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February 14, 2018

How to Use a Brand Guide

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The last step of a rebrand or brand refresh effort is the hand-off of a Brand Guide, a document that defines how the brand should be handled moving forward. The leadership or marketing department in the company or organization receives the Guide and is expected to treasure it with the same seriousness that the designers feel for it (and as designers, we can get very attached to these things - they are like sacred brand bibles!), and yet we find that very rarely have they been taught how or when to reference it. It may even be the case that the designers' very worst fears are realized - the document goes ignored, and gathers dust in a distant desktop folder. This blog post reviews how to put your Brand Guide to good use so that it can avoid that dreadful fate, and your brand can enjoy the care and diligence that it deserves.

Who should 'own' the Brand Guide?

Having just one person responsible for the Brand Guide is risky, because if there’s a staffing change, a full transfer of Brand Guide knowledge may not occur. It’s best if everyone who is responsible for long-term stewardship of and growth of the brand is aware of the Brand Guide, and knows where it lives and how to reference it. Professional service firms often have a marketing coordinator; this person should definitely be familiar with it, as well as anyone involved in a marketing committee or business development efforts. 

When should you use the Brand Guide?

We recommend putting your Brand Guide to use during your employee onboarding process. It’s a great tool for getting new employees familiar with what your brand stands for, your shared values, and your intended brand experience, as well as rules about how to use, and not use, the logo and other visual assets. A well-produced Brand Guide should capture the spirit of your brand, which can make it valuable in building internal brand loyalty and enthusiasm.
The Brand Guide has many creative uses too, of course! It will contain essential creative guidance for anyone working on anything visual for your brand, whether that’s a photoshoot, a sign, an advertisement, a printed brochure, an event invitation, etc. If you are ever outsourcing a design project, send the Brand Guide to the designer as soon as the project is under way. When they have sent you back some drafts of their work, double check them against the Brand Guide to make sure they are not breaking any rules. (Some examples of rule-breaking might be: using fonts that aren’t part of the approved font family, mistreatment of the logo, or using photos that don’t feel on-brand.)
Brand Guides often include guidelines for brand voice and tone, which are important to reference during the development of any written content, whether that’s an advertisement, a Blog post or a new web page. 

When is it time to update the Brand Guide? 

Brands inevitably evolve as design trends shift, creative leaders at your business come and go, and new brand visions are implemented. We feel that a Brand Guide should last as long as it can, and when it’s no longer serving the brand’s best interest, it’s time to be updated - by a professional. This can occur two different ways: either the document itself gets tweaked, or your company chooses to conduct a rebrand. This is its own process - you can read more abouthow to know if your brand is ready for a rebrand here.
Depending on which direction you take, it's important to remember that consistency is central to having an impactful, memorable brand. That means all existing and future brand materials should be updated to reflect the new branding choices.
Want to see some examples of a Brand Guide in action? You can see the one we created for Age Well on this page, and here is one we created for Champlain Cable. 
What is your experience with Brand Guides? Does your business have one - and if so, do you ever reference it? Is there anything that would make it a more useful tool for you? We’re curious! Thanks. 
Clare Albers

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Clare Albers


graphic design, Branding