4 steps to create brand guidelines for your marketing team

If you ask an engineer at NASA how they’re able to build such incredible technology, you might be surprised to find out how often they refer back to their guidelines. Of course, it still takes smarts and solid education to work for NASA or to become an expert engineer. But even the experts use guidelines and checklists to hold themselves accountable and produce reliable and consistent work.

A marketing team is no different.

No matter how knowledgeable or talented your marketing team is, creating strong brand guidelines will allow teams to flourish and produce work that consistently and accurately reflects your brand. Whether you’re serving a local community or a global audience, brand guidelines can help both your marketing team and your company as a whole maintain a uniform brand image across all platforms and touchpoints.

Below, we take an in-depth look at the steps required to create brand guidelines for your marketing team.

Table of contents:

  • Educate your team on brand guidelines
  • Develop a mission driven brand identity
  • Include a clear explanation of voice, audience, and values
  • Incorporate key branding elements
  • Use a thoughtful color palette
  • Write with clean typography
  • Maintain consistent iconography
  • Capture original photography
  • Create exemplary social media templates
  • Design a style guide that reflects your brand

1. Educate your team on brand guidelines

If you want your team to produce better, consistent, and noteworthy marketing content, make sure they understand what brand guidelines are and why they’re important for your overall marketing goals.

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.

Brand guidelines have been around for at least half a century. For example, NASA’s brand guidelines from 1976 include logo and graphic guidelines along with a standards manual for their uniform patches.

Screenshots of the 1976 NASA brand guidelines for their old logo and a graphic of planets.

As time passes, NASA updates its guidelines to reflect changes in its logo as well as new mediums where these branding elements may live. In a more recent iteration of its guidelines, NASA shares its identity system and the famous NASA insignia in a similar but updated fashion.

Screenshots of more recent NASA brand guidelines, including a description of its new logo/insignia and three variations of colors.

Build your own branding guidelines in Canva with templates like this 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.

Why are brand guidelines important?

Brand guidelines transform how you promote your company, communicate with your audience, and scale your business. They are a go-to reference book for your internal departments — especially those that work in marketing teams and customer-facing experiences. With branding guidelines at their fingertips, teams 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 shape their personal goals and objectives.

Brand guidelines can also be helpful for partners and affiliates who want to advocate on behalf of your brand. As a giant, global company, Facebook has to have guidelines to maintain brand consistency and accurate messaging. In their brand book, they also include how their mission is reflected in their logo’s symbolism.

A screenshot from Facebook’s brand guidelines, with a breakdown of the symbolism behind their logo design.

Brand guidelines also point out how not to represent the brand. Facebook’s branding guidelines note unacceptable ways of modifying the logo and talking about the social network.

A screenshot from Facebook’s brand guidelines, with a breakdown of the symbolism behind their logo design.

These “don’ts” can be just as important as the “dos.” Internal and external partners may not realize they’re accidentally misrepresenting your brand. Facebook even takes it a step further to avoid misrepresentation by including a section in which people must request permission to use Facebook brand assets.

A screenshot from Facebook’s brand guidelines of the “Submit your request” section.

By clearly spelling out potential missteps and requiring that the user asks permission for your assets, you can prevent brand confusion and dilution and keep your brand image clean and cohesive.

Create your own branding guidelines for affiliates and advocates in Canva with templates like these modern company brand guidelines. With an eye-catching framework already set, you can easily customize the language and layout of this template to fit your affiliate program, internal teams, or customer advocates.

2. Create brand guidelines that align with your brand identity

Aligning your guidelines with your brand identity helps you better understand your brand, communicate your mission, and reflect on what matters most to your organization. Not only will it help you and your marketing team, but it will also have a positive influence on your audience. Consumers pay attention to brands that are consistent in their marketing efforts and whose values align with their own.

Use your values and mission statement to inform guideline decisions

Your values get to the heart of why your company exists and who it aims to serve. And when you know why you exist and who you serve, you can develop guidelines that will help perpetuate your purpose. Company values, mission statements, and audience values impact a brand’s image and style.

For example, in Asana’s mission statement they state: “To help humanity thrive by enabling the world’s teams to work together effortlessly.” One way Asana embodies this mission is by designing a simple, user-friendly product that increases project management efficiency. Their brand guidelines follow the same logic. Designed with efficiency in mind, Asana’s brand guidelines are simple yet informative and include the necessary information for successful brand management.

A screenshot of Asana’s brand guidelines with language that reads: “This simple kit is for...”

Determine your voice and brand messaging

Brand voice and tone shape your overall brand messaging and how your audience will perceive you. Brand voice shows off your brand personality and resonates with your audience. Brand tone keeps your communication on-brand while adjusting to the context of your messaging. The right balance of the two humanizes your company for current and potential customers. To make it easy for your marketing team to follow and emulate, include core voice characteristics and specific examples in your brand guidelines.

As you learn more about how to create brand guidelines, you may see an opportunity to sharpen your brand voice. Take a look at which of your top-performing content has the most engagement and conversions. Did a recent social post or email campaign really resonate with your audience? Determine what characteristics that content possessed which may have caused it to perform better than others. You can then use those attributes to articulate your brand voice and, therefore, your brand guidelines.

LinkedIn introduces their natural and conversational brand voice in their brand guidelines, as seen below. The company even communicates this description in that very same voice—relaxed and approachable. LinkedIn’s marketing team understands the importance of humanizing the company through brand voice and messaging in order to gain trust and continue to grow.

A screenshot from LinkedIn’s brand guidelines that reads: “Meet our voice.”

3. Incorporate key elements of your visual identity in your brand book

Your product or service is only one part of your overall brand identity. Your brand image is also shaped by your visual marketing strategy—a content marketing strategy that uses graphics, images, video, or visuals to market a product or service. By laying out the key elements of your visual identity in your brand book, you will help your brand maintain consistency across all communications.

Logo

Your logo is a window into what your brand has to offer and a way for your audience to recognize you. Your brand guidelines can include your main brand logo, logos for different divisions or products of your company, and various versions 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 two different logo types.

A screenshot from Dell’s brand guidelines indicating two logo types and their appropriate specs.

Create your own logo designs in Canva with templates like Gold Brush Glitter feminine Boutique Circle Logo and Blue Modern Up Chart Illustration Financial Company 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

If you’re not a graphic or web designer, you might not realize that every color in a design has a corresponding hex code. Incorporating these codes into your brand guidelines will ensure that employees, media, and advocates will use your color palette in their designs.

In their brand guidelines, Mailchimp’s marketing team decided to highlight their signature yellow color, followed by their entire color scheme. The colors each have an associated hex code and are grouped into three categories that describe how they should be used (i.e., as functional, background, or accent colors).

Screenshots from Mailchimp’s brand guidelines highlighting their brand colors.

In your brand guidelines, you can take it a step further and pinpoint how often each brand color should be used and in what proportion they should appear on press materials.

Typography

The visual identity of your brand is 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.

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.

A screenshot from the American Red Cross’s brand guidelines of a chart for typography rules.

In your typography guidelines, you can also 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. Uber’s expressive icons are inspired by transportation and simple functionality. As a user, it accurately reflects their brand and seamlessly fits into their app.

A screenshot from Uber’s brand guidelines for iconography taxonomy including a person icon to indicate a rider, arrow icons to indicate movement, and a location icon.

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.

As a major printer and computer company, HP devoted several sections of its brand guidelines to photography. HP believes photography has immense storytelling power, and as such, its photography page begins with the quote: “Every photo tells a story. Let’s make it a good one.” The HP photography branding guidelines include types of photos, dos and don’ts, and photo tips.

A screenshot from HP’s branding guidelines photography page that provides photo tips surrounding context and intent.

Your photography brand guidelines can include a wide range of specifications. From prominent colors to how people should be represented to which moods and tones your photos should convey, decide which works best and keep it consistent!

Social media posts

Your brand guidelines wouldn’t be complete without including social media etiquette and messaging style. More than half (64%) of people want brands to connect with them. And what better place to do that than on social media? If you want to gain consumer trust, use your brand guidelines to build a social media presence that is reliable and consistent.

As a global company, Starbucks needs thorough brand guidelines to keep communications consistent across all its locations. For example, the illustration guidelines help marketing teams, ambassadors, and even those working behind the barista bar share posts that are on-brand. Brand guidelines help keep every Starbucks social account unified.

aScreenshots from the Starbucks brand guidelines for illustrations.

Some social media guidelines to consider including in your brand book:

  • Will you use emojis? If so, which ones?
  • What types of hashtags should you use? How many hashtags per post?
  • How will you credit the creators of user-generated content?

Creating examples of what you expect in your social media posts is a great way for your team to continue creating on-brand content. Once you have them, you can save and organize social media templates for every occasion with Canva’s design folders.

4. Design a brand style guide that accurately reflects your brand

Once you’ve mastered how to create brand guidelines, you can now apply those guidelines to the design and presentation of, well, your brand guidelines! These guidelines will be shared across your organization, so they should be the ideal example of what your branding is all about. In this way, your team can learn by example when they see your brand guidelines in action.

Whether you’re building your guidelines from scratch or rebranding, 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 these templates 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.

Easily follow your brand guidelines with Canva’s brand kit feature

Canva’s Brand Kit feature allows you to build your brand kit right inside Canva. You can pre-set your brand fonts, logos, colors, and templates so that everyone on your team has easy access to your branding elements. So, no matter who on your team is doing design work, the content they create will be on brand.

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