Guest post: "What is a Visual Brand Standards Guide?"

I’m a big fan of companies using style guides to ensure consistency of punctuation, grammar, and other aspects of writing style. So you probably won’t be surprised that I also believe in visual consistency. This week’s guest post discusses your visual brand standards guide. Annie Smidt, its author, is lead designer and strategist for Seltzer.

Investment and wealth management businesses with strong branding and well-crafted, targeted messaging are connecting with current and potential clients — from Fidelity and Schwab with their high-profile “green line” and “Talk to Chuck” rebrands/campaigns to small firms who have finally taken the plunge with a professional design firm.

Once you and your designers have gone through all the work of developing a visual identity for your company, and they’ve built you some great tools, such as business cards, letterhead and a website, and maybe some ads or brochures, then what?

For the long term, you should come away from your engagement with a design firm with a strategic brand marketing plan in hand. It will outline, either in broad strokes or in great specificity, your actions and goals for your brand. Ideally, you will continue working with your design firm throughout the year and years to expand the reach of your visual brand, according to this road map.

Second of all, and more germane to the topic at hand, you should come away with a Visual Brand Standards Guide. We’ll call it a VBSG for short.

What is this VBSG?
Generally, the VBSG will be a document — printed, electronic or both. Depending on what kind of work the design firm has developed for you, it will contain some or all of the following:

Logo Guidelines. This section will give the dos and don’ts for using your logo. It will include such details of logo use and abuse as:

  • what colors it should or should not be reproduced in    what colors and backgrounds it can and cannot be placed upon —  how far away from other elements it should appear   
  • rules governing use of a tagline with the logo   
  • rules governing other graphic elements that may or may not accompany your logo    

Stationery Guidelines. This section will include information such as:

  • what typeface to use when printing on your letterhead and envelopes 
  • what the margins, line spacing and other document layout details should be used when printing on letterhead and envelope
  • if you have multiple letterhead formats (such as first sheets and second sheets, versions with and without your board listed, or other special-purpose sheets), which version of letterhead should be used in which circumstances   
  • how to format an electronic letter on letterhead versus a printed letter

Brand Palette Guidelines. Once in a while there’s a little something design-y you need to create in house. This section will give you info you need about:

  • what colors should be used in your branded communications (usually, your logo colors plus several others) — the VBSG will tell you how to specify them for different printing processes, the web or presentations   
  • what typeface(s) should be used, and where, and how should they be styled   
  • how other graphic elements that are part of your visual brand should be used
  • how photographs should be treated/used

Web Style Guide. If some of your website is under your control (most likely through a Content Management System), your style guide may include guidelines for the visual aspects of web content. The CMS will most likely also be set up to aid in the correct visual display of content through the use of various preset styles built in to the software. Your style guide might include:

  • which fonts, type styles and colors to use on your site for the various levels of hierarchical information (e.g., heads, subheads, paragraphs, captions).
  • if you should include photos, how they should be sized, oriented and placed   
  • any visual considerations for adding pages to the site

Other Guidelines. Depending on what your designers have created for you, and what the marketing plan entails, your VBSG may also include:

  • samples of and specs for on-screen presentations, including styles for charts and other information graphics
  • samples of different ads or ad campaigns and details of when they should be used and/or how they should be sized   
  • samples of and information about (akin to what’s in the web section above) email marketing campaigns   
  • samples of and information about direct mail campaigns
  • how the brand should be localized for other countries, cities or languages   
  • samples of and usage information about any other pieces that sport your visual brand: uniforms, vehicles, holiday cards, billboards, etc.

The article above is an edited version of What is a Visual Brand Style Guide, and why do you want one?” It originally appeared in Seltzer’s monthly e-newsletter.