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Why every small business should have a brand style guide (and tips to create yours)

By Alexandra Gavril - June 10, 2019

In a market that’s now stiflingly competitive, how do you stand out from hundreds of similar businesses that claim to be as good as you, if not better? How do you get people to notice, trust and buy from you?

The truth is most people don’t have the time or interest to figure out why they should care about your business. So it’s on you to answer all their important questions like who you are, what you stand for and why they should care.

In other words, it’s your job to give your audience a good reason to choose you over your competitors.

How do you do that? By building a strong brand identity that sets your business apart, and makes people fall in love with your brand.

But here’s the thing: a good brand doesn’t just happen. You need to have a plan, one that goes beyond just designing a nice-looking logo.

The first step is to create a brand style guide that dictates how your business is communicated internally and externally. This helps to maintain consistency when it comes to how you portray your brand as well as how your audience perceives you.

In this post, we’ll explain what a brand style guide is and why it’s essential to your success. We’ll also share a few useful tips and advice on how to create one for your small business.

What is a brand style guide?

Think of a brand style guide as a blueprint – it lays out all the key elements that make up your brand, and how they all come together to create a cohesive brand experience.

This is basically a document that includes a set of rules and specifications on everything that plays an important role in how you want your brand to be perceived by your target audience, both offline and online.

From visual design elements like logo, imagery, typography, and colour scheme to tone and voice, all these things play a critical role in how your brand looks, feels and sounds.

Why it’s important for your small business

Imagine you’re searching for running shoes on Google and the first result or image you notice and recognise is the Nike’s name or logo. Or it’s Monday morning, you’re in the Tube heading into the office, and you’re tired. You’re craving coffee. All it takes it to notice someone wearing a green shirt and your mind instantly goes to Starbucks.

Why do you think we remember all these brands? It’s because of their unique and consistent messaging, logo, and visual appeal.

Think about it: wherever you go, online or offline, on Google or Facebook, in a mall or the tube, you see the same Nike logo with the tagline “Just do it”. Even if you only see the logo, you’d immediately know the tagline, and the other way around.

That’s what happens when a brand successfully shows its audience a homogenous identity. It ends up being memorable and instantly recognisable.

When your business is what a prospect or customer immediately thinks about when looking for a product or service, you know you’re doing it right.

But your brand can’t become memorable or instantly recognisable if there’s no consistency in your identity.

Think about it: would you trust or become close friends with someone who’s always unpredictable and constantly changing the way they look, talk or act? Probably not. You’d probably feel like you don’t know who they are and can’t be trusted.

It’s the same with your business. If you keep changing the way your logo or site look, the fonts or colours you use, or the way you talk to customers, you’ll only end up confusing them, making them doubt your legitimacy and driving them away.

The same will happen if there’s no consistency across your website, social media platforms, email, and anywhere else your brand appears. Your customers may become confused and wonder if it’s all really part of the same brand.

It’s only when you’re consistent in the way you present and communicate your brand that your customers feel like they know you and can trust to buy from you.

That’s why a brand style guide is essential to not only making your brand ‘sticky’ but also to giving your potential customers a sense of credibility, familiarity, and stability, which are key to making the sale.

Tips to create your brand style guide

A brand style guide can be a challenging document to put together. Fortunately, we’ve got you covered with a few tips to help you get started creating yours.

In this section we’ll walk you through the key elements that a typical brand style guide needs to include to ensure its consistency online.

Brand story

A brand story gives your target audience a reason to care and to choose your business over your competitors.

In other words, it tells them who you are, why you do what you do, what you stand for, what makes you unique and, more importantly, why they should care.

You can use this not just as a reminder to yourself so you always know your “why”, but also for when you’re writing your About page.

Here’s a nice example from FitBit:

As you can see, their mission doesn’t revolve around selling fitness trackers but around transforming people’s lives by empowering and inspiring them to live a healthier, more active life.

Visual identity

Your brand’s visual identity should answer this very important question: “How do people know it’s us?”.

Starting with the logo, which is usually the first thing people see, and continuing with the colour scheme, typography and imagery, all these visual elements play a crucial role in making your brand a recognisable force.

So make sure that your brand style guide includes clear specifications and rules for creating and using all visual assets. And not just on your site but also outside of it like on banners, press releases, blog posts, social media content, emails and ads.

Here’s a few more information on each visual element:

  • Logo – The logo is the most prominent element that helps to reinforce your brand identity, and not just on your site but everywhere else. In your guide, make sure you’re clear on the maximum and minimum logo size as well as its placement
  • Colour scheme – You’ll also need to define a brand colour palette so you can create and maintain a consistent look and feel everywhere. So the next time you or your design team create a new product page, everyone will know exactly which colours to use.
  • Typography – The same goes with the fonts you use. To avoid confusion, indicate which specific font style, font family, line spacing, typeface, etc, should be used for any marketing or sales collateral you produce.
  • Imagery – Think about how you want customers to perceive your brand when deciding on the kind of images you wish to use. For example, if you sell fitness equipment, you could specify that all imagery needs to convey a sense of movement or action, or that it needs to have a person in them, even if it’s just a partial body part.
  • Menu and button style, as well as icons, are also part of a site’s visual identity. So, no matter if a user is on your homepage or on a product page, everything should look and feel as if they belong to the same site and brand.

Tone and voice

It’s not just visual elements that influence the way your target audience sees and feels about your brand. Tone and voice also play a key role in how users interact with your content, and what emotions it evokes in them.

When you’re consistent with your tone and voice, you’re helping your audience to get to know your brand and also to know what to expect whenever you’re engaging in conversation.

So try to define the tone and the kind of personality that you want your brand to have. An easy way get started is by listing a few adjectives that describe your customers’ personality.

For example, are they daring and adventurous, or cautions and risk-averse? Are they relaxed and with a good sense of humour, or are they short-spoken? Include four to five adjectives and some examples in your brand style guide.

You can find some great tips on how to document your brand voice guidelines in this article from CoSchedule.

Wrapping up

As your business grows, and the brand and content landscapes evolve, your brand style guide should do the same. So make sure you constantly review and update it to match your current goals and the changes in industry standards.

Also, don’t forget to share your guide with everyone who’s involved in your business, from web designers to social media content marketers.