Creating a brand and its detailed brand guidelines are critical to building a company’s identity. These are the first steps to putting marketing and public relations into motion; advertising a company’s brand should be a top priority for small businesses. Before any marketing plans may be employed, knowing what the company is all about is paramount.
And this is something that applies to any company regardless of field. It’s the thing that an e-commerce company, a drop shipping company, a financial company, or any other firm has in common: defining what the brand is all about, and what its position should be.
A company’s brand guidelines detail the identity that it presents to the world, and what potential customers will be associating it with. The guidelines themselves can refer to any number of different standards. This information could appear in the form of a content style guide, a handbook, or paper detailing the brand’s voice or business approach. But for the most part, the purpose of this tool is to act as a guide for the employees, content creators, and marketers of the brand to refer back to when it comes to defining what the company’s public image should be.
These include but are not limited to the fonts, logos, and colours of its branding. It also consists of the tone of voice that the company prefers when communicating with its customers (whether formal and businesslike, casual and relatable) and other style guidelines. The primary purpose of having one in the first place is that it creates that all-important cohesion that unites all the content and images that represent a company to the public space. These things have to be consistent to establish the company’s identity truly.
Welcome to Your Brand: The Value for Small Business
But what do brand guidelines do for a small business? For one thing, a small company needs a strong brand voice. This is something that mid-size to larger enterprises would’ve already established. Full control and presence with a consistent brand voice establish the company and what it stands for in consumers’ minds. The right brand can create value for a company, which is essential upon starting out.
Brand guidelines can protect a brand and its growing strength. It’s important to understand that a company’s brand is considered one of its most important assets. This reason is what makes larger companies spend good money protecting its brand identity. The company’s worth is tied to the value of the brand and how it’s used. Studies have shown that companies that use brand guidelines find themselves outperforming their competitors as their profits improve.
The great thing about using brand guidelines is that they can work for two purposes: they instruct and explain to employees comprehensively how the brand identity works and how it is presented. This applies not just to the employees; just about any vendor or manufacturer that might have to handle some production for the company will easily understand what the company is trying to express. Furthermore, the guidelines can explain to employees the critical brand values they need to present when interacting with the consumers.
Consistency is key to substantial brand value. With clear and comprehensive brand guidelines in place, all parties handling the brand elements will approach things in the same way. All marketing collateral, including colours, logos, and typefaces, will remain the same throughout all aspects. In a way, it “claims” these things for the company: this particular logo, or colours, or typefaces will be what distinguishes the company from the rest of the field.
Concerning the previous point, the brand guidelines will also help manage how a company is perceived. With the consistent brand values, colours, logos, and tone of voice, customers will associate all the same things with the company, creating familiarity. Even the media and suppliers will develop this perception of the brand as they work closely with the business. For some companies, even their tone becomes representative of their business. Take Wendy’s wise-cracking social media feed; it’s a casual, witty, and sometimes scathing tone that has become something the customers associate with the company.
Ultimately, all these things create a relationship between the company and the network that interacts with it. With brand guidelines, the company turns into Familiarity breeds trust, and it establishes a company in the minds of the network and the field that it works in.
The Big 7: Ways to Craft Your Own Ironclad Brand Guidelines
It’s vital to get started on the right foot, especially with small businesses. And as they say, you only get one chance for a great first impression. When building the company’s guidelines, it’s critical to have a thorough understanding and a vision of what the company should be, and where it would be going in the future as it grows.
Here are seven essential ways to get there.
1. Know your mission.
The biggest names in the business all talk about having a “mission.” Essentially, these are the company’s goals and objectives besides the obvious monetary goals. Beyond making a profit, what does the company hope to achieve with its products or services?
This may seem like a formality or something obvious, but the truth is that a significant percentage of potential customers—particularly for millennials—care about the company’s mission and goals. They like knowing that they are dealing with a company that isn’t just in it for the money. There has to be a greater purpose for the work.
2. Know who your target audience is.
It would be a waste of time to draft brand guidelines if the company isn’t sure of whom they’re trying to aim these guidelines to in the first place. The best way to do this is to craft a “marketing persona,” which will define the ideal customer the company is appealing to. What do they need? What do they like and not like?
3. Know your competition.
Now that you know who you’re marketing to, it’s time to understand your enemy. Observe what similar companies in the same market or field are doing. What are the common trends among them? Knowing how the other companies operate, how they approach their customers to the tone of their marketing voice, and even their branding colours, can give your company vital clues on how to create your branding.
4. With great knowledge comes greater responsibility.
Now that you have defined goals learned about the target audience and the competition, you must use this knowledge carefully. It’s time to carefully analyze the data, use it to develop the brand guidelines for your business, and weave it into a brand story that must appear consistent throughout the branding. When you know your market, you can use the knowledge to target ways by which you can evoke emotion from them. This lets you tweak design, content, and even the logo to appeal specifically to their sentiments.
5. Stand out from the crowd.
You didn’t learn all that information about the competition to do exactly what they’re doing. It’s a way to distinguish yourself from the rest of the pack and even address concerns that the competition cannot. Identify areas that the competition lack and make up for those gaps in your brand guidelines. Furthermore, if everyone is doing the same thing (perhaps all of them use the colour or similar taglines), it may be time to break the mould.
6. Think big.
It’s easy to think that because the business is still small, the guidelines’ scope should be as well. This couldn’t be further from the truth; it’s time to think big. One of the biggest mistakes you must avoid is restricting yourself by thinking like a small business. Thinking big right from the start—as though your company was a multinational enterprise—readies you to handle things even as the business gets bigger. By the time you do get there, maintaining the brand will be second nature.
7. Know how to bounce back.
Even the best-laid plans will have setbacks. No matter how well a company can prepare with its brand and the brand guidelines, there’s just no telling how the audience would respond. Perhaps they won’t react as well as hoped, or they won’t be as interested as projected. This is when learning to adjust and bounce back is critical. Even a failure like that is a teachable moment: it shows you how the customer-base feels firsthand. Now you can adjust and rebrand as necessary.
Build the Brand You Want to Be
Ultimately, brand guidelines for small businesses aren’t just tools; it’s the first weapon in their arsenal. The guidelines detail the identity that will make the first impression and lasting impact on your target customers and, therefore, needs to be carefully crafted for the best results. Done right, crafting the brand guidelines can lead to a stellar reputation and excellent brand recall among the target audience, fostering authenticity, trust, and give the company more value as it grows.
Have you ever started a small business? What steps did you take on deciding your brand and its identity? Let us know on Twitter