Prevent Brand Anarchy

“Design is not what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.” – Steve Jobs, co-founder and CEO of Apple, Inc.

Let’s say you’re going to Target and you get to a building that says “Target”, but it has an orange target symbol. Even worse, the “Target” typeface is Comic Sans. Are you sure this is the right place? Really?

People don’t always know why something doesn’t feel right – it can be subtle, or not, if Comic Sans is involved… but they do sense it and when that happens, it’s confusing. Brands are promises that companies make to consumers. Logos are symbols of that promise. A sign of what the experience will deliver. So, making sure your logo and your brand expression is consistent is key to sending the right signals for your brand.

Inconsistency in brand usage creates mistrust – you lose your audience’s attention and worse, their business. It sounds simple, but seeing the same logo, color, type and tone of voice builds repetition that a client or consumer can be confident in. It also establishes brand awareness within your company, boosting brand literacy and advocacy. What company doesn’t benefit from an employee that knows your brand and can speak to it?

This is where brand guidelines come in to play. They are your stepping stone to ensure consistency in style and formatting, support brand advocacy and guard against any dilution of your identity.


Setting Guidance Control

So, does preventing brand anarchy mean brand guidelines have to be rigid? Absolutely not! How rigid do guidelines need to be? The first question to ask is how do you need them to work for you. Does your brand need strict adherence or is there room for flexibility and how much? Look for balance with your brand. What guidance should be fixed, flexible or free? Some guidance should be fixed so your brand is easily recognizable, such as Apple’s tight control over their corporate logo’s color and usage, fonts and tone of voice. There should be enough flexibility to be able to expand on the brand, for example, Dropbox goes beyond “Dropbox Blue” and allows multiple variations of color to use for their logo and backgrounds. Guidance may also build in creative freedom to express the brand in an inspiring way, as Target has with their creative use of their symbol (while keeping the color fixed) with graphics and photography.


Content Building Blocks

Your brand’s logo usage, color and typography are the basic building blocks that should go into a set of guidelines; even starting with a one-page quick start guide gives the core ingredients to consistent brand usage.

If you need robust guidelines that go into greater detail, then you need the whole kit and caboodle. This can go to such depths as the history and definition of the company brand, brand strategy, verbal guidance (e.g., tagline usage, tone of voice, grammar), visual guidance (e.g., logo, color, type, graphics, photography), web UI, signage, livery, ads, packaging, document formatting and so on.

Guidelines work most efficiently when they reach out to different types of readers. For those who are visual (designers and production artists) and those who are verbal (such as writers and marketing folks), the art is in finding balance between verbal and visual content while keeping your documentation informative and inspiring. Write guidelines in the voice of your brand. Guidelines can get too dry and technical… there’s no reason you can’t liven them up in your brand’s voice.

Ideally, your guidelines would be tied to an online brand asset management system that is easy to navigate and provides ready links to download any needed assets. The more guidance you have for your brand, the more consistent the look and feel will be.


Importance of Enforcement

Lead by example. Brand guidelines are not an exercise to be done and then forgotten. They are to be followed and used in a way to maintain brand consistency and recognition. For that to happen, they should be easy to navigate, logical and interesting. And yes, enforced. Make sure your guidelines follow your guidelines!

If your brand allows for flexibility and creative freedom, then support that while making the rules that should be followed clear and concise. Your brand will be better recognized, increase consumer trust and open the door for brand advocacy both inside and outside the company.

A brand is a promise. If you want to keep your brand expression strong, focused and consistent, then clear guidelines are essential. In short, brand anarchy is not on target.