Why are brand guidelines important for your business?

Brandon Nickerson January 30, 2020 6 min read Brand
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Consumers’ initial impressions of your brand are formed based on the way your brand is expressed.

Creating a unified, cohesive brand does three key things:

  • Builds brand equity. Recognizable brands are more often perceived as valuable.
  • Contributes to brand awareness. Consistent, recognizable brands are memorable.
  • Increases customer engagement. Customers turn to brands they know more often than the ones they don’t.

But branding can be a double edged sword.

A cognitive bias called ‘The Halo Effect’ plays into how consumers think about brands. It’s the tendency for people to relate an impression of a business to its other areas (whether warranted or not).

If your branding makes a strong impression, customers will assume that your products and services are high quality, desirable, and trusted.

But, if your branding doesn’t hit the mark, they’ll assume your brand is low quality compared to competitors (even if that’s not true). It could also change people’s perception of your product or service’s cost. Poor branding can lead people to believe that you’re a low cost option when you intended to target the luxury market.

Creating and leveraging brand guidelines can help ensure ‘The Halo Effect’ works in your favour.

What are brand guidelines?

Brand guidelines are a set of rules, standards, and procedures to explain how your brand should be expressed and how it should (and should not) be used.

They’re also commonly referred to as brand standards, visual identity guidelines, a brand identity manual, brand style guides, communications policies, or a company’s brand book.

Some companies, like Google, have over 60 pages of corporate brand identity guidelines. Smaller companies may only have a few.

But they all help you accomplish the same goal. To make consumers choose your brand first.

What is included in a brand guideline?

Brand guidelines are most effective when they’re tailored to how you commonly utilize your brand assets and the mediums and channels where your brand is represented. For example, if photography plays a crucial role in your branding, include a section with photography guidelines.

In any case, there are a number of common inclusions to consider in your brand guidelines:

1. Tone & voice

Tone & voice is your brand’s verbal personality and character. Are you serious and factual, lighthearted and funny, or perhaps somewhere in between?

Your tone of voice all depends on your audience.

How do you talk about your brand in person? It probably flows right out of you. Passionately. Authentically. Take that real-life authenticity, attitude and passion and instill it into your brand voice. That’s how you’ll develop a meaningful and effective tone.

If you’re unsure how to go about developing your tone, take a look at our brand strategy consulting services page. We can help.

2. Logo: wordmark

A wordmark logo is a distinct, text based version of a company’s name. It’s a critical part of your brand identity. In Tiller’s case, our logo is a custom wordmark created in-house.

Like any item in your brand guidelines, it’s important to match your wordmark with your brand’s personality. It could be sleek and streamlined or playful and fun. You can create a custom typeface for a highly unique feeling brand. Picking an overused typeface can make your brand feel generic. It wouldn’t have a lot of character. It’s forgettable.

3. Logo: icon

A brand icon is a succinct, visual symbol that immediately signifies your brand identity. An icon is typically a component of the logo. For example, our icon is simply the letter ‘t’ from the Tiller wordmark.

A logo doesn’t always have to include an icon, but it’s important that your icon is able to stand on its own. It should signify your brand without having to be paired with your wordmark.

Often, companies will have rules about when and how to use an icon instead of a wordmark. In Tiller’s case, we don’t pair our icon with our wordmark.

4. Minimum clear space for logo

Clear space is a term for the specific amount of space that a logo must have surrounding it, no matter where it’s used.

This helps ensure maximum visibility. It also helps to prevent your logo from getting obscured or crowded out by other design elements.

5. Minimum size

The minimum size is intended to ensure the logo is used only at sizes that allow for sufficient visibility and readability.

In our case, if the logo is required at a size lower than our minimum size, we specify in our guidelines that our icon should be used instead of the logo.

6. Logo misuse

Altering your logo, outside of an intentional update or rebrand, can damage your brand’s integrity.

Sometimes, there’s the temptation to make changes to the logo to adapt to certain scenarios or environments. This can be a temptation for external vendors, an ad agency, or a magazine where you have an advertisement. It can often tempt your internal team as well. But, it’s important that your logo is used consistently, regardless of the scenario.

Some examples of misuse could include:

  • Adding shadows, outlines or special effects to a logo.
  • Skewing, rotating, or stretching a logo.
  • Using the logo on a background that prevents clear visibility.

7. Colour palette

This is where you specify your primary, secondary, and tertiary colours that are to be used consistently and cohesively. Your colour palette could apply to your logos, typography, and other branding elements used throughout your visual material.

Your colour palette may include colour breakdowns for CMYK, RGB, HTML, and Pantone.

8. Typography

Well chosen typography makes it easier for your customers to read your content and helps bring clarity, consistency, and recognizability to your brand.

This section of your guidelines defines how your brand uses typography, and which fonts and weights should be used.

Typography guidelines will apply to most brand visuals from web copy to marketing content to print collateral.

How to make sure your brand identity guides are upheld.

You’ll confuse your audience if your brand isn’t consistently represented.

It can also lead to inefficiencies, adding unnecessary work and confusion within your team and external parties. Without clear guidelines, the people working with your brand could interpret the application of your brand inaccurately or inconsistently.

Without guidelines, who’s to say which way is correct?

That’s why you have guidelines in the first place. But, how do you actually make sure they’re followed? Here’s some tips:

1. Review your brand guidelines with your team

Impart the importance of your brand guidelines to each member of your team. It’s important everyone understands each section of the guidelines.

More critically, it’s important they understand why you have them in the first place. That way, decisions can be made based on the same unified branding principles.

2. Designate a dedicated brand champion

A dedicated in-house brand champion can provide guidance and make sure your brand is being executed properly.

A brand champion will guide your company on the best ways to implement your brand on an ongoing basis. And, when you designate a dedicated set of eyes for your brand guidelines, you effectively put a brand safety net in place.

3. Update your brand guidelines as your brand evolves

There might be new applications of the brand that arise over the course of your brand’s life.

You might soon find yourself asking ‘how do we deliver our brand in VR?’. That wouldn’t have been a concern 10 years ago.

Over time your brand guidelines may need updates to keep them fresh and relevant. Keeping your brand guidelines up to date will help your brand feel modern and stay consistent.

4. Make the up-to-date guidelines easily accessible

Make sure that all relevant stakeholders, from your team to external parties working with your brand, have access to the correct and most recent versions of the guidelines.

Accurate and easily accessible guidelines are the ones that get used and followed.

5. Exceptions aren’t the rule

A certain level of compliance is necessary for brand guidelines to work as intended. In specific circumstances, exceptions may need to be made. It’s important to review them on a case-by-case basis. In some cases you might find you actually need to update your guidelines.

6. When possible, work with a design agency or internal design team

Creating the initial set of brand visuals is a skill in and of itself. Consistently executing your branding over a variety of mediums is another. Working with a trusted partner can elevate your branding to a high level of quality.


Brand guidelines help to make sure that every consumer interaction with your brand is as powerful and effective as it can be. They are the reference point and standard for how your brand is portrayed to the world.

If you use them, you’ll make better impressions with more consumers, more consistently. That’s how you become a brand people talk about.

That’s how you become their first choice.

Need help developing your brand guidelines?

Learn More

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