Take a few seconds to think of your favorite company. What comes to mind? Perhaps you’re imagining a specific logo, a color, or even a slogan. It only takes a quick thought to visualize the company, but what is the key to making it so recognizable? The answer is a style guide that bundles a brand’s identity into one rulebook. Yes, having a “rulebook” for your brand may sound intimidating, but a style guide is a foolproof foundation for building brand consistency.
What is a style guide?
A style guide is a reference document that specifies all visual aspects of your brand. It provides universal instructions on how your brand should (and shouldn’t) be portrayed to your audiences. Key components of a style guide include colors, logos, typography, and imagery that aligns with your brand’s identity. A well-executed style guide also identifies the intended tone and voice of brand messaging, encompassing all aspects of your brand identity.
Your style guide gives direction to any type of content for your company, including presentations, business cards, social media posts, and more. Your style guide should not only be used internally by employees but also shared with external partners to ensure that they are representing your brand correctly.
Why should your company have a style guide?
Consistency is key when creating content for your business. A recent study reported that consistent presentation of a brand has been seen to increase revenue by 33%. A style guide that outlines the standard visual elements of a brand can ensure that all your company’s content maintains a cohesive look and feel. Keeping your branding consistent also increases the awareness of your company. If your content conflicts with each other, your customers may feel confused and less acquainted with the brand.
Remember how it only took a few seconds to visualize your favorite company? Consistent branding plays a crucial role in audience recognition. As a small business, building brand awareness can be a challenge. A style guide is the first step in making your business identifiable to your customers.
While developing a style guide may seem like a tedious process, it will save you time in the long run. Having a style guide will streamline your content creation. When visual guidelines are clear to your employees and partners, there’s more time to focus on creative content rather than spending time deciding what design elements look best every time.
Components of a great style guide
Brand Story: Include a summary of your company, its offerings, its mission and vision statements, and its core values. Your brand story can also introduce tone and voice, intended audiences, and explanations behind the company name and tagline. Putting this information at the forefront of your style guide establishes the brand’s foundation and helps users understand the basics of your company.
Logo: It’s important to specify guidelines for perhaps the most iconic part of a brand. Include all approved versions of your company logo in your style guide along with proper sizing and proportion information. Give clear directions on how much spacing the logo needs in relation to other visual content. If you offer your logo in different colors, make sure to include the correct usage of each variation.
Color: Your brand should have no more than four primary colors. In addition to adding color swatches to your style guide, you should also add all information needed to reproduce the colors accurately. This means including RGB and HEX codes for digital assets, CMYK codes for print assets, and Pantone values (though Adobe is making it difficult to use these).
Typography: Like colors, your number of brand fonts should be limited. In your style guide, note the fonts and their usages. What font should be used for headings? And for paragraphs? What sizes should be used? There’s a lot that goes into typography choices that a seasoned designer could assist you with.
Imagery: Define the genre of images and illustrations that you want your brand to utilize. Whether your company is represented by dramatic action shots or family-oriented portraits, it’s important to outline best practices for these types of visuals. To do this, you should include photos your company has used in the past. You can also display stock photos that represent your brand identity.
The “Don’ts”: Including how NOT to represent your brand can be just as helpful as outlining what you DO want. Don’t be afraid to specify incorrect usage of your logo, color palette, typography, or imagery so those mistakes won’t manifest in your content.
The above are the main components of a good style guide, but the contents don’t have to stop there. The more specific your style guide is, the more consistent and efficient your content strategy will be. Keep in mind that implementing a style guide doesn’t happen overnight. The guide should be enforced throughout your company, both internally and externally, to guarantee success. Make it a habit to refer to the style guide when creating any type of content. Then, you’ll be one step closer to achieving the brand awareness that your company is looking for.
Interested in creating a style guide for your company? Book a call with Sarah today to learn more.
So you’ve got a great idea and want to start a business. You just… start, right? Not so fast. If longevity is what you’re after, you need to work on branding.
Branding is a general term that encompasses many moving parts relating to your business. It establishes your identity beyond just the products or services you sell. It gives your customers something to remember you by, something to engage and connect with. It’s what makes your company memorable and stand out among the competition.
There are so many things to consider when it comes time to brand a business! It can be overwhelming, with so many do’s and don’ts out there. I’ve put together my 10 commandments of branding to try and organize all the best advice I’ve heard and learned by experience.
1. Thou Shalt Not Put the Cart Before the Horse.
Before you think about designing a logo or coming up with a catchy tag line, you must identify your brand’s core. This is typically made up of the following parts:
- Mission/Purpose—What the brand aims to accomplish for its audience
- Vision—The ideal world the brand is trying to reach for
- Values—What the brand believes in and stands for
This core is the underpinnings of your brand culture and should guide everything you do. (No pressure, right?) You should be considering your core when creating your visual identity, defining your brand voice, and creating any content moving forward.
When creating your core, make sure you consider your organization’s past, present, and future to make sure you’re positioning correctly. You don’t want to create a brand now that you will outgrow later. (Design is one thing; you can always “rebrand” visually. Your mission, vision, values—those should be long-term and lasting.)
It’s perfectly OK to let emotion guide your core! The best brands take a firm stand for what they believe in and uphold their promises to their audience. Studies have shown that people are more brand loyal to those that share their values, so be clear about what exactly that is.
After your core is defined, it should be much easier to find your unique selling proposition (USP). This is what sets you apart from your competition and encompasses the benefits and value you bring to your audience.
2. Thou Shalt Keep It Real.
Instead of putting on a show and trying to be something you’re not, you need to strive for authenticity in your branding. This means walking the walk instead of just talking the talk. I know it’s scary—wearing your heart on your sleeve is a sure way to get it crushed. But top brands know that people want genuine connections instead of salesy, immediate-best-friend vibes.
A big part of authenticity is making sure everyone involved in your brand understands the core mission, vision, and values and embodies those principles. If you walked into a Patagonia store and someone was wearing leather pants and drinking from a single-use water bottle, there would be a major disconnect.
Think about Disney World, for example. Every experience on a Disney property is carefully constructed to seem magical. Every employee is chosen to continue this experience, no matter how small the interaction is. Cast members are never to be half-dressed in front of patrons. All this makes sense when you find out their brand core principles:
- Mission: The mission of The Walt Disney Company is to entertain, inform and inspire people around the globe through the power of unparalleled storytelling, reflecting the iconic brands, creative minds and innovative technologies that make ours the world’s premier entertainment company.
- Vision: To be one of the world’s leading producers and providers of entertainment and information.
- Values: Optimism, innovation, decency, quality, community, and storytelling.
That magical experience is a form of storytelling, which entertains and inspires people en masse. And you want to talk about community? How many people do you know who are die-hard Disney fans? They meet someone else wearing a Disney shirt or with a Disney bumper sticker and immediately know they’ve found a kindred spirit.
Being authentic goes beyond the customer experience, though. Your brand’s interactions should be genuine and positive for your employees, too. Without their belief in the brand and participation on its behalf, the company will not be able to pull off the type of customer loyalty brands envy Disney for.
3. Thou Shalt Not Try To Please Everyone
Being all things to all people is impossible, and trying is going to make you spin your wheels with no traction. You need to identify your potential customers, aka your target audience. These are the people you need to relate to, speak to, and identify with.
Some questions to help you identify your target audience:
- Who would benefit from my product or service?
- What are their pain points (problems they need solved)?
- What are their characteristics and demographics?
- Are they formal or casual?
- Do they take a long time to make purchasing decisions, or will they hop on to a trend?
- Where do they hang out online (or even IRL)?
The best way to relate to your target audience is by conducting market research. This can be difficult if you don’t know where to find your potential customers, but do as much investigating as possible.
Once you’ve identified your target audience and learned all about them, it’s time to figure out what kind of relationship you want with them.
4. Thou Shalt Have Personality
Don’t know what a brand voice is? It’s your brand’s personality and the way it speaks and relates to your audience. Is your brand quirky, like Dollar Shave Club? Is your brand formal, like De Beers? Is it comfortable, like Ikea?
Timing-wise, establishing your brand voice should come after you define your core and define your target audience. But make sure you figure it out before you release messaging—and probably even before creating your visual identity. All branding elements are tied together, so you need to show your personality throughout.
Whatever your brand’s personality is, make sure you choose messaging and content formats that convey it clearly. For example, I doubt De Beers is on TikTok… it’s not a formal platform and doesn’t scream “luxury” to me. (Yep, just checked and they do not have an account.)
On the other hand, Dollar Shave Club has a quirky and hilarious TikTok channel with relatable—did I mention funny?—videos. Sure, they promote their products, but they do it in an entertaining way that keeps their brand’s voice and personality on center stage.
Don’t forget to incorporate your brand’s personality into all aspects of the customer experience! Even if it’s a transactional email like a receipt, these are touchpoints where you can interject some fun details that show who your brand is.
5. Thou Shalt Not Operate In a Vacuum
In a perfect world, every business would only have to worry about themselves and their own strategy. Since we live in the real world, you cannot make the mistake of ignoring your competitors! You MUST assess other companies in your space and figure out how you fit into the industry.
This is not permission to get hung up on your competition and try to copy everything they do, though. You still should be doing your own thing, but you need to take into consideration what else is being offered, promised, and delivered by others.
And as confusing as it sounds, you also have to consider who COULD be your competition in the future. Take Corning, for example. It’s a glass company that is known in households everywhere for their bakeware. Guess what they provide now, though? Touchscreen glass. They saw an opportunity when screens were becoming ubiquitous and acted on it. No one could have predicted that move, but other glass manufacturers probably wish they had seen that opportunity earlier.
You also have to be able to recognize trends in the marketplace. Trends become that way because they seem like a good idea, so everyone jumps on. Do you want to be a pioneer of trends, or a follower? It’s OK to follow a trend as long as it upholds your brand core. However…
6. Thou Shalt Consider The Consequences
You have to be careful with trends! There is a bigger picture, and you have to consider all angles.
The key is to remain consistent. “But wait, you just said it’s OK to join trends?” It is possible to join a trend while remaining consistent with your branding. Take the “debranding” trend that’s happening now. Major brands are updating their logos to be more streamlined and simplified. Everyone from Burger King to Burberry has been removing details, shading, and unnecessary elements from their brand identity.
Ben Schott of Bloomberg says that this is in part due to the need for mobile-first design. When you’re looking at a tiny screen, all those details just muddle your logo. Simpler is often better.
To ensure consistency, make sure everyone in your organization knows your brand’s mission, vision, and values. Creating a brand handbook is a great way to keep these top of mind. You can add guidance on visual identity, a glossary of terms and phrases to maintain your brand voice and personality, and tips for keeping your messaging on point. Circulate it to your marketing staff and beyond, keeping in mind all those brand touchpoints across departments.
Even when you have consistency across your brand, you still have a lot of flexibility. As long as everything points back to your brand’s core, you’re free to try out trends—or create them!
7. Thou Shalt Keep It Simple
Anytime content is created—whether it’s your logo design, website copy, or a slide deck—it’s tempting to go overboard with details and information. The thing is, people can’t absorb too much information without tuning out completely. Keeping it simple is always the best way to go.
Just look at Apple’s logo throughout the years. The very first Apple “logo” can’t even be called a logo. It’s a full, detailed image in an old etching style. This didn’t even last a year before the Apple that we all know was launched. Sure, it’s been multiple colors and stylized differently, but that Apple outline with a single bite missing has been iconic for over 40 years. It’s easy to spot and represents the company so well that anyone who sees it immediately knows what to expect.
Other examples of keeping it simple visually are Nike’s “swoosh,” the McDonald’s golden arches, and even Lacoste’s alligator. But simple isn’t just a visual principle. You should aim to be clear and concise in all your messaging, no matter what medium or platform it’s released on. Take a look at the examples below:
- Granola’s ingredients are sourced from the highest mountains of Andalasia, untouched by any chemicals. Our products are for the discerning citizen who aims to live their best life in a tiny house by the beach and grow their own patchouli. Granola is the best choice for anyone who wants their food to taste like cardboard!
- Eat clean. Live simple. Choose Granola.
Obviously, this is an exaggeration! But the point stands: keeping your copy unfussy and to the point is the key to winning your audience’s attention.
8. Thou Shalt Not Over-commit or Overshare
There are two points in this commandment, and both are firm no-nos. Don’t spread yourself too thin, and don’t be annoying with your content.
First, let’s discuss over-committing. It’s so tempting to be everywhere at once, isn’t it? The minute a new social media channel pops up and becomes trendy, people are curious and want to join. But if you have a marketing team of two people and you’re managing 5 other channels (not to mention all the other duties the marketing department has), will you be able to start a new channel AND do it well?
There’s something to be said for those who can learn to say no. Not to brag, but I am particularly proud of myself for not joining TikTok as a creator. I seriously considered it, but I already have an Instagram account and realized that I don’t have the bandwidth to maintain both. I focused on creating more reels and publishing more consistently on Instagram and I’m staying off TikTok for now.
You don’t want to half-ass anything because that’s just not a good look. Be selective and choose to show up purposefully wherever your audience can be found instead of being everywhere just for the sake of it. Write and develop quality content that speaks to your audience and publish it where you can be—you guessed it—consistent.
Next point: There’s a fine line between being authentic and oversharing, and it’s called having a filter. It’s not likely that every single thing you do in a day is relevant to your brand’s core, so there’s no need to tell them every detail. Each piece of content you publish should be furthering your mission, underlining your vision, or representing your values.
Behind-the-scenes content is a popular way to humanize a brand. An business owner who is also a mom might share some snaps of balancing her work with parenting to relate to her values. She wouldn’t (shouldn’t!) share a photo of potty training her toddler, though. Oversharing is taking things one step too far, and if you have to ask yourself then you probably shouldn’t share it.
9. Thou Shalt Not Make False Promises
This was important enough to include as a commandment, but it should be pretty obvious and not need much explanation. DO NOT overhype your company or its products/services. If you make promises you can’t keep, you’re killing your brand’s reputation. In the age of social media, word of mouth spreads faster than ever before. Reviews speak volumes and there are plenty of platforms for people to make their experiences with you known.
10. Thou Shalt Keep Calm and Carry On
Part of the fun of marketing is being able to experiment with tactics, channels, media, and messaging. You’re going to make mistakes, and that’s OK! I was just telling my daughter earlier tonight that everyone makes mistakes, but we should learn from them and not repeat them.
If you make a mistake that requires an apology, deliver it promptly and sincerely and then move on. If it’s a mistake that affects the company’s bottom line, make sure you analyze the numbers so that you know what not to do next time. The most important thing is to act responsibly, and everything will work out.
Even if you do (or don’t do) all these things and execute perfectly, you can’t expect instant results. Building an audience takes time. Generating leads takes time. Bringing in revenue takes time. Be patient, stay true to your brand’s core, and have fun with it!
What do you think of my 10 commandments? Are there any that I forgot? Are there any you disagree with? I’d love to hear from you!
Did you know that 37% of the United States population—104 million people—listened to at least one podcast in the last month? The format is more popular than ever, with more than 700,000 podcasts available online.
So what does this mean for your nonprofit organization or association? In short, it means that you could be missing out on a lot more audience to receive your message.
The term podcast, in case you didn’t know, refers to a series of on-demand audio content that users can listen to. People subscribe to podcasts they like, and either listen online or download them to their computer or smartphone.
There are tons of how-to blogs out there on creating a podcast. A great one from Podcast Insights goes through each step with detailed information. What we’re tackling today is WHY your association needs a podcast.
Establish Your Nonprofit as an Industry Thought Leader
What better authority is there in your industry than your association? By creating a podcast, you can position your brand as the literal voice of your cause. Aim to answer questions your members, constituents, or the media have about industry practices and address timely and interesting topics.
You don’t need to completely reinvent the wheel to provide thought leadership. Blogs, whitepapers, and even video content can be repurposed to provide insight for a new audience.
Bolster Relationships With Your Key Stakeholders
Your board of directors likely meets regularly to guide the mission and strategic planning of your nonprofit. Recognize them for the experts they are and ask for topic ideas that will resonate with your members. Don’t stop at the highest level, either; chapter leaders make great resources, too!
Depending on the format you decide on, you might want to interview key players on the podcast. Fortunately, you have built-in connections within your organization who you can invite on the podcast. I guarantee they will be flattered at being asked, and you’ll capitalize on their involvement with your association. The beauty of this format is that each interviewee will market the podcast to their connections, exposing you to new potential followers.
Connect With Another Segment of Your Audience
Despite the 700,000 podcasts out already out there, you’ll actually encounter less competition with this format. There are approximately 2 million blog posts published daily and 500 hours of video uploaded to YouTube every minute. In comparison, the chances of reaching your audience via podcast are good.
You’ll also connect with people who are already aware of your organization but prefer to listen rather than read. Remember, we all learn and absorb information in different ways! This audience often multitasks while they listen, using your podcast to enhance what they are already doing—whether it’s their daily commute, working out at the gym, or doing house or yard work.
Develop Authentic Relationships Between Your Audience and Your Brand
You know how it’s so easy to misunderstand the tone or meaning behind a text message or email? The podcast format allows so much personality to shine through and creates familiarity with your listeners. While it’s important to maintain your brand’s voice and tone, the more casual and comfortable vibe of a podcast will resonate with your audience. You can even invite them to contribute by providing a form on your website. You can ask for topic ideas and other feedback to incorporate into future shows.
Generate Non-Dues Revenue for Your Association
It’s not always easy to raise money for a nonprofit organization, and many end up relying on membership dues to stay afloat. The problem with this comes when too much revenue is dependent on each member gained or lost. The more non-dues revenue streams an association can maintain, the easier it is to weather membership ebbs and flows.
Your association likely already has a media kit for sponsorship opportunities, so it’s easy to add your podcast. It could be difficult to sell at first without listener data, but creative pricing strategies might help a company get in at the ground level. Given the inexpensive startup cost of a podcast, even a minor sponsorship will create revenue in no time.
Boost Your SEO With Keywords and Links
According to Apple’s Podcast Best Practices, the title, author, and description tags are critical for growing your audience. (We need to listen to Apple; as much as 70% of a podcast’s listens and downloads are from iTunes.) While these tags apply to your listing within Apple itself, all roads should lead back to a landing page on your website. Make sure you have Google Analytics tied to your landing page so that you can track searches and referrals!
Creating a transcript for each podcast can help boost SEO, but in reality you don’t even have to create a full transcript. You can write a summary for each show full of long form keywords and featuring quotes from the audio. You’ll also benefit when your interviewees or other guests link back to your landing page to promote their appearance. High-quality links contribute to and raise your domain authority on Google.
Provide Growth For Your Marketing Team
Starting a podcast is simple, inexpensive, and effective. Behind the scenes, however, someone needs to organize topic ideas, edit the audio, promote each show, and track metrics. Because it’s so easy—and since 87% of millennials believe learning and development in the workplace is important—this is a perfect opportunity to help a junior-level marketing team member level up. Someone with initiative, good organization skills, and attention to detail can make the podcast their own and prove themselves.
Create Consistent Content For Other Marketing Channels
Ever wonder what you’re going to post on social media? Marketing your podcast is an easy way to continue repurposing content. Take quotes from each show, make YouTube videos with the audio, create graphics to promote the podcast. There are endless ways for your content to keep pointing back to each other. You’ll also want to submit your podcast to “podcatchers” and podcast aggregators—lists where it can be discovered by a wider audience.
Final Note: Persistence and Consistency Are Key
Launching a podcast can be an impactful strategic marketing move for your association. But like any inbound marketing tactics, it’s a long game of consistently producing quality content. You should build up at least 3-5 shows before you start marketing the launch of your podcast. Maintain promotion efforts and expect several months for your numbers to rise, even with a built-in audience of members. Trust in the engaging content you are creating and distributing, and have patience for the payoff.