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How to Create Your Brand’s Style Guide

Learn how to get started with a brand style guide, what you can include, and how you can keep tweaking it over time.

Creating a brand style guide can be a great way to establish your brand identity and gain insight into the values you communicate to potential customers. But what in the world is a brand style guide? Great question.

Generally speaking, a brand style guide is a set of rules that establishes consistency in the ways a brand presents itself to the world. These can include a set of standards for the logo usage, fonts and typography, color palette, photography, brand voice, and other elements you’re planning to use for your brand.

Think of your brand style guide as the personality of your company.

In this article, we’ll discuss why a brand style guide is important and the various brand elements to consider as you’re developing one. Additionally, we’ll share some advice from Mailchimp employees who have worked on brand style guides as well as a few inspirational examples of style guides around the web.

What is a style guide?

A brand’s style guide is a document that outlines how a company presents itself in all written and visual communications and branding.

Essentially, a style guide lays out brand guidelines relating to a company’s voice and tone, vocabulary, typography and font, color schemes, logos, and more.

By creating your own style guide, you can develop a unique brand identity, build a brand strategy, connect with customers through your brand story, and reinforce brand consistency across various marketing and sales channels.

Whether you’re a freelancer seeking to create a personal brand or a business owner attempting to develop a distinct visual identity, creating style guidelines can help guide your efforts.

The importance of a brand style guide

“Putting together a brand style guide can seem like a daunting and inscrutable task,” Mailchimp Associate Art Director Joe Montefusco says. “The thing is, though: it’s actually an incredibly useful tool.”

A brand style guide lays out how your brand should be presented to the world, thus ensuring that everyone on your team is on the same page from the get-go. Brand guidelines help you ensure that all of your design elements and touchpoints are consistent and cohesive.

It also lets you make sure that they’re uniquely representative of your brand. It can even help distinguish your brand from the competition. Just as a voice and tone guide helps keep your brand’s content on point, a brand style guide keeps your design uniform, inspired, and leading the pack.

“A great brand is the result of a ton of people working together with a shared mission,” Mailchimp Director of Brand Marketing Michael Mitchell says. “When the end user can feel that—from product to design, from comms to customer support and corporate citizenship—that unified, end-to-end experience evokes feelings that elevate one brand above another.”

The best brands use style guides to help their business run more smoothly. But that can be especially tricky if you’re working with freelancers or asynchronous teams in different locations. In that case, a brand style guide serves as a translator of sorts.

“It’s really great for making you sit down and put into words more organized thoughts on the different elements of your brand,” Joe says. “This becomes especially useful if you’re working with others to bring your brand to life as it codifies lots of nuance and detail that may have, until now, only lived inside your head.”

How to create a brand style guide

So, how do you tackle this project? Start by thinking about a few key things:

  • Your brand vision: A short description of your company’s goals for the future.
  • Your target audience: The consumers who are most interested in your products.
  • The personality you want to convey: Be it serious, lighthearted, or somewhere in between.
  • Your brand values: Mailchimp’s are creativity, humility, and independence.

“I find it’s good to start broad with the core philosophical tenets of your brand and then narrow in to the more nitty gritty elements,” Joe says. “Starting with the big ideas up front helps lay the groundwork early so that all the more technical stuff like typography and imagery principles later on make more sense as a unified system.”

Start by telling your brand story. Here’s who you are and what you do. From there, try thinking about your logo usage. How should it be used? How should it not be used?

Highlight the color and fonts you use, including all the pertinent details. Include illustration and photography if it makes sense for your brand. Be sure to also include product packaging, your website, social media, and other marketing channels, workshops, events—all the places your brand shows up.

If your business is in space, chances are you’re going to need some rules about how it’s represented in that space.

What should be included in a brand style guide?

Feeling stuck? Totally understandable. It can be daunting to figure out where to start when setting up brand guidelines. One starting point might include taking an audit of the content you produce, the product you make and sell, and the people who buy it.

Maybe you have an About page on your website or various social channels on which you frequently publish. Marketing emails are another good element to analyze.

What about your company culture makes your business special? And how do you want to convey that to those customers?

Again, this is helpful from an organizational perspective. But strengthening and codifying your brand can also make you money.

“We pay twice as much for coffee served in a Starbucks cup,” Michael says. “Over time, we’ve learned to trust those symbols, and we’re willing to pay a premium for what we trust. The best brands maintain that trust post-purchase, delivering an experience we’ll continue paying more for.”

Signs, symbols, and other forms of visual content are essential in creating a unique brand image and brand voice. Everything from brand colors to writing style to what you name your online store can play a role in ensuring brand consistency over time. So what specific elements should you consider as you create your brand guide?

Here are some basic elements that virtually every brand manual should include:

Brand story

Developing a brand story or even simply writing a mission statement can make it easier to identify your target audience and hone in on a particular style or aesthetic that makes sense for your company.

Tone of voice

Your style guide should describe what you want your brand voice to be in all public-facing communications, and the right tone will tend to differ depending on the type of company you are and the industry you’re in. For instance, a chemical analysis company may want to use a very formal tone, while a brewery might instead opt for a more casual, approachable tone.

Imagery and brand colors

Choosing a color palette for your brand can help you create a unique visual and brand identity to ensure consistency across different channels.

Logo guidelines

Some brands can be recognized solely through their logos. In order to have an effective logo, your style guide must dictate proper uses for your logo and describe appropriate sizes, colors, and other stylistic variations.

Typography

The typefaces and fonts you choose can have a larger impact on how someone views your brand than you may think. In your brand’s style guide, make sure to specify the type of font, font size, special use cases, and so on.

As you’re getting started and your brand style guide starts to develop, remember to plan ahead. Consider potential touchpoints such as your website, product packaging, and marketing features you frequent such as landing pages, digital ads, postcards, and automations. Make an outline of what you’re creating to establish some structure. But also remember that it’s only an outline. Leave yourself room to grow and evolve. After all, if you’re doing this right, both of those things will happen, and sooner than you think.

Strengthen your brand with a style guide

Now that you’ve made your brand style guide, take a breather. You did it! Take a minute to show it off to the folks you work with. If your team isn’t familiar with the existing style guide, there’s a good chance it won’t be followed at all.

Take the time to socialize it amongst your coworkers and explain what’s inside. Incorporate it into the onboarding and training process for new hires, too. You might even consider publishing the guide somewhere—on your website or in your employee handbook, for instance—so it’s easily accessible to the folks who need it.

Remember that brands evolve. So, too, do projects like this one. Speaking of which, keep an eye on what other brands are doing with their styles. We’ve found that looking at a wide variety of options from different industries can prove useful and inspiring. Start with these examples from NASA, Starbucks, and Help Scout to get started.

Seeing your document put to work will teach you things about your business that you didn’t know before. It will also serve as a way to break things and iterate. Lean into that. You’ll only get better with time.

“Think of your brand style guide as a living document,” Mailchimp Art Director Jane Song says. “You want to give your brand expression room to keep expanding over time, and there are definitely going to be use cases you haven’t thought of until you run into them! Be flexible—you can always revisit the guide and make adjustments.”

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