3 reasons why brand guidelines are important
Let’s begin with some honesty: even as adults, we love to procrastinate. It is a natural thing to wait until a problem is staring us in the face before we are willing to deal with it.
When it comes to our businesses, we are often not any better at thinking ahead. For this reason, we often get people who have a sudden sense of urgency for their design needs, ie. website, brochure or some other form of collateral but have not yet done the crucial foundational work of developing any brand guidelines. As the famous saying goes, “Don’t put the cart before the horse.”
This need to jump ahead is not necessarily your fault. It is difficult to know all that goes into the development of a good brand if you have never been involved with the process before. But suffice it to say that a well developed, recognisable, memorable brand does not begin with visual creative work. Whether you are just now realizing that your website needs a serious rehaul or you are jumping the gun by wanting a handout before the rest of your business plan is in place, I have three reasons why you need to put on the breaks and begin with some brand guidelines.
1. Consistent Messages Build Brand Recognition
Let’s begin with the most obvious reason to put brand guidelines in place before creating any visual or creative work. The most famous brands in the world are easily recognisable. The reason they have become so recognisable is because they have carefully created brand guidelines for their brand idenity that are consistently followed. They are consistent in their use of fonts, colors, visual feel, and voice. We learn to recognize brands based on the consistant use shapes, colors, and typography. But the decision behind what colors, fonts, and mood to design for an organization does not happen in the midst of designing creative work. The decision about the look and sound of the brand identity comes after a period of discovering who you and how you are unique. The feeling that comes with anything created for a company must be consistent across all implementation pieces, but that consistency must also be experienced by your customers. To put in place a new brand identity before discovering who you are and how your customers experience you will most likely end up sending mixed messages. If the messages aren’t the same then your brand loses some of its recognition. Consistency builds recognition and recognition leads to growth.
Let me give you an example of brand recognition resulting from years of careful brand guidelines. Crate & Barrel has developed a very recognisable brand. They don’t even have a logo per say. Their name is recognisable though, due to the font, coloring, and proximity of the letters. This conistency over time has developed to where now they are using just the ampersand for brand recognition. As reported by the New York Times, in their newest ad campaigns, they are utilizing the brand recognition of the ampersand to bring two words together. Even though in the ad pictured, the words do not say Crate & Barrel, it is still recognisable as a Crate & Barrel ad. Their consistency of quality home products, the language used in the ads, and the consistency with their brand identity have all worked towards giving them the freedom to be creative with their implementation pieces.
2. Doing Things In the Right Order Means Less Need for a Re-Do
Another reason a website or some other form of collateral is not a good place to begin your re-branding, is that you will most likely be returning to your initial work for a re-do. Design works very differently across many different mediums. Your brand identity should be evident not only in the website, brochures, and product labels. It should be evident in your storefront (if applicable), your employees, the signage, and so much more. Every time someone encounters you, they should experience the same consistent message from everything you produce. If you begin design before you have discovered all the elements that will need the impact of your brand identity, you will find yourself stuck in a wheel of re-do’s. You will come to a point where you must tweak the message or the identity to find a solution for a new issue, and to maintain consistency, you will then need to return to the things done first in order to tweak them as well.
Thinking ahead about the growth of your company is also important before you start designing your brand identity and materials. Thinking about where you are and where you want to go will play a large role when developing the brand guidelines. Your brand will grow and change as you grow, but you must make sure that your brand identity is able to grow with you. If you are a local or regional organization, does your identity work when you become a national or international organization? First things first. Ask the right questions; ask lots of questions. Discover who you are, why you exist, and how you are unique. Build a brand identity and voice with a set of guidelines for implementing that identity. Then you may go ahead with all of the fun pieces of design.
3. Your Brand is Not Solely Based on a Logo
Finally, I would like to point out that your brand is not just your logo. It is true that the logo often becomes the recognisable feature of an organisation. We all recognize the symbols of the brands we love best. But that recognition did not develop simply from the logo. As referenced in my first point, your brand is developed through people’s experiences with your brand and consistency in that experience. Experience includes both visual and physical experience. Your logo plays an important role in consistency and recognition, but if you do not have all the other elements of experience in place, your “clever” logo becomes a moot point. In order for your organisation to make a memorable impact in this loud world, all elements of a brand identity and guidelines must be followed and must be consistent to who you are.
Back to the drawing board
If you find yourself jumping ahead of the process, it isn’t too late to put on the breaks and evaluate where you are. It is possible that you will need to live with your old design pieces for the moment, but the end result will be worth the sacrifice. You can’t imagine a builder pouring the foundation and building the walls before he has drawn up the plans. That would be ludicrous. Designing websites, brochures, advertising pieces, or whatever other need that is staring you in the face before you have drawn up the brand guidelines will lead to similar issues the builder would find himself in. Take the time to make the right steps so that you can find success.