Why You Need a Brand Style Guide and What to Put in It

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Your visual brand is basically the look of your business. It includes your logo, fonts, color palette, and photos and other imagery that you use to represent your biz online and in print. Using those elements consistently is an important piece of building a successful business. 

When you use your brand's visual elements over and over across all of your print and digital marketing pieces, your audience begins to recognize and remember you. They begin to connect what you're putting out there with you and your business.

If every blog post you write and Instagram image you post looks different, your audience will have a hard time knowing it’s actually you who’s putting that information out there. If they can’t recognize you, they can’t connect with you, and you can’t build trust and loyalty with them.

One of the best ways to maintain that consistency is to have a Brand Style Guide that you actually use and follow. I include the development of a style guide with all of my branding projects to help my clients stay consistent, even when they’re not working with me anymore.

With a style guide in hand, you don’t have to reinvent the wheel every time you have a new piece to create. You don’t have to waste time deciding how to use your logo, which fonts to use where, or what imagery to include. You just need to be able to stick to the style guide.

Style guides range from super detailed to pretty basic. Ideally though, they should include an answer to just about any problem you might come across. Some of the issues a style guide should address are:

  • Is it ok to place your logo on a photo? Or should it only go on solid color backgrounds?
  • Which version of your logo should you use on a dark background? What about on a light background?
  • Which font should you use for headers? Subheaders? What about body copy?
  • How do you treat links and buttons on your website?
  • What artwork goes with your logo and how is it used?

Here’s what I recommend including in your Brand Style Guide:

Logo Usage

You probably invested a lot of time and/or money into getting a great logo designed for your business, so it’s a good idea to make sure it’s always used effectively.

Things to consider with your logo:

  • What’s your primary logo (the one you should always try to use first)?
  • What logo variations do you have? It’s important to have logo variations that will work in both horizontal and vertical spaces and on light backgrounds and dark backgrounds.
  • What color do you use for your 1-color version, and when should you use it?
  • What colors can you place behind your logo?
  • What’s the minimum size your logo should be displayed at?
  • What imagery can it be placed on (photos, patterns, other imagery)?
  • How much space should be around your logo in any given situation? This is important to ensure your logo isn’t crowded and consequently lost in your design.
  • What logo placements and lockups (combinations of your logomark and business name) are not allowed?
  • When should you use y our submark (a mark or monogram adaptation of your logo) instead of your primary logo? 

Color Palette

Your color palette is another important aspect of your visual brand that should remain consistent across the board. Depending on my clients’ needs, I provide a minimum of three brand colors in my color palettes. For someone who’s posting to social media, creating blog posts, and more, I might include up to six colors.

Things to consider with your brand palette:

  • Which two to three colors are your primary colors? At least one of these colors should be used in your logo.
  • What colors are your secondary colors?
  • What color do you use for body copy (should be dark and neutral)?
  • What color do you use for headers? Subheaders? Links? Buttons?
  • What neutrals do you have and how do you use them?

Typography

The fonts that have been selected for your brand and how to use them are also important aspects of your style guide. I typically select 2-3 fonts for my clients. Sometimes I use different versions (italicized, normal, etc.) of the same font family. Try to cap the number of fonts you use at three. Using more than that can get confusing and make your brand less cohesive.

Things to include with your typography:

  • Which fonts do you use for what purposes: headers, subheaders, body copy, emphasis, etc.
  • For each font and its usage, what size, weight, color, case, letterspacing, and leading (line spacing) should be used?


Additional Graphic Elements

In addition to your logo, color palette and typography, you’ll likely need some additional graphics to use throughout your print and online marketing and business materials.

For one recent client, I created a custom pattern, that we used on her business card, stationery and website. For another, I used a block of color in either grey or pink, or in both colors, with a diagonal split between them. For another client, I created a set of icons.

For additional graphic elements, it’s important to consider:

  • When do you use what imagery?
  • What elements can be combined or should never be combined?
  • Where do you place the items within your designs?
  • In what colors do you use the imagery?
  • With lines, how thick should they be? And what color?
  • For a diagonal line or cut, what angle should it be?

Photography

If you’re using stock or styled photography, make sure it fits with the rest of your branding. Include samples in your style guide that demonstrate what is acceptable to use in your branding.

Some things to think about with photography are:

  • What subject matter is acceptable?
  • What colors should be included or not included in the photos?
  • Lots of white space or more colorful?
  • People or no people? If people, how many?
  • Food and drink? If so, what kind?

Copy and Voice

Copy and voice aren’t part of your brand visuals, but it’s worth including them in your style guide, as you should maintain consistency here, too.

The type of language you use throughout your materials is your brand voice. Your copy is made up of the specific words you typically use. Having rules around your voice and copy is especially helpful if you ever bring more people onto your team.

Some things to create rules for are:

  • Is your voice more casual or formal?
  • Is it ok to swear or not? If it is, what’s ok and what’s not?
  • What key phrases do you use over and over?
  • Is there something industry specific that is referred to in a number of different ways? If so, what term do you use?
  • Are there any terms or phrases that are off limits?

 

The more information you can get down in your style guide, the better.

You’ll find it incredibly helpful as your business grows. With that said, it’s not always possible to nail down all of these details right from the start. That’s ok. Just get down as much as you can, and add and adapt as additional needs arise. The most important thing is to get the standards down before you find yourself with a large team creating lots of different materials on a regular basis!