What Are Brand Identity Guidelines & Why Does Your Brand Need Them? (Part 1/4)

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Posted Nov 09, 2011
Susan Gunelius

Brand identity guidelines come in a variety of shapes and sizes, but the core components of an identity manual and the purpose of creating one are the same for every organization. In my new series, Developing Brand Identity Guidelines, you'll learn all about creating a brand manual, so your brand is poised for success. Up first is Part 1 that answers two important questions: what are brand identity guidelines and why does your company need them?

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What Are Brand Identity Guidelines?

Brand identity guidelines are a written manual that explains how a brand should be used internally and externally. Imagine that the McDonald's logo looks completely different everywhere you see it. There would be no way of making an instant connection in consumers' minds between the logo and the brand promise.

Brand identity guidelines provide very specific instructions about how tangible elements of a brand should be used in all forms of branded communications -- from business cards to ads, packaging to signage, and everything in between. In other words, by following specific brand guidelines, your brand can leave its fingerprint across all communications touch points.

Comprehensive brand guidelines include instructions related to color, fonts, and layout. They also include sections on offline communications, online communications, internal communications, external communications, and co-branded communications. These "communications" include all forms of branded marketing, advertising, and other communications. Even an internal presentation that uses the brand name and logo is a form of branded communications that should follow the brand identity guidelines.

Why Do You Need Brand Identity Guidelines?

Every brand needs a unique set of brand identity guidelines because those guidelines make it possible for the brand to move through the three primary steps of brand building: consistency, persistence, and restraint. If your brand isn't consistently portrayed and communicated persistently and within certain restraints, then your entire brand promise and brand story are compromised. This leads to brand confusion, which is the number one killer of brands.

Going back to the McDonald's example above, imagine if the McDonald's logo looked like the iconic golden arches on one restaurant and like a big green M in a completely different font on the next (see the image below). Sound confusing? Is that second restaurant actually a McDonald's? What will customers get when they go into the restaurant with the big green M on the sign? Most people won't know and will keep on driving until they find another McDonalds, or worse for the brand -- a Burger King.

mcdonalds logo

The tangible elements of a brand and the intangible voice and personality of a brand can become valuable company assets that play an important part in building brand equity. If you invest in developing your brand elements, trademarking them, and marketing them, you should invest in protecting how they're used, too.

A great brand guidelines manual can ensure your brand is always portrayed consistently and accurately, so consumers have the opportunity to develop trust in the brand and its promise. The strongest brands surround consumers with branded experiences so people can self-select how they want to interact with the brand. Imagine if those brand experiences look like they come from a dozen different brands?

It's essential that you develop brand identity guidelines as early as possible in the brand lifecycle. Keep your stretch goals in mind and prepare for the best brand growth case scenarios by creating a comprehensive brand identity manual that covers all aspects of your brand's current and potential uses. In other words, set expectations for your brand right now with a brand identity manual that enables everyone who creates communications for your brand to accurately portray its story.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of the Developing Brand Identity Guidelines series, which will discuss what goes into a comprehensive brand identity manual.

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