It’s All About Consistency
Your visual identity—your logo, fonts, colors and overall style—is the face of your brand. It’s the first thing people notice about your company. And it’s the first thing they recall when thinking about your products. So it goes without saying that you want your identity—and the public’s perception of your brand—to be consistent. After all, you want customers and clients to have the same great experience with your company at every opportunity.
If you can’t tell by now, we think brand identity is pretty important. Our designers cringe whenever they see a logo printed in the wrong color or tilted on its side just to “jazz things up a little.” That’s because these uses depart from what is known in the marketing community as brand standards—the rules for portraying all the individual elements of a brand appropriately and consistently.
Thankfully, consistency in branding doesn’t have to equal monotony in advertising. There’s still room to try out new styles and techniques without diluting your brand identity. It all comes down to making sure what’s featured in a new advertisement or collateral piece follows your established set of rules.
We sat down with our designers, Chris and Becca, and picked their brains to help you learn more about brand standards, why they matter and how to apply them to your brand.
Why is having a consistent visual identity so important to your overall marketing strategy?
Becca: Your visual identity sets the tone for how your company is perceived. Colors, fonts, logo design and photography style resonate with different audiences in different ways and can evoke a mix of emotions surrounding your brand. So it’s important to align these components with what you know about your customers, as well as the goals and objectives outlined in your marketing strategy. Consistency is also key for overall brand recognition and building loyalty with your customers.
How do you go about creating this consistency?
Chris: Well, first you need to establish some rules that explain how to use—and how not to use—certain elements of your visual identity. That’s where a brand standards guide comes into play. It’s a document that lists your official logos, colors, fonts, etc. and the procedures you should follow when using them. Stick to your brand standards guide, and consistency will follow.
Brand standards guide—got it! What all is included in one?
Chris: At the very least, a brand standards guide should include information on logo usage (how small you can print it; where it should be placed in an ad, etc.), color values and your preferred family of fonts. But some brands also include additional specifications unique to that company, like photography or illustration style.
Becca: What’s included really comes down to your company size, industry and how/where your brand will be applied. Beyond Chris’ suggestions, some additional elements you may choose to include are email signature guidelines, writing style, video guidelines or even digital/social media usage.
How exactly do you “use” a brand standards guide?
Becca: Designers and other members of your team use your brand standards guide as a reference as needed, but they’re also meant to be shared with outside partners. When you work with a vendor, such as a professional printer, they use your brand standards guide to get specifics like color values. It makes their job easier, and it ensures they’re staying true to your brand.
In a doomsday scenario, what’s the worst that could happen if you ditched your brand standards?
Chris: Well, the biggest problem you can have in not adhering to your brand standards would be that your customers won’t recognize you when you’re trying to engage them. Without a brand standards guide, a vendor could print your logo in the wrong color or use a contrasting font. While a wrong color may sound like a minor issue—think of how you would react if Hulu’s fluorescent green was all of a sudden placed behind the Netflix logo. You'd second guess which company you were looking at.
Becca: To piggyback off what Chris said, imagine if a company with a serious tone, like US Bank, started using Comic Sans as their primary typeface, which besides being a huge no-no in the world of design, has a child-like feel. That could easily tarnish their reputation as a financial institution.
So, US Bank definitely needs brand standards—who else? If you’re a small company with limited resources, can't you just skip this step?
Becca: Just about any type of organization, from startups to well-established corporations, can benefit from establishing some basic brand standards. Developing these guidelines from the very beginning will help establish visual recognition and integrity as the brand continues to grow.
Chris: Your brand has to start somewhere. If you’re not starting off on a consistent foot—say if you’re using multiple logos or constantly changing up your visual style—you’ll never get the opportunity to develop an identity that your customers recognize and relate to.
Can having a brand standards guide ever backfire? For instance, say in 10 years I decide I want to freshen things up. Won’t I be confined by the rules I’ve set in place?
Chris: Brands can and should be thoughtfully fluid. Every so often a company will have to reevaluate its graphical brand. Sometimes that means a complete brand overhaul, but more often it means making some minor, subtle changes—like switching the font families used in the marketing material, updating colors that may have become out of date or staid, or changing how a logo or photography can be used.
Even small changes can keep a brand feeling up-to-date and active for many years without going through the expense of a complete brand overhaul. The key is just applying those changes strategically.
Becca: Brand standards guides should always evolve alongside your business. No brand stays the same forever. By updating your brand standards—instead of throwing them out altogether—you make sure any changes to your identity are applied as consistently as the original branding.
Thanks to Chris and Becca for sitting down and answering our questions! Now that your head is bursting with information, head over to our Portfolio page for a little inspiration.