This post is adapted from our podcast episode, The Difference Between Branding vs. Marketing. Listen to the whole episode on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, or wherever you get your podcasts.
Your brand is super important. It’s how to engage with your customers, how they perceive you, and how you’re getting your message across. But as a small business owner, how much time and energy should you be spending on branding? You have a million things to do. Does developing branding guidelines really need to go on your to-do list?
In this post, we’ll go over everything you need in your brand book, how to fill it all in, and even point out the spots you can leave blank. No matter how big or small your business is, this is everything you need for your brand guidelines. This is going to work for an Instagram influencer who doesn’t even have a company title, all the way up to a major agency-sized business. These are the items that everyone has; I’ll explain each one in depth and point out the places that you can leave a bit bare in your own brand book.
You need a company name and a tagline, a logo and logo variations, a color scheme or color palette, fonts or font styles, your values, your imagery style, and your voice guidelines. That’s everything. You don’t need more than that. You might need more detail in some of those categories, but you don’t need more than that.
Want to follow along and develop your own brand guidelines? Download our Ultimate Branding Worksheet and take notes as you go.
Company Name & Tagline
So your name is going to be pretty obvious. You probably have that already, so you can just put a checkmark next to that one. You did it, you started your brand guidelines today!
Your company name may even be your personal name. If you’re an influencer or a solopreneur, it doesn’t have to be a fancy name, but it does have to be one name. Picking a company name is important for keeping your messaging cohesive. For example, my name is Kat Combs, but my married name is Mikhaeil. If I, on some channels, am “Kat Combs” and on others am “Kat Mikhaeil,” then people might get confused and think I am two different people. I would be losing that brand recognition because I’m not using the same name everywhere.
Once you have your name, pick a tagline. This is a little more difficult to do because not every company has a really clear tagline. The tagline is mainly to help you streamline your messaging around exactly what you do and what problem you solve for your customer. It doesn’t need to be pithy and memorable. It’s to help you more than to help your customers.
Logo and Logo Variations
You probably already know that your company needs a logo. But do you also have all the variations you need? Logo variations are your same logo in a different color or composition so it’s suited for a different environment or context. For example, we have our main logo that’s a circle next to the word “Stratos” and then “Creative Marketing” in smaller text below it. But we also have a circle that’s centered above the text “Stratos Creative Marketing.” If you’re going to print your logo on a t-shirt, you might want one composition, whereas if you’re going to put it at the top of your website, you want a different one.
Whatever designer you work with for a logo is going to know the variations that you need of your logo.
Next is your color scheme or color palette. Here’s where, if you’re a big brand, you might have more time, energy, and resources to pour into choosing your color palette. If you’re a smaller brand like us, you may choose four or five colors and leave it at that. For example, we’re not trying to match our imagery style to the exact Lightroom preset that we need so that our photos match our colors. We have colors that we use and we use them in our graphics and we just let it go from there.
Choosing a color scheme or a color palette helps your graphics and your website and everything all look cohesive and work together.
Fonts provide a similar cohesivity to your marketing materials. You can choose fonts by selecting specific fonts or choosing a font style. If you’re a small business doing all of your graphics on Canva, you may choose two or three fonts that are the only fonts you ever use in that program. Or you can decide to use fonts that look playful or fonts that look professional, and then you open up your brand to use even more fonts.
For us, we have two or three fonts that we cycle through for Stratos. For some of the brands that we do graphic design for, we might use more fonts based on what we’re trying to design or what we’re trying to showcase. But a lot of the time, we’re just sticking to two or three fonts per brand.
Your values are up next. Your values are the things that are important to you and your brand. Having these values written out is going to help you in writing social media captions, writing website content, and, if you launch a new product, in writing the description for that product. That’s all going to come from your values. This is like how you talk about your company.
If you have a brand script for your company (which we highly recommend!), you can include that with your values, as well. Keeping your brand script in front of you will help you keep your content on-brand, always answering the questions of what problem your customers face, the solution you provide to that problem, and how you can guide your customers toward success.
This is a part of your branding guidelines that can take a lot of time or a little time. It depends on how much time and effort you want to devote to really thinking through what’s important to your brand, and how best to communicate that to your customers.
Next up is voice guidelines, which also can be broad or specific. In broad terms, you may have certain words or phrases you use a lot, or you may have certain words or phrases that are off-limits. If you sell products, what do you call them? What do you not call them?
Then there are specifics, like when you write a social media caption, do you write it in “I” language or “we” language? Are there keywords that you use? For example, if you’re an accountant, maybe you want to talk about the freedom that your clients experienced, so one of your keywords would be “financial freedom.” Coming up with those keywords helps you streamline your content creation process so all your marketing materials are on-brand, using the same keywords, communicating with the same voice.
Voice guidelines is another area where, if you’re a bigger company, you might have more strict guidelines. (If you’re a smaller company, you might just not care and that’s totally fine.) Some stricter guidelines may include how you write out dates and times (Aug 3, August 3rd, 8-3, 8/3, etc.).
If you’ve made it this far, congrats! I know it’s a really long list.
The last category for your brand guidelines is imagery style. Defining your imagery style helps you to be able to choose from stock images and still keep a cohesive brand, or to take your own photos that match your branding.
Here’s an example. We did a brand revamp for a dentist’s office, and the thing that makes this dentist different from others in the area is that they’re female-led, they’re friendly, and they’re personable. For their imagery style, we went with light and airy photos rather than moody and dark and saturated. We also wanted clean-looking environments because you don’t want to look at a messy picture and associate that with your dentist’s office. And of course, we chose images of women being bad-asses doing awesome jobs. Now, that client can go and look at any stock image website and know to look for light and airy photos of women in the workplace and they’ll find images that match their brand.
Also in your imagery style, you might talk about different textures or graphic elements. For us, we use the circle from our Stratos logo in a lot of ways outside of just in the logo itself. Other brands might have a texture that they like to overlay on images or a color block that you always have at the bottom of your images. If that’s you, you could include those notes in this section of your brand guidelines.
What we love about this list is that it doesn’t necessarily take a professional to do it. If you are a solopreneur making Canva graphics, you can pick consistent fonts and consistent colors. Of course, maybe you do need to hire a professional (shout out to us!), but if you don’t have the budget or if that’s not what you want to do, you can still maintain brand guidelines on your own. You just have to be thoughtful and intentional when you start creating.
You can also look back at all of the marketing and the content that you’ve already made and ask yourself, “When I’m talking about my business, what values stand out?” You can start pulling from past material instead of starting this from scratch.
Plus, your brand guidelines don’t have to stay the same! As your business changes, your values and colors, and voicing may change, too. Don’t be afraid to revamp your brand guidelines every now and then, even if you’re not going through a full rebrand.
What parts of your brand guidelines need updating or revamping? Let us know!
Realize you need a rebrand? We’ve got your back.
About the Author
Kat creates the processes and systems needed to help our team do their most creative work. She works behind the scenes to ensure our staff has everything they need to get the job done and our clients are proud of the work we are producing.