Brand guidelines – what you need to know

We’ve all played that game that pops up on social media every so often: the one that shows brand colours and logos – or parts of logos, minus the actual name, and challenges you to name the brand in question.

It’s usually really easy to get the name right because the visual cues of the brand are burned into our consumer psyche. Just think about some of the world’s best-known names – McDonald’s, Mercedes, Gap, Chanel, Apple, Starbucks, Nike…you get the gist. So, what is it that makes those brands so easily recognisable? Well it’s a combination of factors – not all necessarily used at once, that gives a brand its personality.

We are often asked if brand guidelines are really necessary, and how deep they need to run throughout the business, so we thought we’d share some thoughts.

There are six key areas to any brand guidelines document:

Colours: Cadbury purple or Coca Cola red – both are inextricably linked to the identity of their respective brands and instantly identifiable even when used without the brand names. Back in 2012 Cadbury won a high court battle with rival Nestle for exclusive use of its Pantone 2685C purple. The court agreed with Cadbury that the colour could be registered as a trademark.

Logo: Chanel’s interlocking Cs, the Nike swoosh – created in 1971 to convey motion – or Apple’s apple. It’s unlikely there are many places in the world where shoppers don’t know the brands behind these logos.

Visual assets: Who isn’t familiar with Louis Vuitton’s iconic LV motif that goes right back to the 1800s, Gucci’s interlocking Gs or Burberry’s distinctive check that was trademarked in the 1920s.

Typefaces and fonts: This refers to the style of the letters used for a brand name. For instance, the BBC is in Gill Sans Std while LinkedIn and iTunes share Myriad Bold. Note, traditionally ‘typeface’ refers to a particular design of type, while ‘font’ is a type in a particular size or weight. However, it’s not uncommon for the two terms to be used interchangeably these days.

Tone of Voice: Find your tone of voice by thinking about your target audience and the kinds of brands they probably already interact with. If they’re likely to be shopping with Boohoo and listening to Dave, then they’re unlikely to respond well to a tone mirroring that of Marks & Spencer or Morrisons.

Photography: Yes, even the style and tone of a photograph can contribute to a brand’s personality. We all know how a cheap, frequently-used, stock image can be detrimental to a campaign and this often reflects badly on the brand. Whether you purchase your photography via a stock library or commission a photographer, the image style is an important brand asset and should not be overlooked.

When and where should brand guidelines documents be used?
We work with organisations to help them manage brand assets and apply them across a vast array of touchpoints. It’s is important for a brand to be consistent in how it presents itself to the outside world and talks to customers, because this is how familiarity is created.

However, it can go too far. We’ve worked with some businesses that wanted a brand guidelines document so they can run their ‘brand stamp’ throughout the business like a watermark, managing every pixel and mark with military precision. This to be honest, could have a detrimental effect if enforced and would not encourage creative thinking.

The size of your marketing/design team and output volume is a factor, explains Adam Arnold, founder of Brandality. “A brand guidelines document isn’t always necessary. Smaller organisations with fewer touchpoints and one central team to manage marketing and comms often have a grasp of how the brand needs to look and sound – and can carefully manage the marketing outputs. However, larger organisations, with more people, more touchpoints and a larger volume of marketing output sometimes struggle to ensure everything being created is ‘on-brand’. A brand guidelines document can be helpful in ensuring larger teams – particularly ones working in different offices, or even countries – take a cohesive approach to all brand communications.”

If you’re wondering whether a brand guidelines document might help your organisation, drop us a line at or call 020 8508 7870.

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