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Step-by-Step Guide to Creating Brand & Editorial Guidelines

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Brand and editorial guidelines are crucial for any company that wants to maintain a consistent brand identity and voice across all of its marketing materials.

To build a strong brand identity, you need everyone associated with your company to project a cohesive and compelling image. That’s where guidelines come in.

Brand guidelines keep your team on the same page when choosing colors, images, language, and fonts.

Editorial guidelines keep your brand’s voice consistent across your blog, social media, videos, and other marketing materials.

Together, these two sets of guidelines help ensure that everyone involved in creating content for the brand — from employees and partners to freelancers — is on the same page regarding style, tone, and messaging.

This guide will help you develop your brand identity and guidelines that will be helpful for your entire marketing team.

Print out the downloadable worksheet and fill it out to clarify your thinking around your brand identity. Then use the brand and editorial guidelines templates to share your thoughts with your team.

What is brand identity?

A brand’s identity is the way the brand expresses itself visually and in words. Brand identity includes everything from the logo and color palette to the tone of voice in your blog posts.

When developing brand guidelines, it’s important to consider all of the ways your brand will be expressed. This could include:

  • Website design
  • Social media posts
  • Email newsletters
  • Print marketing materials
  • The way your staff speaks to customers

Your brand identity should be consistent across all of these channels. You can accomplish this by using the same colors, fonts, and brand voice — tone, word choice, and the overall language style — in all of your communications.

Why is brand identity important?

A strong brand identity helps customers and prospects identify with your company and become loyal superfans.

Think about the people you know who identify strongly with brands like Apple, Harley-Davidson, or Orangetheory Fitness. Those are examples of brands with strong identities that resonate with their target audience.

According to the 2021 Brand Consistency Report by Lucidpress, brands that present a consistent identity across all platforms can increase revenues by up to 23 percent — for most small businesses, that kind of improvement to the bottom line could be life-changing.

Examples of strong brand identity

Thinking about strong brands can help you develop a clearer idea of what brand identity is and how it can benefit your business.

Here are a few examples of companies with strong brand identities:

Nike

Nike’s brand identity includes its signature “swoosh” logo and the company name in a bold, sans-serif font. The brand’s colors are black, white, and a bright shade of Nike “volt” green.

Nike’s brand voice is confident and aspirational, often using first-person pronouns like “I” and “we.” The company’s slogan, “Just Do It,” perfectly captures the brand’s spirit.

Apple

Apple’s brand identity includes its minimalist logo and the company name in a sleek, modern font. The brand’s colors are black, white, and various shades of grey.

Apple’s brand voice is friendly and helpful, using second-person pronouns like “you” and “your.” The company’s slogan, “Think Different,” speaks to its audience of creative professionals and individual thinkers.

Harley-Davidson

Harley-Davidson’s brand identity includes its bar-and-shield logo and the company name in a blocky, old-school font. The brand’s colors are black, orange, and white.

Harley-Davidson’s brand voice is rebellious and edgy, using first-person pronouns like “we” and “us.” The company’s slogan, “Live to Ride, Ride to Live,” perfectly captures the brand’s spirit.

Now that you’ve seen a few examples of strong brand identity, let’s take a look at how you can develop brand guidelines for your own.

How to craft a brand identity

When you’re thinking about how to craft a brand identity, it can be helpful to consider your company’s core values and mission,  leadership, competition, and target audience. Here’s a step-by-step process to help you refine your brand identity.

Start with your core values and mission

Your brand identity should be an extension of your company’s core values and mission. If your business already has a mission statement and a list of core values, take the time to review them. If not, you’ll need to do a little background work.

If you’re not sure what your company’s core values are, here are a few questions to get you started:

  • What do we believe in?
  • What do we stand for?
  • What is our purpose?
  • How are we helping to create a better world?

Once you understand your company’s core values, you can start thinking about how to communicate them through your brand.

For example, if one of your company’s core values is “innovation,” you might want to consider using a modern logo and brand colors. If another core value is “family,” you might want to use a warm color palette and friendly brand voice.

A mission statement is a brief, clear description of what your company does and why it exists. It should be concise, no more than a few sentences long. Your mission statement might be a single-sentence expression of your core values, or it might extend your core values in some way.

Here are a few questions to get you started:

  • What do we do?
  • How do we do it?
  • Why does it matter?

Once you clearly understand your company’s mission, you can start thinking about how to communicate it through your brand.

For example, if your company’s mission is to “help people live healthier lives,” you might want to use a brand voice that is friendly and helpful. If your company’s mission is to “change the way people think about transportation,” you might want to use a brand voice that is rebellious and edgy.

Take a moment to jot down your core values and/or mission statement and some ideas about how to express them visually and through tone of voice.

Current brand identity

Take a look at your website or your favorite marketing materials. What personality do they project? Does it feel like a good fit for your brand? What do you want to keep? What would you like to change?

Make a note of how you are currently conveying your brand identity and whether you like the choices or not. Think in terms of colors, layout, images, fonts, and language.

Target audience and customer personas

Who are you trying to reach with your brand? If you’ve already written a detailed analysis of your target market, read through it to refresh your memory.

If not, narrow your best potential customers to as tight a niche as possible, using demographics like income, location, gender, age, and family status, as well as describing their interests and behavior.

Here’s an example of a target market description to help guide you:

Our target market is young adults, ages 18 to 24, who are college students or recent graduates. They live in urban areas and are interested in fashion, music, and pop culture. They are active on social media and use their phones as their primary means of communication. They are looking for a brand that speaks to their values and helps them express their individuality.

Next, review or create customer personas for your target market. Customer personas are fictional characters who represent your ideal customers.

They help you understand your target market better and make more informed decisions about your brand identity.

To create a customer persona, start with the basics: name, age, gender, occupation, location, and interests. Then, add in a few personality traits and some specific brand preferences.

Here’s an example of a customer persona:

  • Name: Sarah
  • Age: 22
  • Gender: Female
  • Occupation: College student
  • Location: New York City
  • Interests: Fashion, music, pop culture, social media
  • Personality traits: Creative, individualistic, trendsetting
  • Brand preferences: Urban Outfitters, H&M, ASOS
  • What problems does this person face that your company could help them with? Sarah is getting ready to graduate and needs to upgrade her wardrobe from college student to young professional while sticking to a tight budget.

Once you understand your target market and customer personas, you can start thinking about how to appeal to them with your brand.

What do your potential customers want from a brand in your industry? What do they need emotionally to feel at home and comfortable in your market?

For example, if your target market is young adults who are interested in fashion and social media, you might want to use a brand voice that is trendy, creative, and individualistic.

If your target market is older people preparing for retirement, you might want to use a brand voice that is wise, reassuring, friendly, and approachable.

Look at your competition

What are other companies in your industry doing with their brand identity? Research your competition and take note of what you like and don’t like about their brand voices.

Then, think about how to set yourself apart from them with your brand voice.

For example, if all of your competitors are using a brand voice that is friendly and approachable, you might want to use a brand voice that is more playful or edgy.

If they are using a brand voice that is serious and formal, you might want to use a brand voice that is more casual and relaxed.

In other words, look at the bases that aren’t already covered by your peers. Find an opening where your brand voice can stand out.

Take your leadership into account

Your brand voice should reflect the personality of your team. After all, they are the people who will be creating content, representing your brand to customers, and living your brand values every day.

For example, if your team is full of funny people, you might want to use a brand voice that is witty and humorous. You might want to create a compassionate and sustainable brand if they are environmentally and socially conscious.

Flesh it out

At this point, you should have a good idea of your target market, what brand voice(s) would appeal to them, and how you can set yourself apart from your competition.

  • If your brand were a person or cartoon character what would it be like? (professor, surfer, hippy, enthusiastic puppy, smartest person in the room, helpful nurse?)
  • What kinds of words does your brand use? (formal, technical, slang, made-up words)
  • What kind of tone does your brand have? (humorous, serious, sarcastic)
  • What kind of values does your brand have? (sustainability, family-oriented, community-minded)

See if you can distill your brand identity into a single sentence.

Now that you understand your brand’s personality well, it’s time to start thinking about how you can express that personality in your marketing materials. That’s where your brand guidelines come in.

How to create brand guidelines

The next step is to spell out the details that will reflect your brand. Some of these, like your logo, are probably elements you already have in place. Use the brand guidelines template to gather them in one place.

Company name

Be very clear about how your company name should be spelled and written. Include any nicknames or variations that are acceptable.

For example, “You can call us ‘Acme Widgets,’ but please don’t write it as ‘Acmewidgets.'”

Or, “We’re ‘The XYZ Corp,’ but our nickname is ‘The XYZ.’ You can use either one, but always include the article The in front of XYZ.”

Logo

Your logo should encapsulate the personality you want to deliver. Some examples of logos that deliver strong brand identity include :

  • Apple: Minimalistic, modern, and sleek
  • Nike: Strong, fast, and dynamic
  • Lego: Whimsical, playful, and imaginative

Taglines/catchphrases

Your brand might have a catchy tagline or catchphrase that you use in your marketing materials. Be clear about how you want it to be used, if there are any variations that are acceptable, and where it should appear (for example, next to your logo).

If you don’t have one yet, now is a good time to come up with one. Keep your brand identity in mind as you brainstorm ideas.

  • Acme Widgets: We make your life easier
  • Nike: Just do it
  • Lego: Imagination at play

Signature colors

Most brands are associated with a single color or a simple color combination. For example, National Geographic and McDonald’s are both strongly associated with their yellow logos and often use that color throughout their marketing.

Imagine how differently you would view a brand that uses black and silver as its signature colors, versus a brand that chooses red and yellow.

Colors can evoke emotion and are often used in specific ways in marketing. For example:

  • Red: excitement, energy, and passion
  • Yellow: grabs attention
  • Blue: trustworthiness, reliability, and calmness
  • Green: nature, health, and relaxation
  • Black: sophistication, power, and elegance
  • White: purity, cleanliness, and peace

Your brand’s signature color (or colors) should be included in your brand guidelines, along with any accent colors you want to include in your brand palette.

Signature artwork style

If you want to use specific artwork or illustrations in your marketing, make sure to include examples in your brand guidelines. This could be a sketch style like Moleskine uses, or a more defined illustration style, like MailChimp’s hand-drawn images.

If you’re using photography, specify what types of photos you want to use. For example, do you want close-ups, wide shots, candid photos, or posed portraits? A yoga company might want photos with lots of white space in them to imply peace, or a sports company might use mostly close-ups of athletes’ faces.

Including examples will help give your brand personality and make sure that everyone involved in creating marketing materials knows what direction to take.

Typefaces

Most brands use two primary fonts — one for headlines and one for body copy — across all their marketing materials. In some cases, a brand will use a different font for digital materials than they do for print.

Classic fonts are usually best for headlines, while more modern fonts are often used for body copy. For example, Coca-Cola uses a classic serif font (Spencerian Script) for its brand name and a sans-serif font (Futura Bold Condensed Oblique) in its slogan.

Your brand guidelines should include the fonts you want to use and how and when to use them. For example, “We prefer headlines in Arial Bold and body copy in Times New Roman.”

Consider, page layouts

Many companies have specific page layouts and design elements that reflect their brand.

For example, a law firm might want to use a more traditional layout with lots of text, while an architectural firm might prefer to use more white space, headlines in lower case, and periods instead of dashes in phone numbers.

Editorial guidelines

Editorial guidelines provide guidance to writers, editors, and other marketing professionals who write for your brand. They help your entire team speak in the same voice, which keeps your brand identity consistent.

How to create your editorial guidelines

Start with a style guide

Rather than spelling out every linguistic choice for your writers, you can specify a style guide (and add any modifications for your brand).

The Associated Press (AP) Stylebook is the most widely used style guide in the U.S., but you could also use The Chicago Manual of Style, the MLA Handbook, or even the brand new Microsoft Writing Style Guide.

State your target audience/personas

You’ve already written these for your brand guidelines. Repeat them here so your writers know who they’re speaking to.

Describe your brand voice

This is where your brand identity comes in. You want everyone who writes for your brand — whether an employee, freelancer, or even someone posting on social media — to use the same voice.

Describe your brand identity in this section, and then give any specific guidance you can on how you want that identity to come across in writing.

For example, if you want to sound friendly and approachable, you might say, “write like you’re sending a casual email to a friend.” If you want to sound more formal, you might say, “use proper grammar and avoid slang.”

Brand messaging

In this section, spell out how you want the writer to handle trade jargon, common words associated with your field, and any specific product names, trademarks, or catchphrases associated with your business.

This could include specifying how to use certain industry-specific terms, abbreviations, acronyms, and made-up words (like “Googling”).

Social media guidelines

If you’re active on social media, you should have a section devoted to how you want your brand to be represented there.

This could include everything from specifying the types of photos you want to use to giving guidance on what kinds of topics you do and don’t want to post about.

Additional considerations

Brand identity is an opportunity to be very clear about where your company stands on issues of inclusion, equality, etc.

For example, the style guide for The Atlantic includes a section on pronoun usage, stating that “the presumption should be toward the use of an individual’s chosen pronouns.”

If you want to include any guidance on how to handle potentially sensitive topics in your brand identity section, this is the place to do it.

Putting it all together

Whether you’re creating a brand identity for the first time or refining your guides, you’ll find our downloadable worksheets and templates helpful.

Use the brand identity worksheet to think through all the aspects of your brand’s character.

Then, use our brand identity guidelines and editorial guidelines templates to create documents your team and contractors can use to project a strong, cohesive personality for your brand.

Remember that you can always talk to a content specialist at ClearVoice to help shape your content strategy, hire writers, or let a team of professionals manage your content marketing.

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About the author

Lauren Haas

Lauren Haas is an entrepreneur and writer with a passion for small business and marketing. Based on more than 25 years of experience as an entrepreneur, she writes about content marketing and other small business topics for a variety of websites and creates strategies for clients.