blog header showing illustrated elements related to branding

Maybe your company doesn’t yet have a brand book. Or maybe you do have one, but it’s out of date. Either way, it can be hard to know how to develop a set of guidelines that truly express what your company represents, what it values, and what it has to offer. Even if your customers don’t know what a brand book is, they’ll respond to the way it positions your company. 

Brand consistency can increase consumer trust by 30%. That’s because a consistent presentation of your image and messaging across channels communicates that you are truly confident in the value you provide to your customers. 

But for many brands, quality and consistency are regular shortcomings. It can be hard to develop high-quality content when your marketing team is juggling so many tasks on a daily basis. And especially as the demand for visual content increases, companies might struggle to produce enough content — and may feel they need to sacrifice quality in the process. 

A brand book prevents that by laying out clear guidelines for the visual presentation of your brand. You can return to these guidelines again and again for project after project. This saves you time and money, since you don’t have to reinvent the wheel every time. 

What is a brand book, anyway? 

It’s a set of rules and guidelines that helps explain how a brand should look, feel, and operate. If we were to think of a brand as the identity of a business, then the brand book would take its traits and deconstruct and define them. A well-constructed brand book applied regularly ensures brand consistency. 

A brand book is essential for any business that aims to be competitive in its field. When developing one for your company, make sure to include the following elements.

1. Typography

More than ever, today’s brands utilize various channels to communicate with their audiences. While brands must constantly maintain an established voice and tone, they also need to consider the way those words appear. 

It’s important for any brand that relies on text to include a typography section in its brand book. Different typefaces can invoke different emotions. From lighthearted to serious, elegant to energetic, and everything in between, typography can help craft a consistent brand experience.

A typography section in a brand book should list the typefaces and fonts as well as specific uses (general use, headers, body copy, etc.). A brand that has established a primary and secondary typeface in its brand book will already be in a great position to maintain brand consistency.

2. Color Palette

Every leading brand has an established color, and with that comes strong brand recognition.

Try picturing some popular brands as proof: Coca-Cola. Starbucks. McDonald’s. Amazon. You should be able to instantly see that brand’s color because they have all been intentional about color usage. 

Beyond establishing a color palette, a brand book can set guidelines on when, where, and how to use primary, secondary, and tertiary colors. Without the brand book acting as a guide, marketers can accidentally stray beyond the appropriate scope of their brand. As a result, their audiences get mixed messages.

Colors have the ability to convey meaning. Additionally, color theorists have identified that colors also trigger an emotional response or association. For a brand book, it’s important to establish a color palette that complements brand identity. The colors should resonate with the audience in either their meaning or their emotional pull. 

3. Illustration Style

Illustration style deserves its own section in a brand book for any brand that plans on going beyond type and photography. Illustrations have the power to simplify complex concepts and tell compelling stories. They can also help establish brand identity by capturing its traits and values through a consistent style. 

What is a brand book’s role when it comes to establishing an illustration style? A good brand book will provide clear guidelines on how to create a number of illustration types. This includes character, scene, and spot illustrations. The brand book can go into depth on a number of illustration elements, including dos and don’ts of color usage, composition, fill, shape, stroke, background, perspective, and more.

4. Iconography

Iconography is often looped in with illustration style in a brand book. While that’s often better than nothing, ideally, iconography would get its own section in a brand book. That’s because icons are essential elements in visual communication. They improve reader comprehension by being highly recognizable and distilling thoughts down into their most efficient form. Such a foundational element deserves its own section in a brand book.

Icons, being simplified visuals, often have a less robust style than illustrations might. Brands might want to limit color usage or additional flourishes such as background layers or gradients when forming an approach for iconography in a brand book. Whatever approach is taken, the final style must communicate effectively, efficiently, and consistently.

5. Logo Treatment

A brand is much more than its logo, but a logo is arguably the most essential element of a brand. A logo acts as the cornerstone of a brand. A logo develops brand recognition. It tells a story. It evokes a mood. It identifies key information. With so much riding on one graphical element, a logo requires its own section within a brand book.

Once a brand decides on a logo, it needs to make rules about how to use that logo. Common guidelines often list the following, at minimum:

  • Size: Each logo should have consistent proportions and a minimum size.
  • Colors: Some logos might have various color options depending on the brand or use case. 
  • Dos and Don’ts: Giving examples of what not to do is just as helpful as what one can do.

What a brand book is, is a tool for creating and maintaining brand consistency. That’s why every company needs one.

Is There a Difference Between a Visual Language & a Brand Book? 

Yes! A visual language is a tactical deployment of a brand’s visual identity, created for a specific campaign, initiative, or audience in order to achieve specific communication and business goals. A visual language draws on select components of the brand’s visual identity, as well as introducing new visual elements, in order to create a unique visual deployment of the brand.

While a brand’s visual identity is necessarily broad (as it attempts to anticipate all possible visual deployments of the brand), a visual language is more focused and specialized (in order to provide tactical guidance for the specific deliverables comprising a given campaign). A visual language can’t always answer the question, “Is ‘X’ on brand?” like a brand book could.

A brand book can certainly include more than the 5 elements we shared above. What elements do you think are essential in brand guidelines? Let us know in the comments below.

Tim Sheehan

Author Tim Sheehan

Tim Sheehan is a Senior Content Editor for Killer Infographics. He was born and raised in a small town in Pennsylvania, where he also studied English and Philosophy at the local university. Tim’s career in writing began in New York City, just a couple hours from where he grew up in PA. In New York, he spent time developing a broad editorial skill set, from content marketing to copyediting to breaking news. Tim’s never-stop-learning attitude allows him to approach the unique needs of Killer’s clients with the adaptability needed to reach diverse audiences. He believes in the importance of communication and understanding what drives audiences.

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