A brand identity is more than a logo, typeface, or color palette – it consists of all the elements that work together to create an image and experience associated with a business or organization. A brand identity helps establish a presence that builds and enhances relationships with customers, employees, and other key audiences. Consistent implementation of your brand identity is critical in shaping key audience perceptions.
According to Lucidpress, consistently presented brands are 3-4 times more likely to have excellent brand visibility than those with inconsistent brand presentation. To achieve better brand visibility and consistency, it’s important to build brand identity guidelines.
Business leaders and marketing professionals — Take a deep dive into modern branding philosophy and best practices in our definitive guide.
What Are Brand Identity Guidelines?
Brand identity guidelines are a tool to help ensure consistent implementation of identity elements in order to protect your brand across all touchpoints. They bring your brand platform, identity system, messaging, and personas together in one place so that anyone touching your brand understands how to properly represent it.
Ultimately, the goal of creating brand identity guidelines is to protect the integrity of your brand. If you’ve already invested in developing various brand elements, trademarking, and marketing them, investing in the protection of how those elements are used is a natural next step.
To help you get started, we’ve outlined nine steps to build brand identity guidelines that will elevate the perception of your brand in the minds of your customers.
Step 1: Set a Goal for Your Brand Identity Guidelines
Every business should have guidelines in place to maintain consistency and protect their brand, but different industries, audiences, and regions bring specific, unique challenges. The first step toward creating strong brand identity guidelines is setting specific goals for your guidelines.
For example, perhaps you want your brand guidelines to help your team better represent your brand among multiple audiences. If so, your goal should be to convey information about your specific audiences and their behaviors to your team, , so they’ll be equipped with the tools and knowledge they need to represent your brand.
A number of people view, interact with, and promote your brand on any given day.
Or, maybe you’re looking to roll out a new or updated brand, and you’re worried about getting your brand stewards on board with a new look, feel, or vision. With the right brand identity guidelines in place, you’ll have the building blocks in place to ensure a smooth roll out.
Whether you’re seeking to gain credibility or relevancy among consumers, build alignment within your team, or garner excitement for an updated look and feel, you need to establish goals before the rest of your brand identity guidelines can come together.
Step 2: Define Your Users
A number of people view, interact with, and promote your brand on any given day. Your audience for your brand guidelines is made up of anyone representing your brand in any way—either working for your business or working with your business—which can be a pretty big group. Before you dive too deep into developing your brand identity guidelines, be sure to have a clear idea of who these users are, so you can shape your guidelines to better meet their needs.
Common users of your brand include:
Brand guidelines can be especially useful for new employees, acting as an employee handbook of sorts. Brand identity guidelines can help employees understand the ways in which they should or should not represent the brand inside and outside of work, before they misrepresent it by mistake.
Partners and agencies
Any third-party partners you work with, like distributors or marketing agencies, need to understand your brand identity guidelines to positively represent your brand on any touchpoint for which they’re responsible.
Understanding what assets these partners need to successfully represent your brand—like your visual identity, target buyer personas, voice and tone, key messages, or core values and mission—can help set your brand up for long-term success.
Step 3: Choose a Format
Brand identity guidelines come in many formats. You’ll want to choose the format that makes the most sense for your users. Will you house your brand identity guidelines in a PDF, on a website, or some combination of the two? Will they be publicly accessible, or only available to a select few individuals? Discuss these questions with your team early on, and then work diligently to develop a brand guideline experience that your users can navigate with ease.
In our digital society, it’s no surprise that many modern brand identity guidelines are available online. Online resources make your brand guidelines more easily accessible, which increases the chance of it being represented correctly. The University of Buffalo’s brand guide is a great example of guidelines housed in an online experience that is both comprehensive and user-friendly.
Whatever format you choose, make sure your brand identity guidelines are easily accessible, easy to understand, and, most importantly, accurate and up-to-date.
Step 4: Determine the Contents of Your Brand Guidelines
Now for the fun part. Determining the contents of your brand guidelines means deciding upon the various brand elements you want to include in your brand identity guidelines. Most commonly, brand guidelines include the following components:
A brand platform encompasses your brand purpose, core values, mission, vision, brand position, brand attributes, and brand promise. These components cover the basics about who you are, and what your brand is all about. They define the overarching story your brand tells.
Key messages and voice
Key messages and voice shape how your brand presents itself through language. These include guidelines for word choice, voice and tone, and even a structured elevator pitch for your brand. Your key messages help provide specific and intentional guidelines around how others can describe and promote your brand, as well as what they shouldn’t say about you.
Your brand’s visual identity is made up of a number of elements, including:
- Logo Usage Guidelines
- Iconography and Graphic Styles
- Color Palette
- Typography Guidelines
- Photography Guidelines
- Template Guidelines
Understanding and communicating how to visually represent your brand best is an important factor in developing strong brand identity guidelines. Depending on your audience, your visual identity is the first interaction your audience has with your brand, making it one of the more important sections of your guidelines.
Personas and audience journeys
It’s difficult to share a brand’s story without knowing who to share it with. Personas and buyer journeys help your brand stewards understand how best to convey your brand and connect with key audiences.
Personas help paint a clear picture of who your audience members are so your stewards know who they’re speaking to. Most personas include:
- Persona Name and Job Title or Role
- Age Range, Income, and Degree
- 3-5 Personality Traits (e.g., practical, strategic, driven)
- Short Bio
The more you understand the person you’re targeting with your brand, the more your brand will continue to resonate with the right people.
Step 5: Define Specific Usage Rules
Just as important as communicating how to best use your brand is communicating how not to use your brand. Usage rules refer to variations in type treatment, logo and color usage, and messaging guidelines.
Brand identity guidelines should include usage rules around acceptable brand fonts. Most brands have standard fonts chosen for headlines, subheads, and body text, or have specifications around fonts used in digital formats, like an email newsletter. Your brand guidelines should provide clear examples of how to correctly use brand fonts. It should also include clear guidelines about which specific font uses or type treatments are not allowed.
Logo and color variations
Your brand logo and color palette were specifically designed to positively represent your brand and its mission, so you don’t want to misuse them. Your brand identity guidelines should include a few “don’t” examples in regard to your logo and color palette, such as: don’t change the colors, don’t use the colors in certain ways, don’t make the logo semi-transparent, and don’t rotate or play with the logo’s scale. These recommendations will help maintain the integrity of your brand.
The way you talk about your brand matters, which is why it’s important to have specific messaging requirements available within your brand identity guidelines.
Depending on the industry or company you work for, there may be certain language requirements dictating what you or others can and cannot say about your brand. Or, you may simply have preferences regarding the way you want your brand represented.
The more specific your usage rules, the less likely it is your brand will be misrepresented, making it easier to manage brand consistency. And, as you know, brand consistency leads to brand trust, which leads to an uptick in sales and an increase in your bottom line.
Step 6: Gather Necessary Identity Elements
Once you know exactly what you want to include in your brand identity guidelines, as well as who you want to share the guidelines with, it’s time to begin gathering the elements you’ve defined.
The team working on the assets will often be the team developing the guidelines, so that part is easy—but make sure you’re gathering all variations of all necessary components. Grab your logo variations, typefaces, photography, personas, and any additional elements you’ve outlined for use in your brand guide and share them with your team.
Step 7: Assemble the Guidelines
This is the point at which you should begin assembling all the various elements of your brand identity into one comprehensive guide. Brands are constantly evolving, so your brand identity guidelines will need to regularly evolve, as well.
Routinely audit your brand identity guidelines to ensure they’re in line with any recent or last-minute changes you’ve made to your brand. And, make sure whatever format you choose to house your brand identity guidelines—a webpage, site, or document—allows for evolution, too.
Step 8: Conduct Brand Training
Just handing someone your brand guide isn’t enough. Training those who use your brand helps them understand the importance of consistency and adhering to established brand guidelines. Brand training can take place internally, or it can include outside partners who use your brand.
Depending on your company and its needs, it’s likely that brand training will need to take place on a regular basis. If you’re often hiring new team members, ongoing brand training will help ensure every member of the team is well-versed in the latest brand guidelines.
That said, brand training doesn’t just cover consistent implementation of your brand. It can—and should—also cover the thinking behind your brand identity. Internal and external stakeholders will be more willing to take an active role in maintaining your brand’s identity when they understand the Why behind it.
Step 9: Distribute Guidelines to Your Audience
Finally, it’s time to share your new brand identity guidelines! Making your guidelines easily accessible is step one. Then, establish clear lines of communication between your internal team and implementers, managers, and partners of your brand. Distribute your brand identity guidelines to the appropriate audiences and establish a process for ongoing communication and distribution of brand updates. Consider establishing a quarterly check-in, where users and implementers can ask questions about maintaining your brand identity. Or, set up a forum within your online brand portal, where users can submit questions about using and sharing your brand.
Brand Identity Guidelines Made Simple
Although 95 percent of organizations have brand guidelines in place, only a quarter of them
Get a head start developing your brand identity guidelines by finding your Why.