Brand on the Run…

The Importance of Brand Guidelines

At Innovative Learning Group, my days are filled with creating the “look” for the custom learning solutions we create for a wide array of clients (and industries). It keeps the mundane at bay and makes my job more fulfilling. It can be thrilling to jump from one client to the next, designing an e-learning course, then an interactive PDF, then an infographic, etc. It can also be pretty hectic, wrapping my brain around multiple brands to meet each client’s needs. For me to do this successfully, it takes well thought-out brand guidelines that I can quickly glance at or study in depth when the need arises.

What Is Brand?

I once read that your brand is what people say about you behind your back. Is it friendly? Fun? Boring? Bland? Your guidelines help to keep your company’s “personality” consistent. It tells others what your brand is and what it’s not.

Essentially, brand guidelines are an established set of tools and rules explaining how to implement your branding elements. At a minimum, this typically includes logos, color palettes, typography, imagery, and tone. More in depth guidelines include things such as a mission statement, company values, and the brands history. I’ve seen guides that are 60+ pages and ones that are condensed to a single page. One isn’t necessarily better or worse, it just depends on the company’s size and scope. ILG, for instance, has its own brand guidelines, which fall somewhere in between.

Branding is a very important part of our identity in the training and performance support space. Have you noticed how our blog images are black and white or how our webinars have a consistent look? That is all thanks to a team following our guidelines. As I type this now, I’m using an ILG-branded Word template.

Why Is Brand Consistency Important?

You may wonder why it matters and think “I’ll leave you to deal with it, graphics person.” But you can’t. While knowing the brand is essential for graphic designers (making buttons consistent, keeping layouts varied, yet cohesive, etc.), it can also be a go-to resource for writers, instructional designers, and anyone else creating material for your company.

When a brand is consistent, it builds trust with customers. You see a company’s name or logo and know what to expect. It’s these visual cues that make your audience say, “Yes, I’ll do business with you because I know exactly what I’m getting into.” It’s this stability that drives sales and keeps customers loyal. Think of it this way; would you rather give money to an erratic person who makes impulsive decisions or someone who’s consistent and known for following through?

On the opposite end of the spectrum, brand consistency is wonderful for employees and internal communications. A clear, consistent vision can give employees a sense of purpose in their daily tasks. It’s like a subliminal message, always keeping the bigger picture in the background. It’s also important for attracting new talent as well. When messaging is clean and consistent, there‘s little mystery on what/who you’re dealing with (see my note on customer trust above).

Don’t be afraid to spend time searching for brand guidelines, either for external client work or for your own company. Unfortunately, many organizations can be left in the dark when it comes to these standards. I’ve seen many people get a slap on the wrist from their “brand police” when they’ve gone against brand. Spinning logo anyone?

When everyone involved sticks to the guidelines, the results will be consistent, clear, and have a cohesive message and tone.

With all of that being said, rules were made to be broken. Staying inside of one brand too long can stifle creativity and feel limiting. However, I’d advise “stretching” the brand to the professionals as they know how to deviate from it while still staying in it.

P.S. The number of examples of people straying from guidelines (and just making bad decisions in general) is vast and ever growing. Some blunders are so bad, they wouldn’t be appropriate to share here. But here are a few rough ones, that can hopefully serve as a warning.

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