All companies know that if they want to differentiate themselves in the marketplace, they must develop a compelling brand. Customers will only pay more if they think they’re getting something in return, be it higher quality, more prestige, or better values.
Bosses at Fortune 1000 companies, therefore, need to think strategically about digital branding. In today’s marketplace, it’s not enough to simply rely on a vague notion of what your brand is. You need something concrete that explains the parameters in detail so that everyone in the organization is on the same page.
Here’s where digital branding guidelines help. These documents explain in no uncertain terms what constitutes acceptable branding material, and what doesn’t. They include details like the precise shade of green your logo uses or the tone of voice marketers should adopt in public communications. The underlying purpose of the exercise is to ensure maximum consistency, allowing you to build trust and recognition. You want everyone in your organization who communicates with customers digitally – sales reps, marketing pros, and designers – to be on the same page. Colleagues should all agree on what your brand is, and be able to review each other’s approaches. Consistent cross-channel branding increases revenue by 23 percent.
Theory aside, though, how do you actually go about creating digital branding guidelines for your company? That can be a tricky task.
Fortunately, our digital marketing agency is here to help. In the following post, we delve into the steps you need to take to develop a document anyone can use to check brand consistency. Let’s get started.
Step 1: Check Your Brand Is Ready For Digital Branding Guidelines
Digital branding guidelines are all about setting brand concepts in stone. They say nothing about the content of the brand. So before you even get going with a branding guidelines document, you want to make sure that you have compelling and well-positioned brand concepts already formed. Not all brands are ready for formalization.
Quality outfits build their brands around four pillars.
- Values. Values are fundamental principles that guide how people in companies make decisions. Top-quality brands make them memorable so that every member of the team can apply them in their work.
- Mission. Your mission is the reason for your company’s founding, and your vision is where you’d like your firm to go in the future. Tesla’s mission is to build compelling electric vehicles. Its vision is to accelerate the transition to sustainable transport. See the difference?
- Target audience. Before you create brand guidelines, you’ll need to define your target audience. To whom are you selling online? How do your products and services solve a particular group’s problems?
- Personality. Finally, well-planned brands think carefully about their character, usually by choosing between three and five adjectives that describe the public persona they want to achieve. “Quirky,” “professional,” “principled,” and “innovative” are all good examples of single-word descriptions you might want to use.
Step 2: Collect Brand Inspiration
Once you’ve thrashed out your brand basics, the next step is to collect inspiration to flesh out the details.
Unfortunately, this part of the process is not prescriptive. There’s no template you can follow. Your only choice here is to seek creative inspiration, perhaps by checking work samples from branding companies and use it to form specific brand directions we discuss in the next section.
Start by looking at what’s worked in the past for your company. Perhaps you launched a successful email campaign last year, and you want to take cues from that. Or maybe you want to find a way to incorporate your core values into the visual imagery you use, instead of burying it away in your “about” page.
Also, think about the aspects of other brands you like. Evaluating the brands of other companies helps you to position yours differently. What do you offer that’s new? How can you carve out a new space in the industry? Perhaps you enjoy their use of colors or tone of voice in communications. Think about how you could put your unique twist on what they do.
Part of this process should be to get a team of brand-focused people to work together. Creating brand guidelines isn’t a solo effort. You want to bring as many people along for the ride as possible, so everyone understands what you’re trying to achieve. Use brainstorming sessions and think carefully about ideas you don’t like as well as those you do.
Step 3: Define All Of The Essential Elements For Your Digital Brand
Digital brands constitute a handful of controllable elements. To construct branding guidelines, you’ll need to define each of these in turn.
You might have a sketch of your logo. But keeping it consistent across digital platforms is more challenging than you might imagine. Digital formats have a habit of changing how logos appear to customers, depending on how and where they view them.
Therefore, companies need to clearly define basic logo parameters to ensure that their images remain consistent. Digital factors like alignment issues, sizing, stretching, and resolution can all impact the final design.
Incorporate the following into your branding guidelines:
- Information on sizing, including proportions, ratios, and minimum pixel dimensions
- Guidelines on image file types (such as JPEG or PNG) and which kinds of format work best for which environment
- The minimum and maximum white space for your logo (as measured by pixels emanating from the top, button, left and right of your design)
- The colors you use for both white and black backgrounds, including detailed information on color reversal
- Information on contexts in which people should not use your logos, such as on particular third-party websites, landing pages or specific types of communication.
Once you have this information, you can codify it in a formal structure in your branding document.
Your Permissible Color Palette
Using unauthorized colors is one of the best ways to create confusion about your brand. Therefore, you must create a color palette you use consistently across all your communications.
Digital brands typically have less control over color palettes than their printed counterparts because of the variation in device quality. Some users will view your colors on high-quality OLED displays (such as those you find on the latest smartphones). In contrast, others will see you through washed-out TN panels that won’t do your colors justice. Unfortunately, there isn’t a great deal you can do about this. Your best bet is to create a permissible color palette consistent within a particular device. No matter where a customer sees your brand imagery on their smartphone, the tones should be the same.
Your style guide needs to include the following digital color codes:
These standards will allow colleagues to cross-check the colors they use on a variety of software and platforms. Some use RGB, some use HEX, and some use both. Providing people with universal codes will allow them to remain faithful to your brand in every digital context, including WordPress, Adobe, email communications, and social media.
Most brands choose both a primary and secondary brand palette for digital marketing. The primary palette is your core brand image – think the red and white of the classic Coca-cola logo. The secondary palette evokes the primary, but you can use it in different contexts – think the black and white Coca-cola logo for its diet products.
Finally, consider the shades you will permit of the primary colors and write down the RGB and HEX codes for these. For sophisticated brands, specify which shades you allow in specific contexts.
A large part of branding comprises the typeface or font. Ideally, you want to define multiple accepted fonts and how members of your organization should use them.
Most brands organize their font guidelines as following:
- Headline. Here the brand defines the acceptable characters employees can use in headings and titles. They may allow both upper and lower case, or one or the other.
- Script. Script or body text usually requires a different typeface from the headline to create visual harmony. Here again, brands may specify which characters are allowed and which aren’t. Most brands allow both upper and lower case, but not all.
- Light. Brands use light characters for background text (such as terms and conditions, additional information, footnotes, and other secondary elements, like page headers and footers). Here again, the typeface should be reminiscent of the previous two, but still visually distinct.
In the brand guidelines, you also need to tell a story about why you’re using particular fonts and how they relate to your brand. You can think of this as your justification or motivation. Some fonts, for instance, evoke style and sophistication, while others are about fun and excitement. Your font should tie in with what we discussed in step 1 – the adjectives associated with your brand.
Finally, you will want to define the following font-related parameters:
- Kerning. Kerning is the space between letters in your text. When it comes to your logo (or even your script), don’t assume that software packages will automatically provide the right spacing. They usually won’t. Define the point difference between letters that creates equal perceived spacing, not pixel spacing.
- Leading. Leading is the amount of space between lines of text. While you can define this as “single spacing” or “1.15 spacing,” you may want to be more specific when it comes to logos, titles, and subtitles. Again, include precise point data for how much members of your organization should space logos.
- Tracking. Tracking is a similar concept to kerning, except this time, it concerns the average spacing between letters, not the gaps between individual characters. You might want your brand text to look squished or spread out, depending on your values and goals.
Digital brands depend heavily on images to present messages to their audience. Here, you’ll want to break your brand guidelines down into two sections: rigid parameters and qualitative guidance for what is an acceptable image, and what isn’t.
For rigid guidelines, you might specify:
- Minimum accepted resolutions by context (such as website, social media, or third-party sites)
- Minimum size requirements
- Image format requirements by context or application
- Image color qualities, such as contrast ratios
The goal of qualitative guidelines is to give your team some lassitude while also keeping them within the spirit of the brand.
So, for instance, you might include examples of images that feel right for your brand. Many companies include a mood board of pictures that communicate the type of images you want to promote (and those you want to avoid). Again, there are no prescriptions here. You and your team will need to come up with a list of images you feel best communicates your digital brand. You then have to trust that employees will internalize and interpret the guidelines correctly.
Your Brand Voice
When communicating with online audiences, brand voice is essential. It is the vibe you create through your choice of language. Getting the tone right sets you up for a productive and healthy relationship with customers while simultaneously creating subtle expectations.
Go back to the adjectives we discussed in step 1 that describe your company. Think about the type of words you would associate with these descriptions. Create a mind-map of terms you love that will help build your brand personality, while also creating a blacklist of communications styles that wouldn’t. Then, provide clear examples to colleagues for the tone of voice you want to adopt.
Let’s say you’re a fun-loving, light-hearted pet food brand called Doggums. You might include the following:
Doggum’s delicious and tasty treats are a scrumptious snack for your precious pooch. Every biscuit is bursting with flavor and essential minerals to keep them healthy and loving life.
You might also include an example of what you don’t want:
Our biscuits provide support for your animal’s immune system and assists with the maintenance of healthy muscle mass.
See the difference here? The first example speaks to the brand’s personality. In contrast, the second is dry, dull, and does nothing to complement Doggum’s core message.
Your Brand Story
Finally, your brand guideline needs to set out your brand story – arguably the most critical part of the process. Here again, you’re attempting to capture the essence of your brand – the reason it exists and what it is trying to achieve.
Create a blurb that captures what you’re trying to do. Write it in such a way that reps will imbibe it and use it as a foundation for all future communications.
Remember, brand story leeches out to inform everything, from your tone of voice to the colors you use. A compelling narrative takes elements from your mission, values, industry objectives, products, and audience. You need something that ties everything together in a seamless whole.
Step 4: Create Your Guideline Layout
By now, you should have the raw information you need to flesh out your digital branding guidelines. The next step is to create the scaffolding of the document so you can lay it out logically and consistently. There’s no set formula here, but feel free to use our template below:
- Brand Overview
- Present your brand story (usually a paragraph of brief, concise text)
- Talk about your brand mission, values, and history. Discuss how you would like to improve your business.
- Brand Colors
- List the allowed colors colleague can use for external digital communications
- List the RGB and HEX codes for digital and screen media
- Provide a visual representation of your brand colors and allowable shades
- Brand Tone Of Voice
- Describe the kind of tone you’re trying to evoke in digital communications with your audience
- Create a copywriting guide that state examples of the type of content you would and would not like written
- Provide a list of do’s and don’ts
- Provide a list of adjectives that describe your preferred writing style (such as professional)
- Brand Fonts
- List the fonts that you accept
- Discuss the contexts in which you will allow particular fonts
- Brand Images
- Define the technical parameters for acceptable images, such as minimum resolution
- Provide examples of acceptable and unacceptable images
- Offer a verbal description of the mood or message that visuals should convey to audiences
- Brand Logo
- Present your brand logo in a variety of contexts (such as on both white and black backgrounds)
- Show both primary and secondary brand logo colors
- Provide technical information relating to colors, sizing, white space, and spacing between characters
Step 5: Allow Your Brand To Evolve
Rarely does a company produce a complete digital branding guide that covers all bases in a single pass. But the goal here isn’t perfection. It is to provide a reference that people can use to brand more consistently.
Once you fill out all the details about, print it off, and create a PDF copy to everyone in your organization. Then hold periodic brainstorming sessions where colleagues make suggestions to improve or add to the document over time.
Now You’re Ready To Get Going
Now you should have all the basics you need to create digital branding guidelines for your company. With it, you can stay true to your message and avoid brand drift – a significant risk in large organizations. If you’re stuck, our Chicago digital agency – one of the top marketing agencies in the US – can help.