Stay in the lines: brand guidelines are FAB

If you want to make the most of your marketing with creative design that keeps a clear and recognisable identity, then you need good brand guidelines.
Tags: Branding

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So today’s blog assignment is to get you excited about brand guidelines. Tough gig, huh? ‘Guidelines’ are not generally considered sexy. Say ‘rules’ to yourself and ‘creative’ isn’t necessarily the next word that comes to mind. ‘Standards’ are worthy and important but, maybe, do they sound just a bit dull?

However… as we’ve written about before, your brand is the identity your organisation presents to the world. You want it to be consistently, instantly recognisable, distinctive and true to your organisation and its values, and clear and compelling to your audience. That means taking control of how your brand is represented, every time it’s seen.

So, I think they’re FAB, but you’re in charge. In which case let me humbly pitch to you the Features, Advantages, and Benefits of brand guidelines done well…

The Features: what should good brand guidelines contain?

Simply put, brand guidelines provide an instruction manual. They collect and make clear the dos and don’ts for all the important elements of your brand identity, including:

  • Your Logos and how they should be displayed, including sizes, colours and positioning, and what is and isn’t acceptable to do with them 
  • The fonts you use, sizes, spacing and emphasis including header styles
  • Styles and types of imagery and illustration you can use
  • The specific colour palette to be used (and remember how important colour is to your brand’s personality)
  • Guidelines on tone of voice, writing style and language

And they’ll cover this across different media and materials – in print, online, and wherever else in the real world your brand is represented.

Importantly, good guidelines also put all this ‘how to’ stuff on using elements of your brand identity in context. They’ll also set out, in your language, your vision, mission and values, so it all makes sense and works together, with your organisation’s personality and purpose at the heart. As ever, good branding is about integrity and truth.

That makes effective brand guidelines more than just a ‘style guide’. They should be power to your people and volunteers, as well as a practical tool for any professional designers and agencies you work with.

That also means a good designer will love getting stuck into creating brand guidelines with you, as it’s about really getting to know and love your organisation, it’s purpose and personality, and helping that to leap out every time you communicate.

The Advantages: how do good brand guidelines help?

Your brand’s a composite impression that people have in their heads, getting drawn and coloured in from everything they see and hear from you. So, you want that picture to be as clear, coherent and positive as possible. Strong brand guidelines give you more control over the impression you make.

First and foremost, they maintain consistency

Now, I know consistency might not always seem the most exciting or appealing thing in the world, but it’s fundamental to a brand. Consistency underpins reliability, integrity and trust. Audiences like donors, staff and volunteers, value and respond to it.

And by promoting consistency, a good set of guidelines also makes sure your brand’s immediately recognisable, every time your audience comes across it – a shortcut that’s invaluable in a busy, crowded marketplace.

If something’s inconsistent, well, that just means that sometimes it’s worse than it should be.

So brand guidelines help you and your people protect the professionalism and quality of all your communications. They set out the standards that everyone has to stick to, every time; and more importantly, they make it easier for people to meet those standards.

Done well, brand guidelines also provide the right combination of focus and flexibility. A bit of versatility is a good thing for a brand, having to work across social media, signage, on paper, websites and wherever else. Clear guidelines help a brand adapt to different uses, and still play well.

That balance of focus and flexibility – making clear how the elements of a brand translate across media, and what’s non-negotiable and what can adapt and change, also helps to focus creative efforts. This is the fun bit that might seem counterintuitive. 

With good brand guidelines you don’t just get boring consistency (or worse, consistently boring). You actually boost creativity.

The imagination, ingenuity, craft and skill that goes into great design and marketing communications can make a big difference to any brand looking to stand out. Things like ‘rules’ and ‘consistency’ might be seen as getting the way of free-spirited, blue-sky creative types (or anyone who just likes doing things their own way). 

But I was taught years ago that constraints catalyse creativity. Rather than having free rein with no rules, it’s having to work within boundaries and limitations that really fires ingenuity and leads to more creative problem solving and better ideas.

My favourite example is how old school hip-hop producers worked with early samplers in the late 80s and 90s. First, they devoured the manuals to see what their new kit could and couldn’t do. Then, faced with the limitations of tiny storage and short sample times, they experimented, invented and perfected techniques that turned those constraints into advantages, and created new ways of using the sampler as an instrument that revolutionised the genre. And made great sounds along the way.

Now, your musical preferences might be different to mine, but in any case, the principle applies to design and marketing communications! 

First, understand the manual, and the limits of what’s possible and what’s not, what can’t change and what can. Then work in that space with the rules you’ve got and focus your ingenuity, imagination and inspiration on what’s really needed to create something distinctive and compelling. 

Good brand guidelines will help a designer or copywriter do their best work.

The Benefits: what makes good brand guidelines worth investing in?

  • Your marketing has more impact…

Your marketing and communications get more easily recognised. Your audience values your consistency, quality and professionalism. Each interaction, message and campaign really reflects your brand and its personality and gets to build positively on what’s gone before.

  • You get there quicker and more efficiently…

Decisions about what works are easier, faster and focused on your brand identity and guidelines, not personal preferences or the whims of a designer. Less time gets wasted reinventing the wheel, with creativity and brainpower fully focused on what’s really important to a particular communication or campaign. 

  • So you get better value for your marketing money…

Because it has more impact, you get better results from your marketing efforts. Good guidelines also help you do more, better, in-house. What does get commissioned to outside agencies really adds value and is better prepared and more effective, with you as a strong, informed client.

  • And you get to do more good!

Which is why we do what we do. 

Not bad for some guidelines, huh?

Northern Bear can help

We’re a friendly creative agency dedicated to working with charities and not-for-profit organisations.

We work with small and medium-sized organisations on branding, strategy, design, websites and campaigns to help raise awareness and funding so together we can DO MORE GOOD.

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