As a business owner, every day you’re faced with opportunities to introduce your brand to the world, engage with potential customers, and stake your position in the market. But how do you ensure you’re putting your best foot forward? How can you guarantee brand consistency everywhere you show up?
The answer? A comprehensive set of brand guidelines and a brand style guide. These are precious resources for a brand, both at launch and while scaling. They keep team members on the same page and provide a consistent experience for customers.
Ahead, learn how to establish effective brand guidelines and create a brand style guide for your business. Look to other successful businesses for inspiration, with examples of strong brand guidelines from well-known brands like Fenty Beauty and Ben & Jerry’s.
Table of Contents
What are brand guidelines?
Brand guidelines are rules a business creates for how it presents itself to the public, including its voice, tone, and design aesthetic. Consistent branding helps customers have the same experiences wherever they interact with the business.
Brand guidelines also include elements like mission statement, brand values, and brand story. These are important elements that will guide the more granular decisions. For example, when determining your brand aesthetic and tone, ask yourself if it accurately communicates your mission and values.
What is a brand style guide?
Sometimes called a brand book or brand kit, a brand style guide is a document that dictates how your brand will look and sound in every application. It is a useful resource when you’re working with designers, printers, manufacturers, contractors, and the media. It dictates the acceptable use of your logo, your specific brand colors and fonts, and the tone of your communications.
Smaller businesses with limited time and resources can create simple brand guidelines, called “minimum viable brand guidelines.” The important thing is to follow the brand guidelines consistently so they’re effective.
Why create guidelines for your brand?
Creating a marketing message that is unmistakably, undeniably your organization’s can ensure your message and image are synonymous with one another, regardless of who’s working on it.
- Keep everyone on the same page. As your business grows, so will your team. A set of standards ensures everyone is clear on how to represent the brand.
- Set your brand apart from your competitors. Distinct, strong branding helps you stand out in a crowded marketplace.
- Drive customer retention and loyalty. Your brand identity is what connects you with customers and your community. It’s what brings them back time and again.
To protect your brand identity, you should consider every possible place your brand will show up, from a print ad to an in-store display to social media ads. Creating clear brand guidelines and a brand style guide is an important step for new businesses—but be sure they’re adaptable as you scale.
Elements of a brand style guide
Most businesses don’t have a full picture of what a style guide, or brand book, actually looks like, even if they’ve heard the term before. A brand style guide is a collection of rules for how your public image looks and sounds. It acts as a compass for your brand elements, ensuring your business’s design, video, image, and text content all point due north—wherever that is for you.
If you aren’t sure what to include in your brand style guide, here are a few things to cover:
- Your logo: rules around its design and use, including acceptable sizes and colors
- Brand color schemes: their specific shades (including hex, CMYK, or RGB codes) and how, when, and where they should be used
- Typefaces (or fonts): which ones can be used and where (i.e., headings and body text across your website, blog, and online store)
- Your ideal audience: who you’re creating any brand asset for should always be top of mind
- Voice and tone: how your brand “speaks” to its customers in written communication
- Social media guidelines: rules for how communicating with customers on social channels differs from other communications
In some cases, your style guide may also provide additional context, such as your brand story. Here’s an example from Vans’ brand guidelines that does just that:
How to create a brand style guide
Your brand guidelines will be used to create a living document that can be shared both internally and externally. There are two components to a brand style guide: visual style and written style. Let’s dig in.
1. Define your visual style
Your visual style dictates the look of your brand and marketing. A basic visual style guide includes rules for your logo, typography (font style, appearance, and structure), and brand color palette. It contains brand assets and clear guidelines about how to use them.
Consider how your logo should appear on both light and dark backgrounds, and define the colors you’ll use consistently. The idea is to put thought into how you want your brand to look (and how you don’t want it to look).
Medium’s visual brand outlines acceptable use of the brand’s logo, including rules around colors and contrast:
Brand color palette
Beyond your logo, define brand colors as well. Outdoor retailer REI does this with an extensive list of colors and its hex codes. Again, you don’t need to be as comprehensive, but you do want to make sure to cover all the colors, as well as provide context into how and where they should be used.
Your brand guidelines will contain a suite of fonts that will be used across properties and channels. At minimum, this includes a body font and a headline font as well as any fonts used in your logo or as accents.
2. Craft a written style
Your written style defines how your brand uses words to communicate. It includes things like voice, tone, and specific audience considerations. Who buys your products? What outcomes do they hope to achieve? What voice will resonate with them? Remember the style choices you make are for your audience, not for you.
One thing that can be tricky is defining your brand’s tone of voice—specifically, parsing the difference between your brand’s voice and its tone. Your voice is constant. Your brand should always sound like your brand, regardless of the channel or situation.
Tone, on the other hand, is how your voice adapts to different situations. For example, the tone you use with a customer who’s just made a sale is different from how you’d speak to a frustrated customer.
One of the most important things a written style guide does is explain how to find a balance between voice and tone. A well-defined voice can translate from tone to tone without losing its unique quality.
In this example, note how Help Scout defines its voice as universally friendly, clear, and direct. That’s how Help Scout sounds across all mediums. Its tone, however, is made to adapt to and match individual situations.
These guidelines enable the Help Scout team to deploy a voice unique to its brand while still being considerate of the situation. As an example, being friendly and clear sounds different in a celebratory context than it does when speaking with a frustrated customer.
BarkBox is another great example of how your brand can sound like you, even when your tone changes. Take a look at how its voice translates from an Instagram post to a help article aimed at frustrated customers.
The language sounds like it came from the same place—and is an extension of the same brand—but it’s been adapted to do two distinct jobs. Both are lighthearted, but notice how the tweet uses humor while the support article takes a more direct approach.
Starbucks identifies the tone it hopes to convey in its communications as functional and expressive.
Being highly specific is important to a brand of any size, especially one with as much reach as Starbucks. That’s why its brand guidelines contain examples for how its brand message will sound across multiple touchpoints.
3. Add other elements (optional)
As mentioned earlier in this article, your brand guidelines can be more comprehensive than a simple brand style guide. Consider adding more context about your company that will help anyone applying your style to understand the intention behind it.
7 best-in-class brand guidelines examples
Branding and brand identity can be tough concepts to wrap your mind around in the abstract. That’s why learning from the example of other brands can be helpful. Several brands, both large and small, post their guidelines publicly, so you can take a look and see what an established brand’s style rules look like.
Sustainable clothing brand tentree has a comprehensive style guide, complete with iconography, downloadable brand assets for logo usage, and more.
The brand’s rulebook contains guidelines for all its visual elements, including fonts, colors, illustration style, product photography, and even animation and motion. It also dives into voice and tone, defining the brand’s key messaging with do’s and don’ts, establishing grammar guidelines, and offering a brand glossary.
2. Wolf Circus
Wolf Circus, a women-owned ecommerce business that sells handmade jewelry, offers a great example of a simple style guide that covers the absolute essentials and provides all the necessary information to enable new employees and collaborators to represent the brand accurately.
3. United By Blue
United By Blue certainly didn’t skimp on defining its brand identity guidelines—it has 56 pages of standards for design elements, the company logo, copywriting, and print design for things like business cards and product packaging. United By Blue does a particularly nice job at providing examples of proper usage and expression of brand elements.
4. High Horse Coffee
Nitro cold brew High Horse Coffee hired a pro to develop its brand identity. This includes all elements of a visual style guide, from multiple versions of its logo to packaging design for the brand’s coffee bean bags.
WIth a playful, ambitious voice in a casual tone, High Horse knows how to speak to its customers in a distinct way, on every surface.
5. Fenty Beauty
While Rhianna may have a dynamic style and identity of her own, her brand, Fenty Beauty, is equally distinct—and it has the brand guidelines to prove it. The guidelines do a nice job of keeping the focus on the brand’s personality, while infusing a bit of Rhianna’s identity into it. But the focus remains on the brand’s visual identity and tone of voice, as well as guiding product packaging design.
Fenty Beauty sets out specific guidelines around tone, target audience, and use of typography to ensure brand consistency.
6. Ben & Jerry’s
Ben & Jerry’s is a brand with a very distinct visual style—many recognize its flagship typeface, even when it isn’t on the side of an ice cream pint. For a brand like Ben & Jerry’s, investment has gone into creating a distinct brand feel. Its brand guidelines are all about defining its brand story and ensuring the work put into it translates across all PR and marketing, down to the size of the font used in each heading.
Ben & Jerry’s dedicates a few pages of its style guide to logo design standards, including how to integrate the logo with other design elements.
Here, WeWork’s brand style guide shows how its brand elements work across different devices. With more than 500 locations creating workplace experiences for businesses through their design and the physical layouts, WeWork had its work cut out for it when it came to building out a brand style guide. Fortunately, WeWork’s guidelines deliver by being clear, concise, and unafraid of addressing controversial points where its stance defines the brand.
💡 Tip: If your business includes physical locations, the experience customers have there becomes part of your brand—and that should be part of your brand guidelines, too.
3 tips for creating brand guidelines that work
Not all brand guidelines are effective. If you don’t approach your style guide with a strategic and pragmatic mindset, you’ll likely come up with something obsolete. Follow these three tips to ensure your style guide does the job you intend it to do.
1. Start with your mission statement
Creating consistency across different media and channels admittedly isn’t easy. The key is to connect each element of your brand’s style back to one central theme: your mission.
A distinct and opinionated business mission acts as a center of gravity that influences everything your business does. Which products to carry, your marketing messaging, your pricing strategy—all of these decisions should be made with your mission in mind. The same goes for your brand guidelines.
Think about what your visual style says about your brand. Is it in line with your mission? How about the voice you use to speak to customers? What does it say about your brand?
Mission statement example
If your mission is to build inclusivity by fulfilling the needs of underserved segments of the market, your brand guidelines should outline rules for pronoun usage. If your mission is to humanize and democratize a complicated, arcane industry, your brand voice may lean toward friendliness and approachability over formality.
2. Provide branded templates
As your business and team expands, effective brand guidelines become increasingly important. However, people can have different interpretations of those guidelines, especially since we’re discussing a concept that’s so subjective.
Branded templates for commonly used assets and projects can mitigate inconsistencies and misinterpretations. Branded templates also make it easier for folks who don’t know graphic design to come up with visual designs that meet brand standards.
Examples of branded templates
- Website banners
- Landing pages
- Social media posts and ads
- Price and product tags
- Packaging inserts
3. Think about social media
It used to be that most brands could get away with one set of guidelines, but the rise of social media has complicated things.
Much of what’s considered normal or acceptable on social media doesn’t always align with other communication channels—you’ll need to define a much different tone to strike a balance between adapting to the norms of social media and maintaining your brand voice. That’s why your style guide should address things like whether or not your brand uses emojis or abbreviations and what kind of images it shares.
Social media guidelines
It’s recommended adding a separate section of your style guide for defining how your brand presents itself on social media. It’s helpful to specify the following:
- Your specific social media tone and how it changes based on the platform and situation. Support conversations on Facebook may need a different tone than comment replies on Instagram.
- Whether you use emojis, abbreviations, and slang.
- Guidelines on hashtag usage.
- Image guidelines, such as whether the brand posts or shares memes.
- Content guidelines. Do you avoid posting about specific topics? Take a strong stance on others? What content formats do you skew toward (article links, original photos, customer generated content, gifs, etc.). What doesn’t your brand do?
Create brand guidelines to keep your marketing consistent
If you’re wearing all the hats in your business right now, you might be able to go without brand guidelines for a time. But documenting the look and feel of your brand through clear brand guidelines is one of the best ways to create consistency across all of your marketing, especially as you scale up and onboard more people.
As your team grows or your business attracts more attention, create brand guidelines and a simple brand style guide to communicate that look and feel to new people—so your brand never gets watered down.
Brand guidelines FAQ
What are brand guidelines?
Brand guidelines are the standards a business sets for the attributes of its public communication. This includes elements such as colors, fonts, voice, logo, and design.
Are brand guidelines the same as a style guide?
Brand guidelines are often the same as a style guide. The terms can be interchangeable. However, sometimes brand guidelines are more comprehensive, including elements such as brand story and history, values, and mission statement.
Why should I create guidelines for my brand?
You should create brand guidelines to ensure consistency across all channels and touchpoints for every customer interaction. Brand consistency builds trust and ultimately drives sales. Brand guidelines also keep everyone on the same page—from staff to contractors to press—so that your brand is represented in the way you intended, no matter who’s talking about it.
What should I include in my brand guidelines?
Your brand guidelines should include the following:
- Brand colors
- Typefaces and fonts
- Your ideal audience
- Voice and tone
- Social media guidelines
- Brand assets and iconography
- Optional: brand mission, values, and story
What are some brand guidelines examples?
The world’s best brands have comprehensive brand guidelines and a brand style guide that outline the rules for use of every brand asset and the brand’s tone of voice across every channel and touchpoint. Some of the best brand guidelines examples include Starbucks, Hulu, Netflix, Vans, and Fenty Beauty.