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Branding 101: How to Create Your Brand Style Guide

We’ve been talking a lot about branding lately on our blog. That’s because the beginning of a new year is the perfect time to reflect on your brand, take stock of what’s working and what isn’t, and strategize for the year ahead. 

Why is branding so important? Well, if your website is your business’s online home, then your brand is the front door. A well-designed, thoughtful, and strategic brand identity can make a stunning first impression on your target audience. On the flip side, if your brand doesn’t resonate with your ideal customer base, it will fall flat – and could even turn customers away from your business. 

If you’re looking at your logo and visual elements and feeling less-than-confident about them, it’s time to make a change. In this blog, we’re going to be talking primarily about the visual elements of a successful brand, but there’s a lot more to branding than just logos, fonts, and colors. 

Check out our other recent blogs on this topic, and then come back here to talk visuals!

The Basics of Brand Style Guides

Still with me? Awesome. Let’s talk about the most important document your business should have when it comes to creating a successful brand: a brand style guide. 

A brand style guide is a document that displays all of the elements that make up a brand: color palette, typography (fonts), logos, and other brand elements (like custom icons and patterns). 

Why do you need a brand style guide? Your style guide sets rules for your branding – if you need a graphic designer or a printer to design some business cards for you, for example, you’d want to make sure they use the exact fonts and colors that you use on your website, right? 

A brand style guide helps you stay consistent in your branding across all mediums. If you don’t have one in place, you could end up with brand materials that look disjointed from your website and other brand materials.

Some brand style guides for large businesses can easily exceed 50 pages, but here’s some good news: yours only needs to be one page!

Here’s an example of one of the brand style guides we create for our clients.

APEX construction branding style guide.

This brand style guide includes the basics that every brand needs to have set in stone: a primary logo, a secondary logo (also known as a brand mark or submark), a color palette with HEX codes, heading and paragraph font names, and (optional) custom branded icons.

Your Brand’s Style

Now, let’s dive into creating your brand style guide! First, create a Pinterest board for your brand and pin color palettes, logos, photos, and fonts that you are drawn to and feel align with your brand personality. Note: While you want your brand to feel like “you”, make sure you are choosing inspirational pins with your target audience in mind! 

Your Color Palette

Let’s start with defining your brand’s color palette! We’ll start here because it’s easier to work on your logo when you have your colors already defined.

A few notes on color palettes:

1. Go to Pinterest and search for “color psychology.” Different colors evoke certain thoughts and emotions in customers, so study up on this topic to ensure that the colors you are drawn to also work with the message you’re trying to convey.

2. Take a look at the color palettes you’ve pinned on your Pinterest board. Choose two main colors and two to three accent colors that you feel align with your brand personality. Your accent colors can include black or white (or both) if you choose!

3. Once you’ve chosen some colors, go back and look at the adjectives you chose for your brand. Do the colors you picked match up with your brand’s personality?

4. Now, grab those HEX codes. A HEX code is a string of six letters and numbers that tell the computer which color to display. You’ll need these to design your logo, business cards, other print materials, and your website!

Your Logos

At minimum, you’ll need a primary logo, a secondary logo (or submark), and a favicon (the little icon that shows up next to the site title in your browser).

A primary logo is the main logo you’ll use as the primary visual element of your brand. It’ll go on your business cards and in the header of your website.

A secondary logo (or submark) is a variation of your logo that you can use when your primary logo isn’t the best fit. A submark is a condensed and simplified version of your logo that is often in square or circle form to use in places like your Instagram profile picture.

Your Fonts

Now, it’s time to find the perfect font pairing for your brand. 

Here are my top tips and notes to keep in mind:

1. Decide if you want to use a serif font or a sans-serif font. Serif fonts are more formal (think Times New Roman). If you chose adjectives like elegant, classic, romantic, or delicate to describe your brand, you might want to choose a serif font.

2. Sans-serif fonts are fonts without the decorative “stems” or “feet” that serif fonts have. They are smoother and give more of a modern look (examples include Helvetica and Arial). If you chose adjectives like authentic, bold, playful, or minimal to describe your brand, a sans-serif font might be more your style.

3. A script font is a decorative accent font that looks like it was handwritten (think calligraphy fonts). Think about if a script font makes sense for your brand. If so, they work great as accent fonts (not so much as main heading fonts or body fonts). I also don’t recommend using script fonts on your website: oftentimes they are not the most legible and can be hard for screen-readers to see (if having an accessible and inclusive website is important to you). 

4. Choose no more than three fonts for your brand. That gives you one heading font, one body font, and one accent font (like a script font). You can have just one font if you choose!

Shortcut: pull up Pinterest again and search for font pairings! For websites, I like to search for Google font pairings because I know those fonts will be free and can be used across the web with no issues.

Put it all together in your Brand Style Guide!

Now that you’ve defined your main brand elements, it’s time to make it official. We like to use Canva for brand style guides. Canva is a free online graphic design resource that makes it super simple for anyone to create documents, social media graphics, flyers, and much more. You can start from scratch with your style guide, or you can search through their library of templates for a premade one. 

Add in your logos, fonts, and colors, and there you go! You’ve established your own brand style guide to use for years to come. 

Need a little bit more help when it comes to branding?

NEW for 2022: our Brand Planner Workbook! This downloadable, 28-page PDF workbook is filled with guides and checklists to walk you through the process of developing your brand. It’ll help you dive deeper into your branding and define who you are, your brand style, what branded materials you need, and help with designing your brand style guide (plus, you’ll get a link to our Brand Style Guide Canva template to quickly drop in your brand elements!). 

It’s only $20 and packed to the brim with checklists, templates, and workbook pages to help you achieve brand clarity and consistency while attracting your target audience.

Not into DIY-ing? Schedule a consultation call with us to talk about how we can partner with you to develop your brand strategy and identity.

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