The world is a chaotic place, which is why (most) human crave stability and resist change.
It didn’t take businesses long to understand people’s need for permanence meant they would choose organizations that were consistent in the quality of their product or service.
In the information Age consistency has extended to the aesthetics of the business. In order for people to trust you — or even recognize you — you need a cohesive design aesthetic that remains relatively unaltered across your products and marketing campaigns.
Coca-Cola reportedly sells 1.8 billion beverages in 200 countries each day. One study claimed it was the 3rd most valuable brand in the world behind Google and Apple. Coca-Cola’s logo has remained largely unchanged since 1891.
So consistency is important. How do you make sure your brand stays cohesive? You need a style guide.
Style guides help brands establish a specific voice with their audiences. A style guide is a master document that provides a reference point for brand standards. This makes it easier to ensure various marketing campaigns all adhere to the established aesthetics of your brand.
Around 66 percent of businesses spend marketing dollars on online advertising. However, you can throw a lot of money at advertising without seeing any results if you don't move forward with a plan and create a consistent brand image.
Here are some important elements your style guide should have as well as some tips for sticking to your standards once you define them.
1. Write an Introduction
A style guide should begin with an introduction which explains who you are as a brand and your mission. What are you passionate about? What problem does your business solve for consumers? An introduction serves to set the tone for your style guide and explain why you made the style selections you included in the manual.
2. Keep a Consistent Tone
A style guide is much more than merely sharing the logo and font you'll use in marketing. What is the tone of your brand and does it match your target audience?
Use part of your style guide to define the voice of your business. No matter where users interact with you, they should instantly recognize your voice. However, be cautious with humor as it is very subjective and often taken the wrong way.
Boloco is a burrito restaurant out of Boston with highly consistent marketing, which makes it clear they have a reliable style guide.
They have a signature font, which they use on social media, their website and even their mobile app. They also highlight Boston landmarks on their marketing materials, including gift cards. The tone is lighthearted and fun, and this shines through in all their marketing.
3. Specific Logo Usage
How will your logo be used? Are there any specifications designers need to keep in mind? For example, if the logo is on a billboard, what resolution and file format should be used? Is the logo always placed in the upper right or is there flexibility with logo placement?
Keep in mind what sizes work best in different types of marketing materials and set some guidelines for best use practices.
4. Choose a Color Palette
Your brand's color palette should reflect your brand's personality. Bright colors show energy and youthfulness, while dark colors such as navy blue indicate steadfastness. Define how different colors in the palette are used in your logo, in print material, on your website and social media.
Your style guide should clearly define the color by name, hex code and include a sample swatch of the color. Specifying color codes ensures no matter who does design work for your company, the colors remain the same.
Hard Chrome Specialists sticks to a precise color palette made up of two colors. The use of a limited number of colors creates a striking contrast and draws attention to highlighted points. Note how the call to action (CTA) buttons are in gold which contrasts with the dark background.
5. Define Your Story
Clearly define what elements of your company's inner story get shared and which doesn't.
Although you might want writers to articulate how you overcame a challenge and rose above, it may not be in your best interests to spotlight current struggles you've not yet mastered.
Transparency is essential, but it's also okay to highlight the positives of your brand. Apologize for mistakes and move on from them. There's no need to bring them back up and remind people of your errors.
6. Define Writing Styles
Choose a base writing style and stick with it across all platforms. For example, you might decide on AP style for all of your written content. So ever after, anyone who writes copy for you should adhere to AP guidelines.
If you deviate from AP with any words or punctuation, make sure to note that in your style guide. Around 45 percent of a brand image comes from the style of the writing and what is actually said.
If you aren't sure which base writing style works best, study what your competitors use. It's best to stick with the expected when it comes to style and grammatical issues with the written word.
Mailchimp offers an in-depth style guide for anyone writing content for them. In addition to basic writing tips about grammar and mechanics, they also break down style by type of content, such as blog posts.
7. Outline a Photography Style
Images are one area where it's easy to have a lot of variation. Define your image usage policies clearly, including how much of the frame is taken up with the object.
Define the format of images, the size of images for different mediums — Facebook, for example, might need a smaller width image than Twitter. You can even define if there are people in your photos or they are only of the product. Think about what your image style says about your brand and stick with a specific format.
Gymit uses images showing people working out in their gyms. The images all have a similar tone with the intensity of the workout shown in the image. Their website and social media both show the same types of images of people in the middle of lifting weights, pulling up on bars or various equipment.
8. Stick to Your Style
Insist anyone who works on any marketing campaign or asset for your company stick to your style guidelines. Put one person in charge of ensuring everything remains consistent. As you create different types of materials, questions will arise about specific style elements. Make a note of decisions and expand your style guide, so your branding remains the same over time.
Know Who You Are
The key to a reliable style and branding is knowing who you are and the way you want customers to see you. Writing out the mechanics of style becomes easier when you understand the appearance you're striving for. A style guide is a living, breathing document, which changes as your business grows but retains the underlying tone and personality of your company.