How to build your branding guidelines from scratch

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Imagine if McDonald’s—one of the most recognizable brands in the world—used a different logo on Twitter, Instagram, and its website. Or if the fast-food giant had a red and yellow color palette in its print ads but a red and orange color palette in its digital ads. Or if its US offices used different fonts than its UK offices did.

Well, it probably wouldn’t be one of the most recognizable brands in the world.

That’s why branding guidelines are so important. With proper branding guidelines, companies can maintain a uniform brand image across platforms and touchpoints—whether they’re serving a local community or a global audience.

Take Walmart—the biggest company in the world—which makes its branding guidelines public:

branding guidelines

Walmart Brand Center

In this guide, we’ll dive into what branding guidelines are, why they’re so important, and how you can build your own branding guidelines from scratch.

What are branding guidelines?

Branding guidelines specify how your brand will be represented—visually, tonally, and verbally. They usually take the form of a digital or print packet or presentation. Branding guidelines may also be known as a brand guide, style guide, or brand book.

The contents of branding guidelines will vary across companies, depending upon what’s most important to your messaging, employees, and customers. However, common elements of branding guidelines include logos, color palettes, iconography, audience personas, and values.

For example, here’s a look at what’s included in the branding guidelines for the Google Marketing Platform:

branding guidelines

branding guidelines

Google Design

Build your own branding guidelines in Canva with templates like Gradients Brand Guidelines Presentation. These templates are ready-made for you to input your own mission statements, aesthetics, fonts, and company information. You can even adjust the color palettes to match your own and stay on-brand.

We’ll break down each of these elements later in the guide. But first, a word on why branding guidelines are a crucial asset for any growing company.

Why are branding guidelines so important?

Branding guidelines aren’t just nifty, pretty resources to have. Done right, they can transform how you promote your company, communicate with your audience, and scale your business.

Branding guidelines should be a go-to reference book for your internal departments — especially those with a hand in marketing and customer-facing experiences. With branding guidelines at their fingertips, they can convey a consistent message across channels. Since guidelines tie together a company’s image, they can even help employees feel more connected to the organizations they work for and more understanding of their own goals and objectives.

In fact, branding guidelines can also be helpful for partners and affiliates who want to advocate on behalf of your brand. Apple, for example, built separate guidelines for those involved in its affiliate program. The guidelines include best practices for using Apple logos, web banners, and product photography.

branding guidelines

Apple branding guide

Create your own branding guidelines for affiliates and advocates in Canva with templates like Yellow and Blue Brand Guideline Presentation. With an eye-catching framework already set, you can easily customize the language and layout of this template to fit your affiliate program, internal departments, or customer advocates.

Branding guidelines can even point out how not to represent the brand. Facebook’s branding guidelines, for instance, note unacceptable ways of modifying the logo and talking about the social network.

branding guidelines

Facebook branding guidelines

These “don’ts” can be just as important as the “dos.” Internal and external partners may not realize they’re falsely representing your brand. By clearly spelling out these missteps in branding guidelines, you can prevent brand confusion and dilution, and keep your brand image clean and cohesive.

How can you build your own branding guidelines?

Creating your branding guidelines should be fun. Think of it as a process that helps you better understand your brand, communicate your mission, and reflect on what matters most to your organization.

While you can personalize your guidelines to fit your values and aesthetic, here are the elements you might want to include.

Logo

Your logo is a window into what your brand has to offer. As award-winning logo designer Saul Bass said, “Logos are a graphic extension of the internal realities of a company.”

That’s why it’s so important to include logo design in your branding guidelines. You might have a main brand logo, logos for different divisions or products of your company, and various version of your logo that can be used on a range of platforms. Your guidelines should also include acceptable logo sizes and dimensions so logos don’t become warped.

Dell, for example, includes guidelines for minimum logo size and inclusion of clear space around three different logotypes.

branding guidelines

Dell logo guidelines

Create your own logos in Canva with templates like Blue Blocks Internet Logo and Dark Green Tech Computer Logo. You can easily incorporate your own color palette or iconography, so you have a sleek icon ready for your print and digital materials.

Color palette

You might think a logo is just black and white, but you don’t realize that it incorporates specific shades of black and white, like #191414 and #FFFF, respectively. Use branding guidelines to make these specifications for employees, the press, and advocates.

Take Lyft, which outlines its primary palette in its branding guidelines:

branding guidelines

Lyft color branding guide

Like Lyft, you can even pinpoint how often each color should be used and in what proportion they should appear on press materials.

Typography

The visual identity of your brand isn’t only conveyed through graphics and pictures. It’s also communicated through your brand typography, which is a form of design in itself. Whether you’re creating your own typography or using a pre-made font, you should make a clear choice about which typefaces represent your brand.

That’s why the American Red Cross includes a section on typography in its branding guidelines. This section covers the acceptable use of different fonts, cases, and colors.

branding guidelines

Red Cross brand guide

You can even demonstrate preferred line spacing, how text should be added to images, and how fonts should look in a hierarchy of titles, body text, and captions.

Iconography

Your logo is your most prominent icon. But your products and marketing materials might also include other sets of icons that dictate the user experience and are associated with your brand.

Uber, for example, includes a suite of system icons in its comprehensive branding guidelines.

branding guidelines

Iconography can be a particularly important branding element for companies with apps and e-commerce websites, where icons are prevalent. If you can ensure that the same exact icons are consistently used with your brand, you can build a more unified and impactful presence.

Photography

Along with graphics and illustrations, you may also include original or stock photography among your brand assets. Keep all photos on-brand by noting how they should be scaled, composed, and cropped — especially if they include your products.

Take HP, which covers photography over several pages of its branding guidelines presentation:

branding guidelines

HP brand identity manual

You may also have specifications for which colors to include in photos, how people should be represented, and which moods and tones your photos should convey.

Voice, audience, and values

Along with your visual guidelines, brand books can include information that is core to how your company operates. This includes your organization’s values, voice, and target audience. After all, this is the data that informs how you choose your designs. It gets to the heart of why this company exists and who it aims to serve.

Skype effectively incorporates these elements in its branding guidelines, using the brand’s own unique thought bubble icons and playful typography.

branding guidelines

Skype

When building your branding guidelines, it can be tempting to get caught up in the eye-catching logos and designs, but remember to always tie these creations back to your core mission and audience interests.

Bring your branding guidelines to life

Now, it’s your turn. Whether you’re building your guidelines from scratch or sprucing up a brand with history, take this opportunity to reconnect with your brand’s core vision and values. Tie together your logo, typography, photography, and color palette into a cohesive brand story that clearly communicates your mission.

You can even use Canva templates like Purple and Pink Brand Guidelines Presentation and the Yellow and Black Modern Design Studio Brand Guideline Presentation to build updated guidelines today—or keep this template handy for quarterly or yearly updates down the road.

However you choose to approach your design process, just know that branding guidelines can be the glue that holds your brand identity together as you build, grow, and find success for your organization.

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