DECEMBER 23, 2016 / 9 MIN

8 things you need to know about Brand Guidelines

Karn Malhotra

“If Coca-Cola were to lose all of its production-related assets in a disaster, the company would survive. By contrast, if all consumers were to have a sudden lapse of memory and forget everything related to Coca-Cola, the company would go out of business.”

A Coca-Cola Executive

That quote is telling in how deeply Coca-Cola is embedded in our psyche. Coke as a brand is much more than it’s logo and advertising. And more than anything else, it’s the consistency of the Coke brand that has helped make it a global phenomenon.

I believe the unsung hero is the Coca Cola Brand Guideline, and the role it has played in Coke’s success. View it here: Coca Cola Brand Guideline

But lets start at the top, by looking at what constitutes a ‘brand’.

1. What is a ‘brand’?
A Brand is much more than a logo and office buildings. It is a collection of emotions, ideas, and subliminal assumptions about your company. If you rebrand or create a new logo, hundreds of scenarios could impact your business. Your employees may come and go, and you might change location. But, your brand will remain.

Many companies rely on advertising to create awareness around the product or service. But a message alone doesn’t sway customers. It’s the employees. Your corporate culture & identity. Your business strategies. These work together to create a winning brand. Coca-Cola does this fantastically. Before Apple and Google, Coke was the most valuable brand on the planet.

If you want to build on what’s working, everyone in the company needs to understand your brand the same way. Documentation helps establish consistency in people behaviour as well as brand behaviour. That’s where a ‘brand guideline’ helps.

2. So, what is a brand guideline?
A brand guideline explains the nuances of the brand, and helps people alter old / create new — ‘communication assets’. These assets include your brand positioning, tone of voice, colors, fonts & layouts. Do’s and don’ts across use on print, interactive and spatial mediums.

Used effectively, guidelines influence people behaviour and brand recall. They impact repeat purchase and help build consumer confidence. Strong consistent branding reinforces your identity and drives positive sentiment and trust. Guidelines help ensure communication is visually and emotionally consistent.

3. What’s IN a brand guideline?
The details in a guideline depend on whether you’re a product or a service. If you’re B2B or B2C focussed. Are you a small, medium or large company?

Guidelines can address the photography style for the brand, to the distance a logo should be from an edge. They can dictate how copy should be written. They can even communicate how signage and furniture should look in a real-world environment.

For your benefit, i’ve created a broad outline.

Basic Guideline
- A note about your Brand and why the guidelines are important
- Logo Usage (Do’s and Don’ts)
- Brand colors (CMYK/RGB/HEX)
- Brand Font Family

Standard Format Brand Guideline
Content from a Basic Guideline with these additions:
- Brand Verbal Tonality
- Brand Imagery
- Iconography (use of icons)
- Various Layout Templates (number could range depending on your service/product and B2B or B2C)

Extensive Brand Guideline
Content from a Basic + Standard format Guideline with these additions:
- Brand Customer Profiles (Typical descriptors of the customer types and why the brand appeals to them)
- Brand Personality & Traits (adjectives that describe the brand and how these can be recognized in people behaviour — could be linked to performance reviews)
- Logo in Multiple Languages (depending on the geographies you operate in)
- Partner Guidelines (Logo and Layout usage for partner promotions)
- Sub-Brand Logo usage guidelines (If you have a parent company and subsidiaries)
- Advertising & Activation Guidelines (Sample adverts, online & offline)
- Detailed spatial and digital asset guidelines (Furniture to online banners)

4. So what do they actually LOOK like?
Given below is a list of guidelines, the diversity of which could be really beneficial to go through. Some of them are for the detail (Waldorf Astoria) and others for sheer wonder (NASA).
Notice how the brands maintain visual cohesion (aids recall, builds trust).

Luxury Hospitality — Waldorf Astoria Hotel
Unless you’re a global enterprise, not so relevant. Check if you have an interest in hotels, events, travel.

Waldorf Astoria Brand Guideline

Motion Graphics — Television — Channel 4 U.K.
These links take you through both online and offline guidelines. Check if you have an interest in motion graphics, UI/UX.

Channel 4 Brand Guidelines 1

Channel 4 Brand Guidelines 2

Spatial — Sport — 1968 Mexico Olympic Games
See how the identity was used across stadiums and public spaces. Check if you have an interest in motion graphics, architecture & geometry.

1968 Mexico Olympics Branding

Digital — Software — SAP Fiori
The SAP Fiori guidelines are fantastic to understand UI/UX planning at a massive scale. Check if you have an interest in motion graphics, UI/UX.

SAP Fiori Brand Guidelines

Aviation — Space — NASA
For the wonders of space :) You can even buy this one. Check if you love aviation, Elon Musk and the idea of exploring galaxies far far away.

NASA Brand Guidelines

Alcohol — ABSOLUT Vodka
The list isn’t complete without looking at this iconic brand! Check if you love alcohol, or are curious about creating a vibrant, yet structured brand.

ABSOLUT Vodka Brand Guidelines 2013

ABSOLUT Vodka Brand Guidelines 2008

Note : Your brand guideline is not set in stone. Brands evolve. New logos are created. Websites are redesigned. Marketing materials are updated. It’s important to make sure that your brand guidelines are updated alongside other updates.

5. So how is having a brand guideline beneficial for my business?
They give you ‘Consistency’. In communication. In the customer experience. In clarity for your employees as they interact with each other as also your customers.

A customer clicks on your website. See’s an advertisement in the newspaper and a hoarding enroute to your store. Notices the signage. Observes the smart uniform your employees have on. Picks up a flyer as he enters.

The more consistent his experience, the more comfortable he feels. Comfort he then associates with your brand. People don’t like to be sold stuff. They like to ‘buy into’ something. And that’s usually easier when they’re at ease. Which they then associate with, and build an ‘emotional connect’ with your brand. That’s exactly what you want.

Greater consistency leads to better recall value. Better recall helps you stand out against the competition.

With employees, a brand guideline helps keep the message consistent within the organisation. It helps them understand how they can reflect brand values (such as customer focus, innovation or leadership) as they interact with customers.

For your agency, it ensures they don’t take creative liberties. Brand guidelines aren’t ‘open to interpretation’. They are definite rules that should be followed. Every time your logo is stretched, in the wrong color, with the wrong type, altered or squished, you lose brand equity. Altering elements may make your brand unrecognisable to your consumers or clients. A brand guideline helps your company hold the value in its brand for many, many years.

A few facts:

- A 2005 study by consultants Booz Allen Hamilton and Wolff Olins found that brand-guided companies outperform their competitors, with results that improve profitability.

- In its 2000 “Measuring the Future: The Value Creation Index” report, Cap Gemini Ernst & Young Center for Business Innovation reported that, after rigorous research, they discovered that 50% of a traditional company’s value and 90% of an e-commerce company’s value result from the following value drivers:

· Innovation/R&D
· Quality of Management
· Employee Quality/Satisfaction
· Alliances
· Brand Investment
· Product/Service Quality

- Wharton accounting professors recently conducted a study across 317 companies and discovered that 36% of the companies sampled used non-financial measures to determine executive incentive compensation.

6. When is the right time to create a brand guideline?
If you find yourself creating many communication collaterals, now is a good time. If you are two people and are soon going to scale, now is a good time. Remember, there’s no ‘bad’ time to create a guideline. It’s just a matter of the scale of the guideline you’ll create.

Someday your brand may grow and you need your brand to work effectively. Without these guidelines, your brand’s message can change at any point just because a logo was used improperly. Or because someone didn’t know to use the wordmark instead of a graphic element. You won’t always be around to oversee everything. And just as with the company, you’ll need to trust others to help build your brand.

7. Who do I go to, to create a brand guideline for my company?
Well, if you’re starting a new company, you could ask your designer / agency to include this in their scope of work.

If you are an existing enterprise, would be good to engage a designer / agency that has prior experience in this area. The same would apply if you already have a brand guideline and need for it to be updated.

8. I now have a brand guideline for my company. What next?
Companies often create brand guidelines and soon forget about them. They’re usually referred to only when needed. Afterall, isn’t that the point? You need to keep your brand ‘alive’, so:

- First make sure the guideline is easily accessible.
- Next, ensure the right people have access to the ‘source’ files so they’re working off the files created by the designer/agency.
- If working with a different designer/agency, share the ‘source’ files with them. This will also save everyone time.
- ‘Digitize’ your guidelines. Frameworks like allow you to push your guidelines onto a cloud based design editor. This in turn is accessible from anywhere by anyone.

(Disclaimer: The author is invested in Outlined)

- Update them every 6 to 12 months depending on the frequency of new communication or new assets created.
- Make it compulsory for all new members of the brand and marketing teams to study the brand guideline.
That’s it. That’s a start. :) The longterm benefits play out based on the consistency with which you drive home your message across all touchpoints and with all stakeholders.

You now have an overview of:
- The definition of a brand guideline and it’s benefits that go beyond layouts (People, Consistency, Trust)
- A list of some of the best brand guidelines out there (Waldorf Astoria, NASA, SAP)
- The detail that goes into a guideline and what might be relevant for your company (Basic, Standard & Extensive guidelines)
- The business benefits of brand guidelines (improves profitability, 50% of a traditional companys value comes from ‘brand’)
- And who can help you create one (designer/agency) and what you do once you have one (use it, share it, update it)

The only thing left to say is:

Beyond what’s shared in this article, if you have any further questions about branding or brand guidelines, drop me a line on
View guidelines we’ve done for Decathlon and 3M amongst other on