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Brand Guidelines are a Living and Breathing Document

We’re all guilty of creating documents for our businesses that are left to gather dust.

Hidden away in long-forgotten folders on our laptops, or even at the bottom of that old filing cabinet, they were created with great intentions; we had big plans for them. Alas, they’re now useless.

That’s one hell of a waste of time, right? And if there’s one element of business in which this is most prevalent, it’s arguably marketing.

Take the humble brand guidelines document, for instance. Many businesses will embark on creating a new logo and brand identity, website, and all of the paraphernalia that comes with it (colours, typography – that kinda thing) and minutely document everything “for future use”.

But when was the last time you revisited your brand guidelines? If you’re scratching your head, you’re not alone, but it’s time to put this right, because brand guidelines should be living, breathing documents.

Embedding within the team

The key to creating brand guidelines that evolve with your company lies with your team. They need to feel connected to them and understand the reasons they exist.

Can you say, hand on heart, that you’ve embedded your brand guidelines within your team?

Marketing directors and company owners will often refer to their brand guidelines as ‘the bible’, but a bible that isn’t read, digested, and understood isn’t going to attract much of a following.

When you create or update your brand guidelines, make sure you share them with the team. Give them ownership of the elements within and explain the reasons the guidelines exist so you get buy-in.

Things change (as 2020 has demonstrated)

We’re not going to apologise for using the ‘C’ word here (again), because it illustrates how dramatically things can change without notice.

If you want an example of how markets, customers, and the economy as a whole can swivel on a sixpence, look no further than the Coronavirus pandemic.

The pandemic has forced many companies to completely change the way they market themselves. Consumers have become even more price conscious, and marketing tactics have had to adapt to a far more nervous and volatile marketplace.

This will impact your brand guidelines in one way or another. It might simply be that you need to adjust the tone you use on your blog, or there may even be elements of your branding that are at odds with the world right now. You may even have pivoted completely and added new services which will also affect your brand guidelines.

It’s why you need to keep close tabs on the document and make changes whenever your hand is forced.


Hey – you’re growing!

If you add more services and products to your portfolio, that means two things:

  • you’re probably growing as a business; and
  • you need to update your brand guidelines!

As your business grows and you start to offer more value to clients, your branding will evolve. For instance, that new product you’ve just launched may need to be represented within your company’s colour palette, or you may need to create a new tone of voice that’s linked to a new service.

The same goes if you acquire new businesses, partners, or integrations. How will these additions impact your branding?

Lastly, what if you merge with another company? That’s a form of growth and, potentially, a pretty significant impact on your original branding.

If you simply leave your brand guidelines as they were from the outset during times of growth and evolution, they’ll quickly become irrelevant, and that will have a seriously negative impact on your marketing (that’s less exciting, right?). As a result, your messaging will become confused, the tone will be off-brand, and you’ll begin to lag behind the competition.


New marketing channels

There are a huge number of marketing channels to explore these days, which means you’ll probably want to experiment with new ways to reach customers.

If you think your existing branding can simply hop along for the ride when you try out a new marketing channel – think again.

For instance, the way you present your brand on Twitter is probably going to be very different from the way you do so on traditional print advertising (yes, that’s still a thing!). Consistency is important, of course, but it’s the smaller details that might need to change.

The way your logo is presented, or the tone of voice are classic examples of branding elements that need to evolve as you try out new marketing channels. This is particularly the case if you decide to head into the world of social media for the first time.

Another example: what if you move from selling via Instagram to a dedicated eCommerce platform? Are your original brand guidelines set up for that kind of switch? Do you have all the assets and collateral you need to make a success of the new platform?


Crossing borders

One of the most exciting things you can do as a business is to expand into foreign markets. It’s a strategy that can help you grow significantly, but it’s also littered with opportunities to inadvertently damage your brand.

For instance, certain colours and words used in your branding may be completely innocuous in your native land, but they could land you in very hot water elsewhere.

Take Pepsi, for example. When the drinks giant launched their products in China, they used the slogan “Pepsi brings you back to life”. Sounds OK, right? Only, in China, it translated as “Pepsi brings your ancestors back from the grave”.


If you’re about to head into new territories, make sure you conduct a thorough brand guideline review first! And check your translations are carried out by someone who understands cultural nuances.


Is it time to revisit your brand guidelines?

If you’re now feeling a bit sorry for your brand guidelines document, we’ve done our job. It probably has been neglected.

But rather than dwelling on that for too long, retrieve it and conduct a thorough review.

It’s not an easy task, and it can actually leave you with a number of unanswered questions.

If that’s the case, before you make any significant changes, be smart and get in touch with us – we’ll help you make the right branding decisions, now and in future!