What does Starbucks, Apple and Tesla have in common? They are all brands with a cult-like following. In marketing, you learn that making a brand out of your business will give you a serious competitive edge over others. This is because a brand works exactly like your favorite celebrity. It has its own look, voice, standards and even a personality with which it portrays itself. And people who connect with the traits of one brand, they become its lifelong customers.
Now what if you wanted to turn your startup into a famous brand. How would you go about this task? The answer you are looking for is the ‘Brand Manual’. It is the piece of document that can easily be terms as the DNA of your brand. It tells everyone about your brand’s personality, its looks, its voice, values and the underlying mission.
Creating a simple booklet that catalogues the specific colors, type, logos, imagery, patterns, taglines, etc. of a brand makes sure the brand machine runs smoothly.
Remember: wherever there’s a brand there should be a brand manual.
Brand manual sets the tone of everything
If you are a founder of a startup or soon going to be one, the first thing you need to do is to create a brand manual right now. Doing so will make your life easier as a founder. It will set the tone of everything that is to come your way. It will tell you why, how and what your brand really is. From the design of your logo to the way you will write your Press Release, the brand manual will tell you the proper way your brand does all this stuff. Your brand manual will also keep things from getting complex with the growth of your brand. Your designs, content and media outlets will have grown immensely by that time but your brand manual will have established the way your brand works at that point of time too. Give a read to this manual by Fogg to see how a brand manual should be designed for a potentially growing brand.
Brand manual tells the story of why your brand behaves a certain way
A brand manual is a really great chance for a brand’s design team to explain the specific choices made for a brand. Check out this style guide for the channel Animal Planet, particularly the page on color palettes. Here it explains how each color has been carefully sampled from the animal kingdom and then goes on to explain what emotions each color conjures. When creating your own style guide, keep in mind that for whoever reads and executes your rules, it’ll be easy for them to just blindly follow design rules, but it’ll be even easier to follow them when each rule is explained and given reason. Check out the guidelines over here.
Brand manual tells your brand’s positioning
One of the most important things a startup’s founder needs to work on is the startup culture. Is your brand luxury, consumer based, cutting edge or is it a different beast altogether? A startup needs to establish its culture as early as possible so that all employees remain on the same page. And this will also help you in hiring new employees. You will know immediately if the potential candidate will fit in your startup’s culture or not.
A brand manual is very effective when communicating your culture to your employees. It will guide them what your startup’s principles and core values are. A brand manual will help you create a consistent culture throughout your startup.
Even the way your brand manual is designed will communicate how you want your startup to be positioned. For example, Skype’s manual uses humor and friendly tone into the explanations through instructions that are worded like “Never abuse our logo, it doesn’t have arms so it can’t fight back (our lawyers however, are another story).” Figure out your brand’s tone and consider introducing this to the manual in a unique way that doesn’t compromise the information but enhances it.
Brand manual saves time during creative tasks
If your startup is going to grow as big as you imagine, there’s no doubt you’re going to need a brand manual. Most content creators learn and understand concepts better when given direct visual examples, so why not capitalize on that opportunity within your brand manual. And this is one of the biggest benefits of having a brand manual for your brand, your creative team doesn’t have to reinvent the wheel. They know every detail that your brand uses like color palette, visual elements or the typography. All they are left to do is to create the desired content or visuals using your predetermined standards.
Also, if your brand has a custom typeface that it uses, it’s a good idea to provide some guidelines as to how somebody should ideally use it. Phone company Optus rebranded themselves in the previous few years, moving from a corporate aesthetic to one that is “brutally non-corporate”, and with that came two custom typefaces. Since these typefaces are more organic and handcrafted, each letter has 3 alternatives to avoid repeating letterforms and make written communications appear hand written. This typeface is given specific instructions and examples for use throughout the manual to ensure proper and consistent use. If there are any specific settings or techniques to any of your brand elements, be sure to specify them in as much detail as necessary.
Brand manual avoids confusion internally and externally
Confusion arises when the number of people working on your design projects grow. A comprehensive brand manual will ensure you don’t dilute your brand image and create maximum impact with all your visual assets. Your employees uniform, your website’s structure, your store’s outlook and every other detail about your brand will be available to all the parties involved. This results in less confusion and bring everybody on the same page.
We all know how Apple looks like, right? And why is this so clear to us? The answer is a well-maintained brand, thanks to a meticulous set of style guidelines. This manual for official Apple product retailers is just one example of how detail-oriented Apple is. With concise and detailed explanations on how to use just about every Apple asset, there’s really no excuse for any retailer’s errors in upholding the Apple brand.
Brand manual promotes consistency in everything your brand does
Ever heard the term ‘pixel perfect’? Well, it’s a phrase Google not only use to describe their icons but one that they execute. Google (now Alphabet) has a large number of subsidiaries covering a whole spectrum of technological domains. Yet all of Google’s divisions convey the same message and are styled according to a very distinct Google taste. This is one of the reason why Google is so consistent in all of its domains. Doing so would have been extremely difficult without a proper brand manual. Google is of course a huge brand, so their visual asset manual alone is detailed and meticulous, covering all bases, right down to the way individual pixels should be used when creating icons. Check out the Google’s manual here!
Consistency is really important when you want to communicate your brand’s core message across. However, when it comes to creating a manual that covers a big brand, it can be tricky to include all aspects of it, not forgetting about all the sub-brands too. Of course, the bigger the brand, the bigger the manual, so don’t leave out any important elements to keep the manual short.
So how can you create a good brand manual?
Well, the first draft of the brand manual should be created by the startups founders themselves. They should include the core values and the basic details of the brand’s personality. Once the first draft is completed you can then consult a professional branding specialist on how you can improve your brand manual. Like all other things in the startup world, perfection will only be achieved after some time. So, don’t try to come up with the perfect brand manual in your first try. Just start now and keep on improving as you progress. That’s the key to a good brand manual.