The term “style guide” may conjure up images of thick, dusty books dictating when and how to use certain punctuation marks. However, when it comes to branding, companies must move well beyond rules regarding commas.

In terms of visuals, a style guide acts as a brand bible, ensuring consistency and targeted messaging across content marketing and all other collateral.

“A style guide can save some companies hundreds of thousands of dollars,” said Brafton Design Director Ken Boostrom. “For example, a large food service and distribution company may visually brand its trucks. The cost alone for a transportation fleet can be a high-cost investment. A brand guide is needed to ensure both visual consistency and marketing message.”

The importance of brand style guides becomes even more evident when you consider how human beings engage with imagery. For instance, the Visual Teaching Alliance reports that 90 percent of information transmitted to the brain is visual, and it is processed 60,000 times faster than text.

Additionally, research has shown visuals tend to stick better in our long-term memories. One study found a user was able to retain 65 percent of visual information after three days while only remembering 10 to 20 percent of written or spoken information.

Visual style guides save you time and money. Hopefully they'll save you from bad taste as well.

Visual style guides save you time and money. Hopefully they’ll save you from bad taste as well.

What is a brand style guide?

Style guides are blueprints for your company’s visual marketing. They contain all information associated with design, offering internal teams an easy-to-use template for creating everything from website content to email newsletters to advertisements.

Such guides empower companies to save time through a point of reference, save money by preventing off-brand production and ultimately engage audiences more effectively thanks to consistent, targeted messaging.

“Image transcends language, both written and spoken,” Ken said. “No matter the language – people will always share a natural understanding of the visual image.”

Of course, knowing just what image best captures your company is half the battle.

“A style guide can save some companies hundreds of thousands of dollars.”

What should be included in your style guide?

Regardless of what color schemes strike you best, there are certain design elements that should be covered in your style guide.

These include:

  • Logo.
  • Color palette.
  • Fonts.
  • Imagery.

Logos act as signposts in the marketing wild, making it vital to create a marker that is aesthetically pleasing and memorable. The size and placement of logos is also essential, whether it concerns content marketing materials or banners at a trade show.

Colors can become just as associated with brands as logos. Consider the fluorescent pinks of T-Mobile and Lyft or the deep brown of UPS. Style guides dictate where specific colors should be used, including for text, backgrounds, logos and other design aspects.

Have a font snob on staff? Creating your style guide is their chance to rejoice!

Have a font snob on staff? Creating your style guide is their chance to rejoice!

While we may be visual creatures, copy is still an integral part of marketing. Whether online or in print, your style guide must outline the size and styling of typography. As with color schemes, consistency is key.

Whether it’s photography or graphics, it’s necessary to create guidelines regarding the types of images your company will use. Are you looking for a more professional feel, or is an edgier authenticity what you’re after? Should people be included in imagery, or do you wish to focus on products, landscapes or abstract concepts? The images you use will help shape your company’s marketing voice.

Keep in mind that depending on your industry, you may have highly specific branding considerations to include in your style guide.

“Some organizations need to have wayfinding systems or signage systems in their guides,” Ken said. “Retail organizations need everything from internal marketing signage to exterior store branding and seasonal rotation. Product companies have packing requirements, and entire style guide chapters are required for both domestic and international consistency.”

How to decide on your guide

You understand its importance, as well as what components should be included, but you’re still struggling to decide what works best for your company? Fair enough.

Instead of agonizing over different shades of blue or ping-ponging between typefaces, it helps to dive deeper and ask yourself what the different branding elements represent for your company.

“If we truly take in human interaction with a brand, then we tend to internally prefer the brand,” Ken said. “Preference is trust, and trust equals bonding in human terms.”

In short, how is your style guide promoting a connection with your prospective customers?

It’s also important to let overall marketing goals guide your efforts. At the end of the day, how are your logos, colors, fonts and images moving you closer to your main objectives?

“How is your style guide moving you closer to your main objectives?”

If you want to be seen as a serious thought leader in your space with years of experience and expertise, chances are you’re not opting for wacky color schemes and Comic Sans font. Then again, perhaps you want to appeal to a younger audience that’s more concerned with innovation than market experience. In this case, utilizing colors and images that align more with staid and stuffy country clubs isn’t going to accomplish your goal.

Style guides act as time- and money-saving tools to help keep branding consistent and targeted, assisting teams with the creation of new content marketing and collateral. While what is found inside these guides often overlaps regardless of the company, specific direction must be based on the company itself and its fundamental marketing aims.

To paraphrase celebrated art critic John Berger, before we speak, we see. Ask yourself: When people look at your company, what are they seeing?

Eric Wendt is a writer and editor at Brafton. He discovered his love of words after realizing he was terrible at math. If he's not updating his Tumblr with poetry he's too embarrassed to share, there's a good chance he's out in search of the perfect pale ale.