Branding Style Guides are Living Documents that Should Evolve as the Company Does

Adding a new accessibility page to a company brand guidelines book.

Your brand’s reputation is one of the most important assets you have. Markets will change — but the best brands will change with, or ahead of, their markets. And the greatest brands will continuously innovate while maintaining their integrity. Think Nike. Coke. Apple. Great brands maintain a stable image in all media realms amidst this constant change. How? By having a branding style guide behind them.

People relate to brands the same way they relate to people. No one trusts a person who is constantly changing the way they talk, look, and act. Why would they trust a brand that does the same?

That’s the challenge. Be consistent. Be on point and grow market share, maintain repeat business, stay ahead of competitors, and keep up with your customers’ wants and needs.

Brands must evolve.

Products change. Market feedback tells you what’s working and what isn’t. Communication style trends change over time, too. So does your brand voice. Social norms and accepted beliefs shift. Employees move on. New positions are added and developed as your brand offerings change. Everything changes.

So how do you maintain a stable brand identity and change at the same time? You evolve with the needs of your market while you stay relevant and true to your course. It’s simple when you have a strategic process in place.

When should you update your branding guidelines?

Common opportunities for updating your brand guide —

  • It’s been more than a year since you last updated your guide.
  • You’ve developed a new product.
  • You need a new campaign with a specific identity.
  • It’s time to reposition.
  • You’re looking to redesign your website.
  • You have a new subsidiary.
  • You need to communicate who you are more clearly.
  • You want to appeal to new markets.
  • You need to develop a better mobile experience.
  • Your divisions are marketing in different ways, and you need them unified.

At Design Positive we advise developing a process to manage brand consistency. How often, and what you include in your process, will be specific to your brand and your markets.

Schedule regular branding guide updates, at least once a year.

The first of the year is a good time to revisit your branding guide. That’s when we all pause to reflect on last year’s wins and losses — and a good time to incorporate what you’ve learned into your brand strategy. Update your guide more often if change is rapid for your organization or market. Also, updates don’t have to be about rethinking your entire brand, but rather how to best keep your brand clear and true to your voice and mission.

Your process should include at the very least —

Feedback loops around —

  • brand perception
  • content performance
  • sales performance metrics
  • A/B testing

Make sure everyone has the latest guide, date-stamped —

  • a copy on every mar-comm and executive computer
  • all mar-comm and executive employees
  • all design consultants
  • all partnering agencies
  • all promotional suppliers

What can go into a branding style guide?

Just about anything. Each brand has unique collateral needs. Just make sure you cover the items relevant to your brand. Here’s a list of things to consider—

  • Logo usage
  • Typography
  • Colors
  • Photography
  • Stationery examples
  • Marketing material examples
  • Promotional items
  • Mission statement
  • Brand values
  • Writing style (APA, Chicago, etc.) & writing tone
  • Boilerplate language (in different variations)
  • Banner, booth & signage
  • User personas
  • Company culture
  • Visual ad layouts
  • Event collateral
  • Landing page layout
  • Email signatures
  • Core messaging
  • Accessibility
  • Presentation templates
  • Imagery standards for social media
  • Guidance for curated and user-generated content
  • Brand voice
  • Brand archetype
  • Email marketing templates
  • Division specific visual identities
  • Campaign-specific branding standards

Commit to Agility

Create a process that lets your organization stay up-to-date, move with the needs of your market and pay homage to emerging trends. But, most importantly, build trust by staying true to your brand.

Design Positive is a strategic branding and accessibility agency.