How do you even use brand guidelines?

Your brand guidelines are foundational to building brand awareness, establishing visual parameters that will make you recognisable when used consistently in market.
how to use brand guidelines

Many entrepreneurs start out thinking, ‘I want my product or service to be known in the market, but I don’t know where to begin.’ Marketing experts recommend starting with analysis of your market and target persona and then commencing your branding journey. The bare minimum – a name, and brand guidelines.

To understand how to use brand guidelines, it’s helpful to define what they are.

What are brand guidelines?

Brand guidelines conceptualise the persona of the business, ideally mirroring desires of your target audience. For example, Nike sells you a ‘strong you’, Ebay a, ‘bargain hunter success story’, Bunnings, ‘a problem solved’. Branding has never been ‘just a logo’, and likewise, brand guidelines underpin the articulation of your brand, but are not the end game when it comes to brand development. Rather, they are just the beginning.

What should be included in brand guidelines?

Your brand guidelines should translate your unique value proposition into a visual identity. Some brand guidelines are more comprehensive than others, but all should offer conscise visual instructions to communicate your brand. As a given, brand guidelines include:

  • Your primary logo and its variations
  • Colours
  • Font pairings
  • Usage permissions
  • Examples of use

More comprehensive guidelines may cover:

  • The brand’s story
  • Mission
  • Values
  • Tone of voice
  • Market positioning
  • Social icons
  • Letterhead design
  • Asset links

Are brand guidelines a waste of money?

No. Brand guidelines are foundational to brand development, the beginning, not the end.

Most small businesses start out with brand guidelines crafted by a creative freelancer or agency. Budget limitations may constrict initial brand development to the most critical brand components: a logo, colours and typeface selection. Brand elements such as tone of voice are sometimes evolved later, meaning initially many small businesses can undervalue their brand guidelines as a ‘pretty document’. The brand has essentially only been crafted in part, the rest left to default or open to interpretation. The branding is then revisited at a later stage when the business identifies a need to evolve from transactional-based marketing.

Many brands evolve their brand over time.

Why should you have brand guidelines?

Your brand guidelines lay out instruction to define your organisation’s representation across touchpoints, helping your audience identify you efficiently across mediums. They’re foundational to building brand awareness, establishing visual parameters that will make you recognisable when used consistently in market.

Investment in brand is credited in studies as foundational to ongoing and sustainable growth for SMEs. Failure to build a brand successfully is often attributed to complacent use of the brand. Your brand guidelines aim to mitigate this.

For small business entrepreneurs, in particular, a clear link between the entrepreneur’s character and the brand identity has been found to be of importance in supporting the personification of the brand. That said, it doesn’t mean because the entrepreneur likes kittens, that there should be a kitten mascot unless of course, you are selling something relevant such as cat treats. Brand components should have some relevance to the product, service and/or customer, forming part of its personality or story. For example, Compare the Market, has a Meerkat, but this brand addition was not actually random, being paired with stories that built brand memorability.

Compare The Market uses Meerkats to build memorability.

A note to creatives: Trend gently. Because branding can be much more closely integrated with the entrepreneur in an SME, debate on how the brand should be applied can be felt like an attack on the entrepreneur because they are (basically) the brand. That means, if they already have what you perceive as an irrelevant mascot, you may not be able to convince them to let it go. At least not straight away.

How to use your brand guidelines

Apply your brand consistently across touchpoints to increase recognition and awareness that your business exists.

  1. Distribute your brand guidelines to creative stakeholders – marketers, designers and agencies – and get everyone singing from the same song sheet. Brand guidelines are designed to inform the articulation and application of your brand across mediums. They should be concise, and easy for external parties to understand and apply.
  2. Use your guidelines to apply your brand consistently – over time your brand will become more recognised, every brand impression counting towards your brand recognition. Repeat, repeat, repeat.
  3. Appoint a brand guardian aka: brand manager to lay down the ‘law’ throughout your organisation or manage third-party applications. This is just part of a brand manager’s job by the way, this is not all they do.

“Apply your brand consistently across touchpoints to increase recognition and awareness that your business exists”

For many small businesses, an understanding of what brand awareness can do for the company needs to develop before brand can be given a greater role within the organisations. Some companies can exist for years and years based on transactional campaign revenue, but fail to transition beyond this to experiencing a market with greater demand for their brand. The exception to this is entities so old that they have a historic reputation built up over time, for example, Rome’s Colosseum. Yes, that’s right, you better be pretty amazing to depend on reputation alone to secure awareness you exist. Oh, and have lots of time to wait. Tik, tok.

Ok, it’s a dramatic example, but the point is that most entrepreneurs don’t have the luxury of time. With investment in brand stalled, value of the brand in the market usually stalls too. Organisations that fail to distinguish a greater role of brand management within their organisation get stuck around about here. Their sales reps for example can take a longer time to close deals, because people may have a need for your product or service, but they’ve never heard of you. So why should they trust you? They need more convincing because, unlike the colosseum, your reputation has not (yet) proceeded you. This impacts your lead times, and ultimately your growth forecasts.

Pained by a lack of recognition, competitor growth and ever-increasing costs of acquisition, brand development is reconsidered, brand guidelines revisited, brand investment, reevaluated. A brand strategy, required.

That’s where brand and marketing consultants like myself come in. I help small businesses scale their reputation and move from a dependency on sales or discounts, to a market that’s ok to pay a premium for a product or service like yours.

You may also like ‘how to brand a small business


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I’m an independent marketing consultant that’s spent 15+ years working with small business, non-profits, start-ups and ASX listed companies. 

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