Brand Identity Guidelines – How to Develop the Ultimate Brand


Written by

Martin Sully

a futuristic photo of flowers with white text overlaid reading 'What is Brand Design?'


  • Branding: what is it, and why is it so important to your brand?
  • What goes into brand design? Including a step-by-step guide.
  • The importance of brand guidelines.
  • Crafting brand guidelines so you can tell your story easily.
  • Key components to include in your brand guidelines.
  • How other brands maintain consistency with brand guidelines.
  • Five tips to help you build your brand guidelines.

What is brand design is a question that can lead to a concise answer that has little relevance. Or a jargon-filled, mind-bogglingly long answer that goes into too much detail that no one, except the author, can understand.

With all my blog posts, I aim to give professional knowledge that's not overwhelming and is simply structured.

If you've read our blog post When's the right time to rebrand, you'd understand why we decided to rebrand in 2020.

Our name didn't fit all our services. We'd added websites, brand strategy and identity design, photography and videography. It wasn't authentically us. We felt like we had a ball and chain on our brands personality. No one needs that!

Long story short, our creative agency rebranded – a new name, visual identity, brand guidelines, copywriting and website!

Branding: Understanding the Concept

Brand design is not simply designing logos. That comes later in the process.

Your brand needs to be recognised - 50% of consumers are more likely to buy from a company whose logo they easily recognise.

You may also investigate designing your own logo, but this has its own, unique impact.

A logo is not the same as a brand design.

Visual identity design is creating logos, fonts, colours, photography styles, and design assets to make a cohesive identity. It pulls the visual elements of a product and service together to present to consumers.

But branding is so much more than this.

Branding is people's gut feeling about your business, products or services. It's made up of two things.

  1. A brand identity + strategy - logos, the name, the identity system (incl. typography and colours and layouts), tone of voice, personality, voice, messaging (how to talk to the right customers), your vision and values. Brand guidelines and brand strategy control brands.
  2. A brand image, which you can influence, but you have no control over what people say about you.

The one thing that makes a big difference is being consistent in your approach. Ensure the message is correct on every touchpoint and that your communications aren't jarring.

Exploring the Essence of Brand Design

Brand design refers to creating a visual identity for a brand that communicates its values, personality, and offerings to its target audience.

It uses design elements such as logos, colours, typography, and imagery to create a cohesive and memorable brand image.

A key aspect of brand design is the development of a logo, which serves as the brands visual representation. The logo should be unique, easily recognisable, and reflective of the brands identity.

Additionally, the choice of colours and typography in brand design plays a crucial role in conveying the brands personality and evoking specific emotions in consumers.

The brand design extends beyond visual elements to encompass other touchpoints such as packaging, website design, and marketing materials. Consistency in brand design across all these touchpoints is essential to establish a solid and cohesive brand identity.

Overall, brand design is a strategic process that aims to create a visual identity that resonates with the target audience and effectively communicates the brands values and offerings.

Getting Started with Brand Design: A Step-by-Step Guide

Brand design is a crucial aspect of building a successful business.

The following steps outline what you need to do to get started:

  1. Conduct thorough research on your target audience, competition, and industry trends. This research helps us understand the market and how you are differentiating your brand.
  2. Define the brands positioning and message. Determining the brands unique selling proposition (USP) will help you craft a compelling brand story.
  3. Begin designing a visual identity – create a logo, select a colour palette, and choose typefaces that align with the brand personality and values.
  4. Test and refine the brand – gathering feedback from the target audience and making necessary adjustments to improve the effectiveness of the brands visual identity.
  5. Create brand guidelines – they help ensure the visual elements are consistent across all brand touchpoints, including the website, packaging, and marketing materials.

The Importance of Brand Guidelines: Why You Need Them

Brand guidelines are a road map for how to use your brands visual elements. They are used by brand designers, marketers, illustrators, copywriters and anyone who needs to use your brand to create marketing materials.

Typically, these guidelines were bound into a book, but nowadays, you'll more likely to find them in a PDF format.

They'll show you how all your different logos, icons, typefaces, fonts, colour palettes, additional graphics work together.

But the most comprehensive ones also include your brand strategy. Including mission and vision statements, USP's, target market personas, brand story, personality and tone of voice.

In my opinion, a set of brand guidelines should include your brand strategy and visual design elements – this way, when you want to introduce a new service or product, you can see how it fits alongside other parts of your business without having to run back to both the brand strategist and the graphic designer.

Successful brands have long-lasting and memorable brand identities and show up to customers daily without altering their brand. Building trust and brand recognition.

When you show up daily through advertising campaigns, social media channels and in-store, it helps build brand awareness.

Clear, concise brand guidelines are vital and teach you how to be consistent.

Even small brands have multiple touchpoints where they communicate with their target audience. Imagine scaling that to a brand like Nike.

It would help to get all your employees onboard with these touchpoints and verbal communication. Your guidelines are rule books to ensure your brand is presented as you want. Minimising the risk of the wrong message going out and confusing the audience.

Crafting Compelling Brand Guidelines to Share Your Story

Every strong brand identity has brand guidelines guiding it. Think of brand guidelines like an instruction manual or a map to a destination.

There are a few common scenarios that crop up.

  1. Brand Guidelines – a multi-page document that focuses on all aspects of the brand. These will often include brand purpose, vision, mission, values, target audience, positioning statement, personality, verbal identity, tone of voice, brand message pillars and brand style guide. Guidelines tell other designers, marketers or printers how the brand should be used.
  2. Brand Style Guide – a short document outlining the primary logos, alternative logos, how to use them, icons or submark's, brand colours or colour palettes, typography, imagery, illustration, graphics, packaging design and digital design. This focus on the visual identity only
  3. No Brand Guidelines or Style Guide – where your brand combines different design styles without definitive guidelines. You might work with a freelance designer or brand agency to create Brand Guidelines. You'll likely have many documents that will set the style guidelines and add to the success of your future brand.

Components for Your Brand Guidelines

Brand guidelines and their contents vary wildly. Big brands like Apple have distinctive standards to uphold and have a wide range, including copywriting guidelines, brand guidelines and authorised reseller guidelines. There's probably more, but that's all I found with a quick Google.

It's worth noting that brand guidelines are always live documents, meaning designs and strategies should be updated when things change. They'll grow with your company.

Here's a quick overview of the basics that should be added:

  • Logo specs – horizontal, vertical, icon-only and black and white.
  • How to use the logo – what you shouldn't do, how much clear space to use and the minimum sizes.
  • Colour palette - RGB, Hex, CMYK and Pantone.
  • Outline hero colours, secondary colours and neutral tones. We've written a blog all about how to choose colours and the benefits.
  • They should also outline how to use the colours in graphic design work.
  • Typography! Specify headlines, body copy, captions and display fonts.
  • Photography style guides
  • Illustration style guides.

How Brands Maintain Consistency with Brand Guidelines

Unsurprisingly, smaller up-and-coming brands like Who Gives a Crap toilet paper and Zero Co: Eco-friendly cleaning and body care products don't share their brand guidelines freely.

It has nothing to do with them not having them, either. They keep their guidelines to themselves and don't need the world to dissect their identity.

But there are a couple of brands that do share what they do. The level of detail they go to is impressive.

Analysing Audi's Brand Guidelines: A Case Study

Audi's brand appearance is the perfect brand bible.

The website is as luxurious as their cars, showing a deep understanding of their brand positioning. The selection of images is enticing, drawing you into the brand. Its clean black, white and grey colour palette is sophisticated.

The documentation is extensive, with typical stylistic choices and brand mission covered under the 'Basics' heading.

They manage to keep their brand consistent and memorable by creating a set of clear directives for things like motion design and how to make their brand appear in space (which isn't actual space - that's how they describe a showroom.)

They have an incredibly detailed set of instructions on using the Audi 'rings' as a graphic element.

Another rare entry is the Corporate Sound section. Taking you through background music and voiceovers for the 'Vorsprung durch technic' sound.

There's an old family joke that Audi's come with everything as standard, but nothing is standard.

Each element has been crafted by a brand manager so that Audi's brand develops its world, which is experienced through physical and emotional senses.

Unveiling the Starbucks Brand Style Guide

The Starbucks creative website shows us how to shift the brand identity to increase sales of different products seasonally.

It's a classic example of a high-quality communication design that helps control a worldwide coffee chain.

It doesn't focus on the mission statement, values or vision, but it works as a detailed style guide that anyone could pick up and use. Creating a long-lasting impression.

Gaining Insights from Exceptional Brand Guidelines

That's no definitive list, just two wildly different options. Audi's guidelines cover all the brand strategies, which touch the brand perceptions and personality, and how they target and build their audience. It's the complete package.

In some user cases, having a strategy to fall back on can help you make decisions. Allowing you to question whether the tone of voice is correct or whether the latest ad campaign showcases your value proposition.

Side note: I've noticed the oat milk brand, Oatly, may have to shift their proposition. Their initial goal was to attract dairy drinkers. They had no competitors. But with success comes copycats, and dairy drinkers open to change have been converted already.

It will be tough to convert the same audience, so they must refocus their value proposition to attract a new audience while keeping their current customers happy.

Going back to the guidelines, Starbucks has evolved a set of style guidelines that showcase how to use the visual identity. Logos, colour palettes, typography, photography, illustration etc.

All brand consultants learn to present brand guidelines in their own way, often choosing the result on a case-by-case basis.

Use your research to shape what you'd like to see from your brand guidelines.

Five essential tips to enhance your Brand Guidelines

Tip 1: Emphasise Attention to Detail

Your guidelines should share the brand story. It's foundations. As well as the verbal and visual identity.

Be specific, and leave no chance for interpretation. The more precise you are, the easier it is to use the brand daily.

Tip 2: Leverage Your Visual and Verbal Identity in Guideline Creation

You're doing it all wrong if your brand guidelines look like everyone elses. It should be the ultimate brand communication tool.

It's helpful to include how not to do things and what you should do, but when you incorporate the entire brand into the document, the document becomes the brand, reinforcing the brands purpose.

Tip 3: Ensure Accessibility of Your Brand Guidelines

There's no point in having guidelines if you are the only one that can understand them. They need to be completely accessible, just like your brand.

Customers have different needs, and so do suppliers. Mental and physical impairments might stop them from seeing or interacting with your brand as you expected/planned.

Your brand needs to be user-friendly so that anyone can pick it up and create fresh marketing materials, run social media campaigns, or have a clear idea of who the audience is so they can run an SEO or PPC campaign.

Tip 4: Simplify Your Brand Guidelines for Easy Understanding

The list below makes it easier for guidelines to be accessible. Take a look at the following:

  • Checklists or standard operating procedures (SOPs)
  • Do's and don'ts – applicable to visual and verbal branding
  • Examples of how the brand should look
  • Tools that are used
  • Templates that keep the brand consistent, documents, email signatures, etc.

Tip 5: Regularly Update Your Brand Guidelines as Needed

Occasionally, your brand will evolve, and you must update the guidelines. You might notice the odd section needs to be more explicit or that a colour needs tweaking. You might also want to add sections, like examples of how to use the brand.

Sometimes, the brands perception has shifted, and you might have to look at sections of the brand strategy to check that everything aligns.

A brand is constantly evolving. Making brand guidelines your most valuable business asset.

Need support? Book a Discovery Call.

Not sure where you want to go? We can chat through your brand, personal goals and work out an action plan.

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