20 minutesBy Canva Team

Building brand guidelines: How-tos, templates, and tips

Uncover how brand guidelines can help you develop and consistently convey a strong brand to your target audience. Learn best practices, tips, and free templates on branding guidelines from Canva.
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What are brand guidelines?

Brand guidelines are standards for communicating a brand verbally or visually across different channels and media, preferably in a document. One can think of it simply as a guide or rule book on consistently presenting an individual or business publicly and maintaining its brand image.

For creatives, marketers, and PR teams, brand guidelines interpret the entire brand strategy of a company and bring clarity on what to do and what not to do when it comes to its branding. Having this tangible document creates cohesiveness no matter who or how many creative minds contribute to any materials for the brand.

Use Canva Docs to write thorough and detailed brand guidelines — all in one document.

Use Canva Docs to write thorough and detailed brand guidelines — all in one document.

Visual document creators like Canva(opens in a new tab or window) help teams build brand guidelines that present the attributes and features that make up a brand. Start with a free brand guidelines template you can customize and work your way with Canva Docs features and tools.

Brand style guide vs. brand guide

Brand style guide is often used interchangeably with brand guidelines or brand guide. Most would even consider them the same. This is valid, especially since both provide direction and rules, as well as sets of standards, when it comes to the execution of a brand identity.

But if you want to be more specific, you can consider the nuances that set brand guidelines apart from a style guide. Branding guidelines are ideally more comprehensive than a style guide. It highlights the brand DNA, verbal and visual identities, and other instructions.

Let’s say that a style guide focuses on brand identity and pays more attention to the colors, fonts, imagery, tone, and voice.

Brand book vs. brand guidelines

Brand book is just another term for brand guidelines, similar to other monikers like brand bible, branding guide, or brand guide. Its make is the only potential distinction between a brand book and brand guidelines.

Traditionally, brand books are printed brand guidelines. With printable branding guidelines becoming less of the norm with the rise of collaborative online document creators like Canva Docs, you can consider using it as another synonym for a brand guide. Now, you can use them interchangeably whether your brand guidelines are in print or the cloud.

Define the visual aspect of your brand with your logos, color palettes, and even some inspiration photos.

Define the visual aspect of your brand with your logos, color palettes, and even some inspiration photos.

Brand kit vs. brand guidelines

A brand kit or package is a set of resources to establish the visual elements of your brand image. While brand guidelines give a general set of standards and rules across your brand identity's verbal, visual, and written elements, a brand kit mainly focuses on the visual.

This can include your logos, color schemes, typography, and imagery. Design tools like Canva have a premium feature called Brand Kit that lets you digitally store your brand packages to share them with your teams. This can help anyone automatically apply visual elements consistently to any design.

What is branding?

Brands come and go. Most have gone through the cycles of life imaginable: birth, death, and resurrection, at least for some. There are still millions of brands out there that pop and vie for every customer’s attention.

But what is a brand? Is it the logo? Is it the product? Is it a promise? Or is it an impression?

A brand is your reputation. The tricky thing about reputation is that it varies in different points of view. The same goes for your brand. As you put various materials in the marketplace, customers take pieces of them and form a perception of you.

As customers create multiple ideas and feelings about you, your goal is to define your brand and set up a good foundation and limits to how they perceive you. Branding is the process of strategizing and building the messaging and identity you want to convey to the public.

Companies go through branding intending to curate a strong and marketable brand enough to appeal to and persuade a certain demographic to include them in their purchasing decisions. Successful branding harnesses brand recognition and builds affinity among target customers. In the long run, it grows your brand equity or the perceived value of your brand.

Brand strategy

All brands start with a plan. Your brand strategy will help you craft a solid brand by creating a blueprint for engaging and resonating with your target audience. When strategizing, ask yourself:

  • How do you define the brand and its identity? How will you communicate that into positive brand experiences?
  • How will you raise awareness for the brand?
  • How will you grow your brand equity or its perceived value?
  • How will your marketing efforts complement your brand strategy?
  • Which teams are involved in every phase of the brand strategy?
  • What are your measurements of success?
Learn more about branding
Get the latest branding tips and tricks for small businesses, individuals, and large organizations.
Add your teammates to your Canva Doc and consult with them to ensure that your brand strategy is clear and sound.

Add your teammates to your Canva Doc and consult with them to ensure that your brand strategy is clear and sound.

Brand building

A part of your strategy is brand building. More than the visuals, this involves comprehensively defining what you are as a brand. Establishing the pillars of your brand and what they represent and mean to you can help you set clear brand guidelines efficiently later on. Here are nine pillars you can set up:

  • Brand DNA: your purpose, vision, mission, and values
  • Target audience: your specific customer segment
  • Brand positioning: defines what sets you apart from your competitors
  • Brand personality: traits and archetypes that could help draw your target audience toward you
  • Verbal identity: how you speak as a brand like tone and voice
  • Brand messaging: signals and information you want to communicate to your audience, from copywriting to distribution
  • Brand story: narratives that build emotional connections to your audience such as a founder’s story, user case studies, and customer journeys
  • Name and tagline: clear, concise, and catchy communication of your brand messaging and positioning that also reflects your personality
  • Visual identity: logos, colors, typography, photography, videos, icons, graphic elements

Brand identity

This is the tangible representation of whatever comes out of your branding process. Technically, this is the face of your brand. Your brand identity is composed of visual and verbal elements that contribute to the look and feel of your brand, highlight your brand messaging and positioning, and reflect your brand personality. These may include:

  • Visual identity: visual assets such as logos, colors, fonts, photos, graphics, icons, videos, and more.
  • Verbal identity: tone, voice, name, tagline, slogans, ad copy, written product content
Actionable brand building
Set up your team for success with the recommended steps, actions, and examples that you can use as inspiration as you build your brand.

What to include in brand guidelines?

Strong branding relies on strong pillars. This is the reason why brands are carefully crafted and curated. Each element must answer how you’ll appeal to your customers, shape their perception, and ultimately influence them enough to purchase. Your brand guidelines will merely echo the insights and ideas you’ve solidified in your brand strategy and building. The goal is for teams to receive a clear direction on their verbal and visual identities and how to communicate them.

Outline the content of your guidelines, so your team has a quick overview of everything that makes up your brand — making your document an easy reference.

Outline the content of your guidelines, so your team has a quick overview of everything that makes up your brand — making your document an easy reference.

Canva’s brand pillars
Our brand guidelines open with our three guiding principles: human, inspiring, and empowering. Notice how these principles will be consistent throughout the guide.

Why are brand guidelines important?

Your branding guidelines can be many things for different teams, especially creatives and marketers. For them, it's a rule book, a source of truth, and even the “brand bible” for some. Its importance to the effective execution of your brand strategy will prove invaluable once your target audience resonates with your branding. By then, you'll truly appreciate how it pays well to have a comprehensive brand guidelines document that keeps your branding in check.

Establish consistency

A consistent branding encourages customers to trust your brand. It’s a clear communication of what to do and what not to do to achieve a brand image and narrative that cultivates familiarity and proper representation in the eyes of your customers.

Having brand guidelines helps your team execute a cohesive look and feel on every brand material you put out. This means that different teams can contribute to enriching the brand as long as they align with the brand guide.

Whoever writes the content or designs the assets, anyone from the team can make creative decisions that maintain your brand's verbal, written, and visual identities.

Further ensure brand consistency in all your team’s designs with ready-to-use brand templates, which you can access in your Canva Brand Kit.

Further ensure brand consistency in all your team’s designs with ready-to-use brand templates, which you can access in your Canva Brand Kit.

Ensure quality

Your brand guidelines define rules, regulations, and standards when executing your brand identity. The main goal is to deliver a strong, consistent, clear brand. You can do that by having clear brand guidelines that prioritize quality.

  • Are they aligned with your brand strategy?
  • Do your guidelines set clear expectations of dos and don’ts in conveying your brand identity?
  • Are there clear examples that teams can refer to? Do you have samples, mockups, or brand templates?
  • Are there systems in place to keep teams in check?

Define brand identity

Effective brand guidelines enable teams to highlight your brand identity well in any creative communications strategy in place for your brand. Your brand style guide must have clear and straightforward instructions and proper examples or templates.

A strong brand identity creates familiarity between the brand and the target audience. Customers can easily recall your brand, especially if key visual and verbal elements, such as brand name, tagline, logo, colors, and tone, appeal and resonate with them.

Define your brand identity through a cohesive visual, like a collage, to showcase logos, fonts, color palettes, and even images that inspire your brand.

Define your brand identity through a cohesive visual, like a collage, to showcase logos, fonts, color palettes, and even images that inspire your brand.

Enhance brand recognition

Customers can set a brand apart from their competition when it exhibits consistency, quality, and a strong sense of brand identity. Your brand book contributes to this aim of brand recognition by ensuring that key elements of your brand identity are consistent and cohesive across all your communications.

Having brand guidelines helps you eliminate confusion with other brands, especially your competitors, by highlighting your unique verbal and visual identity whenever possible. Remember to emphasize certain auditory and visual cues in your content so they stand out and usher enough recall.

Contribute to fewer costs

Building and sustaining your brand is a big cost. You don’t want to hurt your brand equity in the long run with mistakes and mishaps in your execution. A total branding failure might push you to rebrand and start over again with your expenses.

Reduce unnecessary costs by setting clear brand guidelines that complement your strategy and identity. When your teams understand how to execute your brand identity effectively, there’ll be little room for mistakes.

How to create brand guidelines

When building your brand guidelines, remember that you're laying out important instructions on executing your brand strategy. Think of it as concrete action steps to ensure your verbal and visual identity shines through in every output. Easily craft your brand strategy and guidelines using free document templates from Canva. Here are seven steps to build a thorough brand guidelines document with your team.

How to create brand guidelines

A guide to brand strategy
Learn how to create a solid brand strategy with tips and tricks you can apply to your branding process and marketing efforts.

Get inspired with brand guidelines templates

Guarantee the consistency of your branding, no matter the designer, copywriter, marketer, channel, form, or medium. Customize a free brand guidelines template from Canva and ensure you set your branding principles in stone. Even great is that you don’t have to start from scratch or navigate aimlessly in an overwhelming document creator.

Each template lets you add or lift from your brand strategy and apply pointers from your sessions of brand building. You can personalize it or reflect your own brand identity using colors, fonts, and design elements. Choose from the brand guidelines examples below to start your visual Canva Doc.

All you need in a brand guidelines creator

Create brand guidelines online that will communicate your brand strategy well and explain your verbal and visual identity thoroughly. Canva Docs allows you to collaborate with your team simultaneously and access writing and designing tools efficiently. From your branding guidelines template, edit your brand guide with a vast visual elements library, easy-to-use tools and features, and Magic Write that’ll help you convey what your brand should be and set guidelines for execution with clarity and cohesion.

  • Great on any device

    Great on any device

    With responsive Docs, create, view, and edit your doc on any device. Perfect for when you're on the go.

  • Visual library for visual Docs

    Visual library for visual Docs

    Seamlessly add visuals like graphs, tables, images, videos, graphics, and more, all available within your doc.

  • Collaborate in real-time

    Collaborate in real-time

    Work with teams and build on ideas with comments and emoji reactions. Keep sync sessions on track with a timer.

  • Magic Write your first draft, fast

    Magic Write your first draft, fast

    Beat writer's block and skip ahead to your first draft with a single text prompt on Magic Write.

  • Share your work effortlessly

    Share your work effortlessly

    Share a link to your doc and control your team’s access. Track activity, views, and comments via Insights (Pro).

  • Turn Docs to Decks

    Turn Docs to Decks

    Instantly convert your document to a fully customizable Canva presentation with Docs to Decks.

Brand guidelines best practices

Building your brand guidelines may seem like a Herculean task, especially considering strategy and execution as part of the equation. But, it can be fun with the proper perspective in shaping your brand. Here are some best practices that can help you ensure that your branding guidelines will bring clarity and cohesion to your brand communications.

It takes a village

Like any cadence, different teams shape, maintain, and use your brand guidelines in the company. From the start of brand building, consult with them and gather their insights on how they see your business or organization as a brand. Who knows, they can be one of your target audiences, and you can find a perfect persona to bank on for your strategy.

More than that, your internal teams are also the ones who'll live out these brand values and principles in the real world, whether that be through their work outputs, the company swags they wear, or when they stage events outside the office.

Once set in place, don’t forget to open your brand book for feedback from people who use them regularly. Leave room for creatives, marketers, finance people, and more to share their opinions on how they find such rules and standards.

Is this something they can work with? Is it helpful or limiting? Their input can be beneficial to keep your brand guide flexible, adaptable, and continuously evolving.

Search for inspiration

Creative guidelines come from inspiration. Sure, you can aim to be original in everything you do, but one way or another, they’ll likely come from something that inspires you. Open your senses to vast experiences that inform how you’ll see your brand. They could come from unlikely places, from weird color combinations in nature to a distinct sound in the radio.

Also, go directly to your target audience for inspiration. They're an integral part of the village that builds your brand and its guidelines. Dive deep into their passions, styles, and aesthetics. Analyze their language, how they speak, and their vocabulary so you can factor that into your strategy and guide.

Set up an initial mood board so you can reflect on these inspirations and narrow them down to what matters to your brand identity.

Canva for Teams
It’s easy to keep your team in the loop. Create teams in Canva and share your brand guidelines doc and Brand Kit digitally in Canva. See and organize your team designs in one space.
Create your mood board with Canva Whiteboards. Compile and add handwritten notes and sketches to all your inspiration photos, in an unlimited canvas.

Create your mood board with Canva Whiteboards. Compile and add handwritten notes and sketches to all your inspiration photos, in an unlimited canvas.

Be specific

Teams will consider your brand guidelines as their rule book. Strive for clear-cut standards and principles, especially regarding your verbal and visual identity. Avoid being vague and leaving room for varied and off-tangent interpretations.

For example, with typography, imagery, and logo usage, establish exact sizes and measurements for consistency across all designs and communications. When dealing with colors, add specific color codes in RGB, CMYK, and hex codes to get the desired palette for your brand.

Remember that your brand guidelines should provide more answers than questions for your creatives and marketers. You can respect their creative freedoms, but it's also imperative that you confine creative interpretations to the bounds of your brand strategy’s direction and expression.

Reflect your brand in your guidelines

Your brand guidelines are your team's first reference of your brand and how it looks and feels. Design it to reflect the story, messaging, imagery, and voice you intend your brand to be. Set out design tips and examples in your brand guide.

Write a copy that carries your brand personality and evokes its tone and voice. Visualize how to use your prescribed logos, colors, and typefaces. You can also provide concrete examples of alternatives and options for them to execute your visual identity.

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Convey a consistent brand identity with brand guidelines

Align with your teams on how to communicate your brand’s verbal and visual identity. Customize free brand guidelines templates and set your brand style guide with tools and features from Canva Docs.
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