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How and Why to Create a Brand Standards Manual

As a savvy marketer, you understand the importance and value of a strong corporate brand. You have invested heavily in building your firm’s brand and spent time and marketing dollars promoting it to your clients and prospects. But if elements of your brand are not adhered to consistently, your brand will weaken and eventually fail. A brand standards manual is an essential tool to define, unify and regulate your brand components. Here’s how to create one:

Start with your logo

Your firm logo is a core component of your corporate brand. It’s crucial that your logo is always reproduced correctly. Create a page called “Logo Usage”. Place your primary logo on the page and label it “Primary Logo”. Place alternate, acceptable variants underneath the primary logo and label each. Alternate acceptable variants may include:

  • A black and white version of the logo
  • A version with or without the tagline
  • A “reversed” version of the logo (where the logo is white and the background is a solid color)

Do not offer too many acceptable variants, three or four tops.

Clockwork-Good-Logos

Next, show examples of unacceptable logo variations. Label each one to identify why it is unacceptable, and put a red “slash” through the logo so it is extremely obvious it is not permitted. I like to include examples of the big “no-nos” that give me designer-nightmares:

  • A disproportionately scaled logo
  • A logo recreated in the wrong font
  • An incorrectly colored logo
  • A logo where the elements are moved (such as stacked or split apart)

If you have seen misuses of your logo, such as an old logo that’s popping up, or any other errors, include it on this page.

Clockwork-Bad-Logos

Define corporate colors

Managing your corporate colors is very tricky. Colors will look different depending on a variety of factors. Create a page called “Brand Colors”. Place and fill boxes on the page for each of your corporate colors. Next to each box, define:

  • The PMS (Pantone Matching System) number for that color
  • The RGB and Hexadecimal formula for that color
  • The CMYK formula for that color

Pantone colors are specified for “spot” color printing (such as for business cards and stationery) when only a few inks are used. RGB and Hexadecimal colors are specified for on-screen applications, such as PowerPoint and web. CMYK formulas are used when printing brochures, ads, and other components where photos and full-color graphics are incorporated into the design.

Fonts, fonts, fonts

How many times have you caught a proposal on its way out the door with a wacky font emblazoned across the cover page? A wrong font (dare I even mention Comic Sans?) can make a well-written document appear amateurish. On a page titled “Brand Typography”, list:

  • Primary and secondary acceptable fonts. I like to include an actual alphabet with upper and lowercase letters, to illustrate exactly what the font should look like.
  • Additionally, I often show a sample page of text with headline, subhead, body text, bullets, photo caption, etc.
  • In large letters, make sure to say something along the lines of “no other fonts or variations should be used in any communications, internally or externally”.

Imagery must be on-brand

If photos, illustrations or graphics are an integral component to your brand, be sure to make note in the manual. Show actual examples of the imagery and explain why it is appropriate and supports your brand. You may also want to show examples of unacceptable imagery, especially if you have seen tacky clip-art or cheesy stock photos creeping into PowerPoint documents.

Messaging is key

Your brand is not just the colors and images you use, it is also the words you choose to describe yourselves. Correct style of messaging should be included in your brand manual. Consider incorporating:

  • Your firm’s tagline, if you have one
  • Mission statement
  • Firm overview
  • Sample project description and/or team member bio

Brand standards manuals can be fairly simple documents, or lengthy, detailed books. We design manuals very much in keeping with the firm’s brand, so the manual itself becomes a visual representation of the content it espouses.

Publishing and promotion

Once you have completed your brand standards manual, you need to make sure people use it. Save it as a PDF and email it to everyone at your firm, with a short note explaining why adhering to brand standards is so important. I call this “Being a Brand Champion”, and encourage everyone at the firm to be an ambassador of the brand. (I even include a page at the end of the manual explaining what it means to be a “Brand Champion.”) If you are launching a new brand, I always encourage my clients to have a brand launch party. Give everyone a t-shirt or cap with the new logo, and print hardcopies of the manual for distribution. Always send a PDF copy of the manual to printers, ad agencies, and external vendors who will implement your brand.

By creating a brand manual and documenting the basic elements of your firm’s brand, you will help keep your brand consistent and educate employees and vendors as to correct implementation.


Vanessa’s article first appeared in SMPS Boston’s Outlook, June 10, 2015.