What exactly IS a brand style guide? … And does your business really need one?

Aug 3, 2021

Digital illustration of a lady holding a brand rule book

Read time: Five to ten mins
TL; DR: Scroll to the bottom for your easy takeaways

I’ve never been awesome at blindly following the rules.

Not that I’ve ever been a real rebel rule-breaker or anything crazy. But, growing up, if I saw an opportunity to turn black and white into a rainbow and colour outside the lines, you could bet your butt I was going to take that chance. Twice. After all, creativity is meant to be wild and free, right?

But the one area I’m unapologetically, unashamedly and unconditionally a rule-follower? Visual branding execution and consistency.

When it comes to implementing visual branding, I’m all about following the rules. Bring on the rules and show me that clever rulebook.

But …. wait, what rulebook exactly?

Meet your Personal Dictator of Style: The brand style guide

Unlike life (which sadly doesn’t come with a reliable rulebook), in the designer world there’s a cool guide that even cooler designers create for their clients – or that DIYers can make for themselves – called a “brand style guide”.

A brand style guide not only showcases the beauty of your brand in all the glory of its individual parts (‘cause, yep, a brand is more than just a logo) but also clearly tells you how to deliver your brand across multiple channels.

In an allergy-friendly nutshell, your brand style guide is basically your instruction manual for executing your brand properly.

“But, Kat, why does that stuff even matter? Surely I just slap my logo on my business card/website/email signature and call it a day?”

I hear you. And while your brand might seem straightforward at first glance, the truth is that executing it properly in the right way in the right place is a little trickier.

For example, did you know that you should have multiple versions of your logo – each with their own unique application? You might use your main logo on the header of your website, but a submark in the footer, and a different layout entirely in your email signature.

And did you know your brand should typically stick to its set colour palette? Colouring outside the lines in this case would confuse your audience and make them wonder if they’re actually in the right place.

There are a million other examples of how a good brand can be let down by the wrong execution, but let’s limit today’s stress triggers and move onto why your brand style guide is so important.

person holding an open brand guidelines booklet on a white background

The value of a brand style guide

Okay, so you now know that your brand style guide is a navigational guide and instruction manual in one. But what does that really mean for you?

Well, your brand style guide tells you:

  • What brand assets are at your disposal
  • The variations you have available
  • The best practice for applying each of your brand elements

In most cases, this will mean your brand style guide will not only showcase your …

  • Logo(s)
  • Logo submarks
  • Fonts and typography
  • Colour palette
  • Patterns
  • Image style

… But it’ll also walk you through where and how to apply them.

Basically, your brand style guide will ensure you’re visually communicating with your target audience clearly, compellingly and consistently.

And that’s the magic.

‘Cause brand consistency – aka showing up the same way no matter where your audience interacts with you – can make or break the connection you have with your target market.

Can you imagine if every time you saw your partner or parent they were acting totally differently? One day they’re all boho hippy in a sundress, talking about organic kombucha, the next day they’re wearing a three-piece Armani suit and lecturing you on the stock market.

It’d be weird, right? And you’d feel disconnected from them; maybe even wonder if you knew them at all.

Well, that’s how your audience feels when you’re rocking a peachy, playful colour palette on your site, but your Instagram is rolling out posts filled with moody shades of grey.

Fun fact: Delivering your brand consistently across all platforms has the potential to increase your revenue by up to 23%.

Source: Small Biz Genius

It’s worth mentioning too that your brand style guide isn’t just for you.

If your business employs an assistant or a freelancer like a designer or developer to help deliver content and marketing material, your brand style guide will effortlessly ensure that they’re using the right brand elements in the right places.

No more visual brand babysitting. Just send them your clever brand style guide and let it do the talking for you.

The takeaway cup: Your at-a-glance article summary

  • A brand style guide is a navigational reference guide to your visual brand elements.
  • It includes a visual list of your brand assets including your logo, submarks, colours, fonts, patterns and image style.
  • Your brand style guide tells how you to consistently apply your brand across all platforms and channels.
  • Brand consistency matters for connecting with your target market. Without consistency, you run the risk of losing their attention and trust.
  • Your brand style guide can be created by your brand designer (at Little Black Kat, you can add-on a brand style guide for my introductory package, Let’s Scratch the Surface, while Purrfectly Branded and The Cat’s Pyjamas include a complimentary brand style guide as standard) or you can DIY one for your business.

Want to see the beauty of a brand style guide in action?

Click here to check out the brand (and brand style guide) I created for Oliver & Co. Conveyancing.

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