February 15, 2016

Why You Need a Brand Standards Document

Why You Need a Brand Standards Document

Imagine that you’re sitting down to watch the Big Game. As players file onto the field, you realize that their uniforms aren’t uniform. While some players stuck close to their team’s color palette, nobody is wearing exactly the same colors. Some diverged from team colors completely because they felt their color choice “looked better.” Numbers and names are printed across their backs in an assortment of typefaces in varying sizes, colors and legibility. Team logos are unrecognizable: recolored, rotated, stretched, skewed or completely omitted from helmets. 

Brand recognition has been compromised, and the game has become much more difficult to follow. Instead of watching two talented and successful teams compete, you’re caught up in the details of trying to figure out who’s doing what. 

Now imagine that you’re running a successful business and every time you hire a creative or a developer, they put their own spin on your brand. Your customers are confused by each piece of collateral they encounter, because you’re not presenting a unified front. You want every facet of your company’s communication, internal and external, to support your brand. Every time a third party is given the power to interpret your brand, you’re putting its integrity on the line. 

If every design showcases the brand differently and inconsistently, the question of which is "right" isn't clear. Are these all different brands?

Fortunately, you can keep your brand intact and present your business consistently by creating and enforcing a brand standards document. By definition, a brand standards document is a guide that informs your internal staff and outside vendors about proper usage of brand logos, colors, typefaces and more. This ensures you send a consistent and controlled message through every touchpoint. 

Below are some must-haves for your brand standards document, and some additional points to consider. We'll show you some examples from our own brand standards document.

Logo Usage

Your logo is the face of your company. Much like an image of your own face, you don’t want any unauthorized alterations being made. Be up front about acceptable and unacceptable uses of your logo. Include visual examples of logo misuse for clarity. 

Defining the brand logo.

It’s a good idea to have alternative versions of your logo for use in scenarios where your primary logo version’s legibility is compromised. Grayscale, black and white versions are a good place to start. You may also need logo versions that read better in small/thin places (like the spine of a book, or the navigation bar on your website). State in your standards document how and when it’s appropriate to use these alternative logo versions.

Defining how the brand logo can be displayed.

At some point, your logo is sure to fall into the wrong hands. A designer who's “still learning,” or someone who's not a designer at all but thinks they can wing it. Your brand standards need to spell out all of the things that should not be done to your logo. Rule out everything, no matter how absurd.

Specifying how the brand logo CANNOT be displayed.

Typography

Good typography sets the tone of your communication and supports your content. Choose a primary and secondary typeface that work well together. A classic combination is some sort of serif and sans-serif typeface. Avoid decorative typefaces, and play it safe with the classics (this list of the 100 best typefaces of all time is a great starting point). If you’re concerned that about looking too conservative, shop for well-crafted modern typefaces at reputable foundries like Hoefler & Co.   

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Color

Be conservative with your color palette. Your primary and accent color should already be in play in your logo. It is imperative that you provide color codes for print and web to ensure a consistent presentation across platforms. For example, madison/miles media’s bright green color can be communicated in several ways:

  • PMS 375 Green
  • C:38, M:0, Y:100, K:0
  • R:171, G:208, B:55
  • #abd037 

You may also choose a set of secondary colors if you deem it necessary, but many businesses do well by "owning" one or two colors. 

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Visual Elements

To the best of your ability, describe the look and feel of your brand. This is extremely helpful for third party creatives, who may still succeed in producing “off brand” content even though they’re using your logo, colors, and typefaces correctly. If you have previous design examples that you feel strongly represent the look of your brand, include those in your brand standards document. 

visuals.jpg

Language

Avoid misspellings and misuses of your company name and tagline. Clearly state what language is not acceptable to use when addressing the company. 

language.jpg

tagline.jpg

Anything Else?

Think about your brand from every perspective. How might your potential prospects encounter your brand, and what do you want to control about that? What are the consistent characteristics of the photography or illustrations you use? Do you produce radio ads? What do those sound like? Include any information you think might help ensure consistency across your brand.

Now that your brand standards document is ready, remember to send it along whenever you entrust a third party with your brand. Enforcing your brand standards shows your commitment to quality and consistency. 

If you feel as though you’re putting together a puzzle with missing pieces, now may be the ideal time for a rebrand. If the creatives that you hire are still having issues with your brand standards, that’s also an indicator that your brand is in need of a refresh. Ultimately, the best thing you can do for your brand is to enlist the help of a design professional.Request your FREE 30-minute marketing assessment today!  

Whitney Holden

Whitney has considerable design experience, dating all the way back to the tender age of 13, when she sold her hand-designed coloring books to a local museum’s gift shop. Since then, she’s perfected her craft, doing everything from working at an interactive agency to branding and designing packaging for independent films and anime. She’s a standout at digital work — such as websites and tablet publications — as well as presentation design and branding/identity projects.