What is a brand book and how to make use of it?

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Jarosław Morawski

Launching a new brand is challenging. You can probably feel the thrill of it but you’ve got a lot on your plate – formalities, organizing, logistics. Branding and brand book are not on the top of priority list. They’re something that at first may look like a waste of time and money, especially when your company already has a professionally designed logo. You like it, your friends and family like it, your clients like it. What more could you want?

However, a good logo is just a tip of the iceberg. The symbol must not only look but also work great. Over time your brand will grow, change, and adjust to your and your client’s expectations. It is important to crystalize its values, goals, mission, and image at an early stage and describe in detail how the brand and its logo work. That way you’ll avoid an unpleasant surprise when you ask a freelancer to create additional graphics for your website and see your your brand’s logo – the fruit of significant time and financial investment – stretched across the page or changed beyond recognition.

Brand book guarantees consistency of your brand’s look and image regardless of the situation. What is it exactly and how can it help you?

A manual for your brand

In short: brand book is a map that illustrates how your brand’s visual identity is built and a simple guide to how to use it. It describes what can and cannot be done with its logo, identity, and communication. A well-designed brand book is a useful tool for various contractors: branding studios, graphic artists, web designers, and marketing agencies. Inside, they’ll find specific rules and practical tips about:

  • the meaning, appearance, and build of your logo,
  • allowed changes and modifications,
  • brand colors and how to use them,
  • selected typefaces (typography) and their role in the branding,
  • photography or illustrations and general rules for using them,
  • designing company promotional materials.

Moreover, a branding studio or brand designer who created the basics of your brand’s identity can expand it with additional communication guidelines:

  • company’s mission, vision, values, and personality,
  • slogan and example texts (copywriting),
  • brand’s communication style.

A solid brand book prevents many issues and makes designers’ work easier. They don’t have to think about picking the right background color or typeface for an advertisement banner they’re just creating – thanks to practical tips to combining different visual parts of the brand and inspiring examples, the brand book will do that for them.

A well-developed brand book is nothing but profit for your business – it ensures smoother, more efficient work of your partners and contractors which directly translates into faster job completion time and significant financial savings.

Why you need a brand book

Brand book has one more big advantage: it holds your brand together. Fast-growing companies easily lose control over their visual language and communication. Contractors usually follow their own style and intuition so – unless you’re willing to hand over the entirety of graphic design work to a single branding studio – your brand may quickly become a blend of different approaches and lose its originality.

Brand book prevents that from happening.

A thorough description of your brand – from appearance to communication style – helps make sure that all designers and marketing specialists are on the same page. While working on different projects, they may use the document as reference and find out whether their ideas fit the brand’s vision and pursue its values. It is important from your client’s point of view who, after getting in touch with a brand for the first time, quickly paints a mind image of it. If at some point a brand start to look or behave differently, they may lose trust and seek consolation in the competition.

Brands that actually care about consistency may improve their value and increase year-over-year revenue by 23%. Customers appreciate companies that use colors, typefaces, photographs, and illustrations in a consistent and logical way. The resulting impression of professionalism and attention to detail suggest them that your brand can be trusted. Given that as much as 60% of customers judge the value of brand’s communication by color alone, a brand book that helps prevent inconsistency is well worth the investment.

Brand book, the essence of branding

Brand book is the result of many hours of design work but brings nothing but profit. A relatively minor financial cost returns in the form of saved man-hours and issues solved long before assigning jobs to contractors. A basic brand book that describes the general rules of use is delivered along with logo design by almost every graphic designer or branding studio. It is easy to expand it with more elements, turning it into a comprehensive source of knowledge about your brand’s visual language and communication. If the document is written by experienced designers, the brand has a clearly outlines vision, tone of voice, personality, and communication style which together create practical guidelines for the company’s image. Thanks to the document, designers and copywriters who create additional assets to its website or social media can easily fit the style of the brand.

On the other hand, if your brand is very young and its branding doesn’t extend beyond a logo, you should take the time and imagine what you’d like it to be in the future. Well-described goals and company vision will help the designers select key information and include it in the brand book. This is something worth fighting for – according to Forbes, 64% of customers say that shared values help them create a better relationship with a brand.

Proper values lay the groundwork for a company’s mission statement and personality – two more of vital ingredients of a modern, well-developed brand book.

The first one is tightly tied to the brand’s purpose. Mission statement doesn’t just allow customers quickly compare company’s philosophy against their own but also helps introduce new employees and position the brand on the market. Mission statement should clearly describe:

  • the reason the brand exists,
  • short- and long-term goals,
  • means to achieve its goals,
  • biggest motivations.

The other ingredient, personality, is often called a persona. The reference to a person is intentional – as a complex organism, a brand has many features that help it be liked by customers. Personality is a basic requirement for any direct communication on social media, website, posters, and leaflets. Inconsistent communication styles makes it difficult for customers to identify with a brand, understand its values and, ultimately, show trust. Usually brand books describe personality using bold, carefully selected adjectives. For example:

  • open, funny, positive, responsible, precise, punctual, calm.
  • withdrawn, serious, luxurious, tough, unobvious, exclusive.
  • helpful, smiling, approachable, ordinary, versatile, amenable.

They also answer the questions of the brand’s behavior and approach to issues that are important to its clients: environment protection, ecology, religion, ethnic and sexual minorities, privacy. Describing these topics in the brand book helps avoid possible problems during everyday communication (f.e. while posting updates on Facebook) and create a shared and consistent direction for the brand’s growth.

Guarantee of consistency

Every brand book includes a detailed description of a brand’s visual identity and general rules of use. Sometimes it is limited to only logo, colors, and typography but sometimes it also refers to photographs, illustrations, and collaterals. The clearer and better the description, the more consistent image for a brand.

We’ve already said that logo is just the tip of the iceberg and the symbol should be equally aesthetically pleasing and functional. A brand book outlines how to use it. The document lists all allowed variations and sizes. It will also tell you:

  • what the logo pictures and how it refers to the brand,
  • what are the different logo variations (f.e. vertical, horizontal, shortened),
  • what colors are in the logo and how to use them (f.e. against images or solid backgrounds),
  • what is the minimal logo size for printing and how big it should be on Facebook,
  • where should the logo be placed on a poster or leaflet,
  • why one should not apply additional visual effects on the logo (f.e. drop shadow or color gradient),
  • how to edit photos to best suit the style of a brand,
  • what are brand colors and how to combine them,
  • how to choose the most suitable typeface for blog header and body.

graphic designers to marketing agency workers to developers and coders. It cuts the time required to complete a design project short and ensure that all branded materials are consistent no matter the contractor – after all, a blue icon in the logo should be blue both on Instagram and exhibition catalogue. According to Lucidpress, brands that are consistently presented are up to 4 times more likely to improve their visibility.

The effectiveness of a brand brand book is measured by accuracy and alignment with company’s profile. As a business owner, you can create it on your own but that requires plenty of time and self-awareness. It is best to trust the design team who created your logo in the first place or learned all about it after analysis. Their experience will help create a full, well-developed brand book that will keep your brand consistent and prevent serious problems in the future.

How to put a brand book to good use

Now you know that a brand book is the perfect tool for designers, artists, and marketing agencies as well as a source of knowledge for new employees. But what about customers?

There’s nothing wrong in being more direct when presenting key company values incorporated into its visual identity and communication. Many brands published their guidelines online or printed in the form of collectible books. Customers who are not aware of them yet, can quickly learn about their values, mission, goals, and personality. This is particularly useful for public institutions and brands that enjoy great visibility. Easily accessible brand book is also a great way to organize (or update) the brand’s image in the minds of existing customers.

A well-made brand book is worth sharing. In an easy to digest and attractive manner it present factual knowledge about a brand, solves specific business issues and speeds up the work:

  • on new collaterals and branded materials,
  • on planning marketing and promotional campaigns,
  • on creating new social media content
  • in the process of changing an agency or contractor,
  • while updating key company values or during rebranding.

A brand book is generally a PDF file that can be sent via email or downloaded from a website. Sometimes it can also be a printed publication (in some cases of collector’s value) or interactive website where different parts of a brand are presented using well-designed graphics and animations.

No matter the medium, it is important that the brand book is consistent and easy to put in practice.

Brand book for a business owner

Some smaller business owners see the cost of hiring an advertising or social media agency as unbearable so they design all needed materials by themselves, based on their personal taste and intuition. More often than not, the face difficult branding or designs problems which results in projects that do not fit the style of a brand or are hard to read.

Businesses that at an early stage invested in full brand book know how to solve such issues. The document suggests the most suitable typeface, where the logo should be placed on a leaflet, and what color to use as background. From business owner’s point of view, a brand book is a way to avoid problems. It is a bit like a designer who’s always there, guides their hand, and helps make better design choices.

There’s no point in waiting for the right moment to task a designer with creating a brand book. It is already gone. Every brand needs a brand book – no matter the type and size. Nowadays even the youngest companies must be active on social media in order to maintain customer engagement and draw in new clients. Almost every post and status update should be accompanied by branded graphic. Even with just a few projects a week, any business use a brand book to spot mistakes that are easy to avoid.

Designer’s advice

How to make sure that a brand book will serve its purpose? It should solve the most common problems and remove any doubts about creating branded materials. It is vital that it balances specific solutions and imposed limitations with a bit of creative freedom. If it is too specific, all branded materials will be very similar and not unique. On the other hand, if the guidelines are too vague, graphics designers may see this as a chance to let their imagination run wild and design something completely unrelated to brand’s existing visual language.

It’s important to stress that most designers are rather reluctant towards creating brand books put together by other designers. It is not about personal preferences – on the contrary. Any logo is the result of many hours of working, thinking, and planning that are extrapolated in the form of basic rules of use and brand guidelines. This is why brand books are usually built by designers who created the original logo. Forwarding this task to other people is ineffective from managerial and financial point of view – to continue somebody else’s work, a new designers must spend additional time to get to know the project and essentially fill predecessor’s shoes.

Redesigning an existing brand book or expanding it with new information (like we did for Kaiterra, our client from China) is a completely different matter. When communication groundwork and overall brand identity guidelines remain unchanged, the designers only need to update the style, layout or select texts within the brand book.

What you should watch out for

Before you collect the brand book along with all necessary files from a branding studio or design, go through it and make sure it contains all vital information:

  • what the logo looks like and how to use it in different contexts,
  • where should the symbol be placed and how big it should be,
  • how far away from other logo should your logo be placed (f.e. on a poster),
  • what is the color palette and how it should be used,
  • how and when to use brand typefaces,
  • what is the key visual and how to use and modify it.

Moreover, it is good when a brand book contains information about non-standard branded materials, like untypical sizings or colors from outside of traditional spectrum. For example, if a brand uses a Pantone color, the brand book should come with an appropriate note as well as additional information about alternatives and allowed replacements (many print shops don’t have Pantone color books).

Make sure to ask about editable files. That concerns not just collaterals (logo, social media templates, website design) but also the brand book. It is good practice to update it frequently – your brand will grow and so will its values. Over time some initial assumptions may become outdated and must be changed to better fit fast-changing trends (within sensible limits). Furthermore, designers rarely possess all the information about target group and should always verify their first solutions, test them, and adjust to customers who constantly change along with the brand itself.

Editable files will make it easier to update the brand book and keep all the information about the brand’s identity and communication in one place.

In short (TL;DR)

Now you know key features of a good brand book and the role it plays in achieving an important goal – consistency in a brand’s visual identity and communication. You also know how and why you should use it for day-to-day collaboration with different partners and contractors. To keep the spirit of precision and accuracy, it is good to organize all this new information and create a handy summary:

  • Brand book can have various form and layout. It works best when it contains the maximum amount of information about your brand – from logo to typography to color and style of communication.
  • Brand book is a tool that speeds up and facilitates collaboration with designers, visual artists, and marketing agencies.
  • Brand books shortens the time needed to create branded materials and makes the process simpler – which translates into financial savings.
  • Brand book holds your brand together and prevents a visual mishmash.
  • Brand book is a low investment but high profit – brands with consistent visual identity and communication can increase their visibility and customer awareness up to four times.
  • It is good to have the brand book designed by the same team who create the brand or at least had a chance to get to know it. Its efficiency draws from accuracy and alignment with brand’s profile.
  • Brand book represents your brand as a person and describes its features, values, and goals.
  • Brand book helps maintain consistent brand image regardless of the situation which directly translates into its success and popularity.
  • Brand book can serve as a tool to introduce new employees to the company as well as increase awareness among customers – both new and existing ones.

A well-made brand book will help create a consistent brand and set a single course for the whole company. It will facilitate collaboration with different contractors and speed up the work on any changes in the future. It makes it easier to avoid many problems and save time and money. Brand book is the essence of your brand and source of knowledge about its values. It guarantees that it is perceived and understood similarly by everyone involved: designers in a marketing agency, developers, your employees, and customers.

At Holy Sheep! basic brand book is the last and final step of a brand design process. Thanks to full control over the creative process, we know what type of information it must contain and how it should be presented for the brand book to become a useful tool in the hands of our client and their clients.


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Piotr Synowiec

Peter Synowiec
co-owner

meee@holysheep.co