIMIT YOURSELF TO YOUR USES
What that means is, don’t go creating everything for your brand if you’re not going to use it. For example, if you are a digital service provider… What will you be packing and shipping out for you to create packaging designs?
I’m going to use myself as an example here… I don’t have business cards. I used to… they were always the first thing I designed and printed when I had a new logo in the past… until I realized that I am not a fan of physical business events and meetings and I’ve probably given out five business cards in my entire life (excluding friends and family).
At the end of the day, your brand guidelines are the one huge brand asset you have that contains everything else you will be using. Think of your brand guidelines as a cornerstone document. This is your base content and everything else you create for your brand is based around it.
LIMIT WHAT YOU HAND OUT
These guidelines aren't only for you. If you hire somebody to work on your brand for you, these guidelines can be both a time and life-saver. Imagine hiring a graphic designer to do all your marketing materials. Would you like to send over your logo, colour codes, and font files every single time you want a new design?
On the other hand, if you're the designer and somebody has hired you, would you prefer to have your client looking over your shoulder with every project to make sure it fits their needs, or have a set of guidelines that makes the process much faster?
Keeping all of that in mind, maybe the business manager you hire won't need your social media posts and graphics, but the social media manager will. On the opposite side, maybe the designer you hired will want all your graphics, but you want to give them some freedom so you don't share your templates or grids.
What you share is dependent on the use it will have, as well as your own experience in what you want to see in the results.
THINGS TO KEEP IN MIND
This one is important! Before you go on creating and designing anything here, I want you to consider how often you’ll be looking back and editing this document and different sections of it. There will be some that will probably require more regular edits than any others, such as the list of your accounts if you’re adding it in.
This is very important in figuring out what format you want to create your brand guidelines in. For example, I love printable PDFs and booklets, but if I do print it… I usually don’t print the entire thing as there are some sections that I like to edit regularly after testing and playing around with them.
The most important thing for you here is to create it in such a way that it’s comfortable for you. You want to make it into a habit to look at these regularly and use them to mark any changes that happen to your brand. Your brand guidelines can come in many different formats. For example…
A printable PDF designed in Adobe InDesign with an entire asset library in the creative cloud.
Or a website or online library space and organize everything in order with clicks and links.
Or maybe a Word document with headings and cross-links that you keep on your desktop.
You can even do it using Trello boards, a presentation format, your folder with all of your files, blog articles, social media posts… anything and everything you can think of. Organize it to fit you.
I mean… I use the first one, the Adobe option with the libraries, however, I also have a whiteboard on the wall behind my laptop on which I’ve written the most important parts of my brand strategy right beside my quarterly goals list.
And I sometimes throw on some sticky notes there as ideas to test out or consider and they usually disappear somewhere in the house after my cat steals them, but rarely before I input them into the design document.
Set these guidelines up however is comfortable for you and, more importantly, the way you're going to use them!