In the excitement of innovation, expanding into new markets and seeking investments or acquisitions, fast-growing companies sometimes overlook the fundamentals that form their brand strategy.
Their small, lean marketing team multiplies seemingly overnight. They begin working with numerous agencies and consultants who each serve a specific role. Without detailed digital brand guidelines, they don’t have a clear blueprint of what they’re building.
Digital brand guidelines are more than a set of logos and colors your company uses. The best ones are a framework every employee and partner can use to ensure you’re sending a consistent message to everyone who interacts with your brand. They provide clear guidelines for how your company’s brand should be represented, from the way you portray your company in ads to the way your website looks and the way your emails sound. This helps ensure all stakeholders, including employees, partners and customers, have a clear understanding of your company’s brand and its values.
Consider which ads were most memorable in this year’s Super Bowl. What made you remember them? Most likely, they had a specific point of view and a tone that was unique to the brand. Brands like Doritos, Pringles, T-Mobile and Uber One all capitalized on nostalgia and humor, but in their own style. This is no accident: these brands have been carefully cultivated and well-documented over many years.
Why Are Digital Brand Guidelines Important?
Digital brand guidelines aren’t just a way for a new CMO or marketing director to prove their worth. They directly impact profitability. Research by Lucidpress and Demand Metric found companies with consistent branding earn 23% more revenue on average. Interbrand’s annual ranking of the 100 best global brands reinforces this.
Although most marketing executives understand the power of consistent branding, only 10% say they present their brand consistently everywhere, according to the Marq (f/k/a Lucidpress) and Demand Metric research.
Having a set of well-defined digital brand guidelines ensures all marketing efforts are aligned with the company’s overall brand strategy. This helps to avoid confusion and inconsistencies that can erode customer trust and loyalty. Digital brand guidelines also make it easier to manage and monitor your company’s brand image so you can address any inconsistencies or misuse as quickly as possible.
Another good reason to update your digital brand guidelines or document them if you haven’t already is that you will likely need to collaborate with content creators outside your company. The rise of AI-powered chat platforms like OpenAI’s ChatGPT is likely to make purely educational content even more of a commodity. As your buyers become more accustomed to using chat for recommendations, they may be less likely to find your company in search engines.
Brands are realizing they need to stand out in other ways, and they’re tapping into the power of the creator economy to do that. Well-established brand guidelines give creators clear direction for what is acceptable and what isn’t when it comes to presenting your brand.
What Should Be Included In Digital Brand Guidelines?
While brand guidelines can and should evolve, you want them to be as comprehensive as possible. This will help you avoid confusion as you work with other departments, vendors, freelancers and any one of the more than 50 million creators on social media today.
Your digital brand guidelines will be unique to your company, but they should include some fundamental elements:
1. Your brand’s mission and vision
Starbucks isn’t just selling $5 cups of coffee; they built a global brand around the idea of elevating the quality of every cup and building a communal experience around it. Their mission is “to inspire and nurture the human spirit — one person, one cup, and one neighborhood at a time.”
Before you do anything else, you need to have clarity on why your company exists and what larger purpose you serve.
“People don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it,” said Simon Sinek, author of Start With Why. “And what you do simply proves what you believe.”
While your mission explains your “why,” your vision explains where you are going as a company and how you plan to get there.
2. Your value proposition
Your value proposition tells others what you do better than anyone else and why they should do business with you. Consider Slack’s value proposition to improve people’s working lives. The company goes into detail about why it’s a better alternative to email in terms of transparency, flexibility, collaboration, security, integrations and automation.
This broad statement and the key points supporting it are at the core of every brand message it shares.
3. Your brand’s core values
Your brand’s core values support your mission, vision, and value propositions. They are the building blocks of your company culture, establishing clear guidelines for how you will hire, promote and reward your employees. While you should promote your core values internally first, sharing them with the world helps your company build trust with customers and prospects. People want to work with brands who stand for something and share their values.
Spotify does a fantastic job of defining its mission, vision and core values. They’re short and simple but specific:
- Innovation – We move fast and take big risks
- Sincere – We have no time for internal politics
- Passionate – We revel in what we do
- Collaborative – We recognize that we’re all in this together
- Playful – We don’t take ourselves too seriously
Once you’ve outlined these values, you can build upon them to define how your brand will look and sound.
4. Your brand’s personality and tone of voice
When you think of brands with personality, you probably think of the heavy hitters at the Super Bowl. Yes, it’s easier to have fun with your brand when you’re selling something almost everyone wants or needs, whether it’s snacks and drinks, cell phones or insurance. But it’s just as important for B2B brands to have a personality and a tone of voice that’s easily recognizable. If the way you communicate with your audience sounds like every other competitor in your space, you won’t stand out. Your brand guidelines are a good place to define what you’ll do to be different and how you’ll sound.
Having a personality doesn’t mean you need to be hilarious or snarky. You just need to make it clear how you want to sound and how you don’t want to sound so no one has to guess.
Consider Salesforce’s brand voice guidelines. The company aims to be honest, helpful, inspiring and have a heart.
5. Guidelines for your brand’s visual identity
Your brand’s visual identity includes everything from your colors and typography to the treatment of your logo across various formats and backgrounds. It should account for both print and digital assets, and you’ll need to consider how different formats might require a different approach.
When creating a strong visual identity for your brand, it’s crucial to consider your audience as your visual identity should resonate with your potential customers.
Consistency is key to creating a strong visual identity, to use your visual elements consistently across all your communication channels, and make sure they are always aligned with your brand personality and tone of voice. Here are some key elements that should be focused on when developing your visual identity.
Define your brand personality: Your visual identity should reflect your brand’s personality, values and mission. Before creating any visual elements, define your brand’s personality and make sure it’s consistent across all communication channels.
Choosing brand colors: A color is a powerful tool that can evoke emotions and convey meaning. Choose a color scheme that reflects your brand’s personality and values Make sure to use it consistently across all your visual elements.
Developing your company logo: A logo is the most recognizable element of your brand’s visual identity. It should be simple, memorable and agile enough to be used across all your communication channels.
Typography: Typography is an essential part of your visual identity. Choose fonts that are easy to read, reflect your brand personality and complement your logo and color scheme.
Building a visual style: A consistent visual style helps your brand stand out and become more recognizable. Develop a style guide that includes guidelines for photography, illustration, video and other visual elements.
Big Bolt is a great example of how strong branding can help a company stand out from the competition. The manufacturing company’s new website leverages humor and puns to convey its three main messaging pillars — quality, expertise and speed.
The imagery and icons are simple but bold, emphasizing the company’s straightforward approach and ease of ordering.
6. Writing style guidelines
Establishing guidelines related to your voice and tone gives employees and other contributors a north star when it comes to your brand, but it in and of itself likely isn’t enough. Content style guidelines help to address other important questions, including:
- What key messages you want to share with your audience
- What topics and themes you will prioritize
- What sources you will cite frequently (and which ones you’d like to avoid)
- What phrases or acronyms you commonly use (and which ones to avoid)
- How you refer to your brand or brands, products and services, or trademarked solutions
- Whether your audience is mostly based in a specific country or needs to be adapted for multiple countries
- Your point of view (whether you write in first person, second person, or third person)
- What writing style you will follow (AP style, CMOS, MLA, something else)
- Rules for formatting, including whether to capitalize the first letter of every word in titles and headers or use sentence case
- Other notes about general preferences
One of our clients has writing style guidelines with general best practices that could apply to almost any industry, including:
- Use active language where possible
- Be concise
- Show how our solutions help customers rather than simply talking about products
- Use simple present tense instead of future tense where possible
- Avoid jargon
Taking the time to put these guidelines in writing will make it much easier for your team and other contributors to develop on-brand marketing materials.
7. Social media guidelines
Your social media presence has a powerful impact on how your customers and prospects perceive you — for better, or for worse. Having clear, consistent branding guidelines for social posts makes it easier for your team to know what to post, how to design visual elements and even when and how to engage in conversations.
8. Guidelines for press releases and partnerships
In addition to announcing new initiatives, press releases reinforce your company’s mission, vision and values to the public. Having a clear set of guidelines helps you tell a consistent story to stakeholders, media professionals, and others while also making it easier for partners to promote your brand.
9. Trademark and legal considerations
Having brand guidelines for trademarks and legal considerations is crucial for protecting the integrity of your brand, protecting intellectual property, and minimizing legal risks. If these guidelines are documented, it’s easier to achieve compliance.
What Are Good Brand Guidelines Examples?
Branding guidelines are an essential tool for any company looking to establish and maintain a consistent brand image.
There’s a good reason why so many marketers point to Cisco as an example of strong brand guidelines. In addition to having a strong, clear value proposition, the company has extensive documentation covering everything from the use of their logo to the tone of voice used in written communications. They also provide detailed instructions for how their brand should be represented in different contexts, such as on social media, in print and on websites.
Kroger’s new tagline, Fresh for Everyone™, speaks to the company’s commitment to equality, accessibility and affordability. It has its own emojis (called Krojis) and an icon promoting its commitment to innovation and fresh food. The company shares the story behind these brand elements and how it uses them on its website.
Slack’s brand guidelines are concise and visually appealing. They also provide detailed information on how to use their brand assets, such as logos, typography and color palettes to ensure all stakeholders understand and apply the guidelines correctly. Like many brands, they also spell out what to avoid when using the logo.
Figma has a detailed and engaging style guide that includes visual examples and explanations of the brand’s core values and attributes. They also provide information on how to use their brand assets, such as logos and color palettes, in different contexts. The company also goes a step further, providing easy-to-download logos that meet guidelines and a community for designers who use their software.
Connected technologies company Zebra has detailed digital brand guidelines with a table of contents that makes them easy to navigate. Because the Zebra logo is so recognizable, it goes to great lengths to protect how it’s used. It also gives recommendations on how and when to use the Zebra tagline, Capture your edge.
Medtronic’s new branding includes an updated tagline, Engineering the extraordinary, and an updated symbol that features a gender-neutral person “moving forward towards full life.”
Its branding agency created detailed brand guidelines, including sample ads with messaging recommendations.
Digital Branding Services For A Changing Landscape
As a digital branding agency, Kuno Creative has nearly 25 years of experience building memorable brands. Whether your company is still establishing the building blocks of its brand or you’re updating your brand guidelines following a new product release, acquisition, or a change in direction, our team of experts can help you define your brand story and your visual brand identity.
Our branding services start with a detailed discovery process, where we’ll interview key stakeholders and customers to collect insights while studying your competitive landscape.
From there, we’ll develop detailed brand guidelines your team can use to go to market and ensure customers and prospects have a consistent experience with every interaction. As a full-service digital marketing agency, we can also create all the assets you need to promote your brand, including a well-designed website, educational resources, social media posts, ads, and videos. Learn more about a few of the branding projects we’ve done.