What goes into a brand guide?

Ive seen all kinds of brand guides, from hilariously terrible to awe-inspiring. When done well, a brand guide helps to create consistency in internal and external communications and saves people tons of time asking and answering questions. Let’s look at what goes into a brand guide when you want to make real progress.

Im going to talk about the components of a good brand guide here, but I want to make this absolutely clear: You can make stuff up to put in your guide, or you can do research, thinking and planning to find out what really works for the audiences youre trying to reach. Im sure you can guess which approach Im going to advocate for. But hey, its best to have something so if you have to, make it up. At least test it for a while before you print and bind copies.

What is a brand guide?
Its a set of rules and explanations. It also describes the essence of the organization.

Who is it for?
Its for internal staff and interns. It’s also great to hand off to a PR, marketing or design agency. A brand guide is particularly useful for interns because it helps to keep the brand consistent when you have a bunch of people with a high turnover rate working on projects. It also helps new staff members get on track without having to run everything by a manager or designer, if you are so lucky to have a designer on staff.

Essential components of a brand guide:

Intro, executive summary, what this document is

As crazy as it sounds, some people havent used a brand guide before. So somewhere, the document needs to be introduced: what it is, who its for, and what its important. Even though an intro sounds like a fluff pieces, its incredibly important for one major reason: Buy-in. Brand guides are only successful if people agree and participate.

Mission, vision, positioning statement

This is exactly what it sounds like. Its what you do, for whom and why its important. In here we like to see different versions of the mission, from tagline size to elevator pitch to several meaty paragraphs.

Key audiences

Describe who your marketing collateral (that includes your website) is trying to reach and why. It might not be a bad idea to talk about the kinds of people your organization helps, too, even if they arent a key audience of your campaigns.

Messaging and tone

Describe your copy: Do you use sports metaphors or are those not allowed? Whats the tone: friendly, informative, parental is it some of those in some places?

Logo usage guidelines, dos and donts

This is where it gets technical. If the logo should only ever appear on a solid background of certain colors, say it here. Think about whether people can change colors, skew it, change the type, and spell those usages out. Also show how the logo looks as just black, black and white, reversed out in white, in four color process, or any other color combo you want to allow. Sometimes we need to describe where it should be place or how much space should be around it. It helps to include a visual do/dont list.

Color palette

brand color palette

Usually a brand has primary colors, secondary colors and possibly tertiary colors. For the sake of consistency, break all of your colors down into PMS, CMYK, RGB and web (Hex) colors. Sometimes its more than just converting them to different color profiles in photoshop or illustrator; sometimes the colors shift and youll need to do a little modifying.

Trademarks, naming

The logo, tagline, or anything else is registered trademarked or trademarked, nows the time to show how that works visually or in copy.

Photography, infographic, and illustration guidelines

Heres where youll describe and show the kinds of graphics youre looking for. Should you use mostly images of people? What kinds of people and what are they doing? Is black and white allowed? Whats the illustration style, if any, that youll use and where? Maybe the website has one style and newsletters have more flexibility.

Typography guidelines

typography guidelinesOutline all of your approved fonts (I hope you own them) and the sizes, weights and styles you want to allow. Think about capitalization (sentence/title case), punctuation, if you allow all caps, small caps, italics, all of it. It makes sense here to specify headline, subhead and body copy type. If you want to get really into it, you can include web styles in here if they are brief. If theyre complicated, create a whole section for web type styles.

Social media and newsletter image guidelines

Besides a social media governance policy, which is a MUST, be clear about the kinds of images that are and arent allowed for internal stall to post to your various social media. Describe the kinds of backgrounds images, what they should contain and what they shouldnt contain. Specifly approved avatars and campaign images. If you have an extensive social media policy, this stuff might be covered there.

Web standards and styles

If web accessibility is important at your organization, and it should be, heres where youll write about how to comply with those standards. We use W3C standards.

Subprogams and other brands

If you have subprograms or other brands, they might have their own standards. If they are easy to describe, do that here. If they all require their own answers to the above categories, looks like youll be writing a guide for each! Or maybe a scaled-down version of the master brand guide.

Who to contact if you have questions

Maybe most importantly, dont leave out who owns this thing. Hopefully someone internal owns the guide. Your design or marketing agency should not need to be your brand police and who wants to pay for that, anyway. Someone in the organization, probably the marketing or communications director, needs to be the keeper of the brand.


Organizational structure

We like to see an organization structure in brand guides. An organizations structure tells us (and new staff) a lot about the culture and who to go see for what. Titles are important to include and if you use contractors or agencies to fill in gaps, by all means include them.


Over time, you might get questions that dont fit perfectly into one of the aforementioned categories. Those answers can go in an FAQ until you have enough for a new section.

Audience / user profiles

If youve done some user research, add your findings here. Any personas, profiles, use case scenarios are invaluable brand information.

Business document templates: business cards, stationery, forms

This is pretty straightforward, right? Things that are printed. Dont lose the files!

Presentation templates

Yes, same thing here. And a template file should live somewhere for all to access.

Thats it! Shouldnt take long to do, right? Hey, if you need help email me.

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