Design Inspiration

An Easy Nine-Step Checklist for Creating a Brand Style Guide

Stephanie Sparer
December 5, 2019
 min read
An Easy Nine-Step Checklist for Creating a Brand Style GuideAn Easy Nine-Step Checklist for Creating a Brand Style Guide
Table of Contents

Creating a brand identity isn’t as easy as it looks, but the good ones do look easy and effortless. That’s because a great brand style guide tells the cohesive story of your company through thoughtful content that reveals not only your core values, but the strength of your brand. 

Building a recognizable identity is the first step to creating a lasting brand, but you can’t just throw together a brand style guide on a whim. There are a lot of moving pieces from web design to tone of voice that have to work together to create a seamless brand.

This isn’t our first rodeo, and our brand is constantly evolving, so we figured we could share some knowledge and make it easier on you with a set of guidelines; a better way to create a strong brand without feeling overwhelmed. While we can’t make all your branding decisions for you (sorry!), we did create a very intuitive nine step checklist with helpful tips for creating your very own brand style guide.

Get Recognized with a Logo

A logo is someone’s first introduction to the brand. It’s one of those elements you simply can’t be without. Imagine McDonald’s without their golden arches. It’s hard to, right? It’s such an integral part of their visual identity and brand personality. A strong logo design will create a lasting bond between your company and your customers while showing off your core values and brand identity. It carries a lot of weight, really. That’s why a solid logo design that speaks to your brand is key to consistent branding. 

Sagi Haviv, partner at New York City graphic design firm Chermayeff & Geismer & Haviv (and part of the team responsible for creating logos for the likes of NBC, Chase Bank, and National Geographic) says, "A good logo gains meaning and power over time." In other words, your logo can be beautiful, but underneath that visual identity there better be a strong company. Otherwise, it’s just an empty shell. 

Exactly Your Type(face)

Like your company, every font has its own character, so when you select a typeface it’s important to choose one that matches your brand’s personality. Are you traditional and timeless? Strong? Fun and friendly? A combination? Yeah, there’s a font for that. 

The right typography sets the tone. Midori Nediger, Information Designer at Venngage, recommends getting to know your brand’s personality and its mission statement. Nediger suggests, “Spend some time thinking about how you’d like your brand to be perceived before you try to find your brand fonts.” Nediger also advises choosing three to four brand elements that describe your brand identity and work from there. He adds, “Each font has its own unique traits...There’s a ton of style variation within each category that impacts the vibe of each font. Understanding these categories is critical for finding the right one for your brand personality.” 

See Your Brand in Color

Emotions rule so much of the decision-making process that businesses have come to rely on psychology to make instant connections with clients. One way to become a fast favorite? Use specific colors to evoke emotion and make those brand colors do the heavy lifting for you (read more on the psychology of color here). 

Neuroscientist Antonio Damasio explains what people feel about your brand is actually more important than what people think. When you couple those strong emotions with a color scheme that evokes feelings, you get a color palette that really makes an impact. 

“Do you want to be viewed as genuine, daring, reliable, sophisticated, or rugged? There is a different color for each of those qualities,” says designer Natsumi Nishizumi. “Choosing the right brand colors for your business will help strengthen your brand and establish trust and familiarity with your target market.”

When All The Doodling Pays Off

Illustration within branding isn’t just about making something look pretty. Instead, this visual aspect represents your brand voice  and product or service in a consistent and playful manner. Illustrations are just one way to tell your brand story, but designer Al Power explains the “main aim for illustrations is to...create an overarching illustrative style that will introduce consistency across [the] platform.” Like a storybook depicting your brand, illustration is typically used to support good copy and web design. 

Your visual identity is important, but meaningless illustrations that don’t push your brand story forward can look awkward. Make sure you understand what illustrations are needed and how they’ll be used, then choose a design style that speaks to your brand. Designer Micah Bowers says, “The illustration system you create should have a style that makes it special. It should evoke emotions that make it memorable. But ideally, the images you create will reside seamlessly alongside the text, photography, and other graphic elements without overpowering or confusing the message being presented.” 

Take a Snapshot of Your Brand Story

Images are processed by the brain way faster than text. A picture says a thousand words, after all. However, when it comes to using photography for branding, it’s important to make sure that picture is saying the right words. You have to take into account your story, but more importantly the clients you want to attract. Visual content is a key element in your branding strategy. 

Photographer and owner of Black & White Studios, Hollie Arnett, explains “You’ll want a range of consistent, well-crafted photos that will keep your business looking tip-top across all of your marketing material.” The right pictures are quality images that show off your brand personality, support your identity, and increase brand engagement. “People form a first impression in just 50 milliseconds, so everything you share has to wow,” says Arnett. That means your little cousin with a passion for iPhone photography probably isn’t qualified to be your company’s photographer. Instead, choose visuals based on potential clients’ perceptions, not your own personal preference. 

Web Design Like a Boss

Design trends aren’t the way to win over new customers. Sure, they help, but people can generally see through a forced brand perspective (especially an over-the-top website design). “Inject some personality,” says DeType creative director, Sam Sayer. “People like brands that have human-like attributions. It’s easy to recall a brand that has some familiarity.”

Sayer also recommends keeping your design consistent so you’re engrained in a client’s brain. “On every page, use the same specific colors, formatting, graphics, personality, and emotions. People should see a uniform image throughout your website,” Sayer says. Part of that uniform should be your value proposition, or short statement, similar to a tagline, on every page. This statement is usually located just beneath your logo and tells visitors what they can expect from your site. It might seem like a lot of effort says Sayer, but “that hard work will pay off since your visitors will likely remember you.”

Find Your Voice

Defining brand voice is crutial for companies as it positions you as an expert in your field. In fact, the Nielsen Norman Group says voice can make or break a brand since customers are more likely to shell out money for a company they know as reliable. To show off your strong brand consistency, use a unified brand voice that remains steady across the board, from presentations to marketing to websites. 

Anca Bradley, Fruition’s brand management director, says to find your voice, first you must identify your audience. “See where your target audiences spend time and examine how they talk to each other,” says Bradley. “While you can attempt to speak in the same way, take care not to lean too heavily on mimicry or it will sound inauthentic.” She also suggests thinking of your company as an actual person to get the ball rolling on brand personality noting, “With social media allowing brands to speak directly to consumers, it's helpful to think of your brand as an actual person.”

Set the Tone

Tone and voice can be confusing, but while voice is a personality across all channels, tone is how that personality changes to suit a situation. Like how you talk to your boss differently than how you talk to your best friend. It’s still you, just in different scenarios. Eugenia Verbina, Content Manager at SEMrush, explains, “Your company’s tone represents your brand personality and values. This includes the words you choose and all the content you deliver — website, social media posts, emails, and any other formats.”

As with voice, Verbina says finding your brand’s tone really means getting to know your audience on every channel in which you communicate. “You have to research your audience properly and adapt your content to their personas,” she explains. Your tone changes depending on circumstance so Verbina also recommends defining your brand’s core values, and creating a mission statement that will “shape your brand’s culture and allow your audience to relate to your company.” That way you know how to speak on behalf of your brand in any given situation.

Leave a Message

Consider the tagline, “Just do it.” You immediately know the brand we’re talking about and their entire philosophy (unless you’ve been living under a rock). 

Brand messaging shows your audience what you can do for them while setting the tone with your brand personality in an easy-to-understand and relatable way. Oh, and did we mention that it also tells a complete brand story in just a few words? (No pressure!)

As Adam Kleinberg, Co-founder and CEO of Traction, says, “You only have one value proposition and you want it to stick in your customers' minds.” He reveals that to find your brand message, or mission statement, first you have to get inside your customer’s head and “make sure your value proposition is distinct.” You don’t want to blend in with everyone else in the industry. What makes your company different? Why do your clients need your product or service? And, most importantly, do you have room to evolve? Make sure, as Kleinberg says, to “look to the future and your potential for growth.”

Stephanie Sparer

Stephanie Sparer

Stephanie Sparer is an Emmy award-winning writer who has contributed to Thought Catalog, Hello Giggles, and Heeb Magazine, amongst others. Despite being preoccupied with bows and a self-indulgent obsession with Woody Allen's early films, Stephanie had her first book, entitled "Maybe I Should Drink More," published by Thought Catalog Books in 2013. Sparer lives in Phoenix, Arizona.