In today’s business environment, the word “brand” is one of the most overused and misunderstood terms in the market place.
Typically, it gets thrown around as a symbol, a metaphor, a label and a descriptor, whether the brand is a product, an entertainer or athlete, or a movie franchise. Regardless of the usage or the product, though, the ultimate goal of every brand is to induce customers to buy the pitch and ultimately make the purchase
Unfortunately, many companies often rely too strongly on advertising to do this, failing in the process to realize that there’s more to swaying customers than just the message. For better or worse, the employees, corporate culture and identity, and strategies and tactics of a business are as important as the ad message when it comes to producing a winning brand.
So how do you make it all come together into a coherent whole? Simple: By making sure that there’s more than just a great message being delivered. At all levels, management and employees must be on the same page, implementing the same strategies and creating a strong, unified identity to develop, perpetuate and extend a great brand.
Introducing the brand guide
This is where the brand guide comes in. Simply put, the brand guide is a manual that defines the brand identity and explains how it should be used, both internally and externally. It helps make the connection between the product, the corporate identity, the logo and the brand promise, so that all of these elements will connect in a coherent way that resonates with both prospective and existing customers.
The brand guidelines also contain explicit instructions of how all the tangible elements of a brand, business cards, ads, packaging, signage, should be used in communication.
In addition the brand guide functions as outline for both designers and marketers, helping them to work together to perfect the logo, put together ads that are both striking and enticing, and maintain the integrity of the brand across a variety of platforms. It helps ensure that every communication with customers is consistent with the brand values, and that all advertisements and sales literature will resonate both visually and emotionally consistent with what you provide to customers.
At the most basic level, the brand guide must be based on an assessment of a company’s core competencies. Make sure there is no conflict between these areas of competence, and concentrate only on the ones that overlap, for these will form the basis of your brand and the foundation for its identity.
Once these core competencies have been established and assessed, they can be expanded on to add a positioning or mission statement, which includes the brand promise as well as the key reason to buy and use the brand. This statement should also be conscious of the brand vision, and it should include the value proposition for the brand, which helps build loyalty and clarifies perceived benefits.
An integral part of all this is the brand personality, which asks the question “who or what is this brand, and what is it about?” Once this personality has been identified, expanded and crystallized, it can be stripped back down to a brand mantra, which is a short, crisp, clean way of expressing what the brand represents and what’s unique about it.
This mantra must be memorable. Ideally, it consists of an emotional or descriptor modifier, followed by the brand function. Take, for example, the mantra of Nike: authentic, athletic performance. The elegant simplicity of this mantra makes it stick in the minds of both customers and the world wide audience for Nike’s message and products.
That same simplicity makes it possible to coordinate the mantra with the brand language that follows, whether it occurs in the form of verbal or visual codes. The result is an unforgettable message about how the company, in this case Nike, differentiates itself from competitors.
At its core, though, the brand identity guide should also contain and elaborate on several fundamental rules for running a brand. It should state what your business achieves for your customers, but you should always remember that the brand should be focused on customer needs, not on the values of individual customers or even customers as a whole. Ultimately, the brand comes from the company as a whole, using the aforementioned principals laid out in the brand guide.
On a more practical level, the brand guide can also be used as an outline for budgeting. Budgeting can be broken down into several parts, including the time spent creating the brand and the time that staff spends working on it, along with the cost of reworking stationery, signage and packaging, and the designing and printing of support material. Finally, the budget should include the cost of advertising, PR and the possible expense of using a branding agency to create and manage the brand for you.
Finally, the brand guide can also be used to handle the introduction of new products and services. These must be consistent with existing brand values — stretching a brand too far can damage it, both internally and in the eyes of customers. If there is a risk of stretching the brand, consider branding new products separately and introducing them as a diffusion brand, and remember that problems with diffusion brands can also damage the main brand.
Brand guidelines from famous companies
Most of the examples of brand identity guidelines presented here are thorough and in PDF version, while others are quite thin but still interesting.
Google Visual Assets Guidelines – Part 1 and Part 2