Brand guidelines are often thought of as reserved for corporates, but SMEs should be just as vigilant in the ways that they communicate brand messaging. Getting everyone on the same page when it comes to how a brand is presented is crucial for any size of business from day one – and this is why:

The way that your brand is perceived is important. Whether you are a one-man band, or a company with a few hundred employees, it’s critical that the way your brand is represented is professional, memorable, and consistent.

Having brand guidelines can actually help to save time further down the line. It can be a useful resource for designers, marketing agencies, and copywriters, as well as a document that helps new employees understand the brand ethos in a succinct way.

Devising brand guidelines – where to start?

Depending on whether you’ve got an established brand or not will determine how easy it will be to create brand guidelines. Even if you are confident that the positioning of the brand is spot on, it’s worth having a look around to see what others are doing, as well as finding out how your brand is perceived by your potential customers, before investing in creating a definitive set of guidelines.

Analyse and ask questions

Look at how your competitors are aligning themselves. Now consider whether you want to emulate something that they or already doing, or break away from the status quo to ensure your brand stands out from the crowd. Make notes on what you do and don’t like about their brand, and ask a number of other people within the business to do the same. Don’t just look at the visual elements like logo design – the language and tone used throughout marketing material and web copy is just as important.

User feedback can be very helpful in identifying what people like, or do not like, about your brand. If you already have a website or use marketing collateral you feel is ‘on brand’, invite a group to analyse and provide feedback on it. User feedback is invaluable, and can help to remove any potential issues relating to an emotional attachment that an SME owner may have with a specific aspect of the brand (perhaps their logo was based on one of their kid’s drawings, for example).

excellent drawing by What the Kid Drew

This is an excellent drawing – but it’s not going to be an appropriate logo for 99.99% of brands

Make your brand memorable

What makes so many brands instantly recognisable? The use of colour, fonts, and images all help to bind the story of the brand together in a consistent manner, so it’s important to take time in deciding on these elements, and how you want users to feel when they think of your brand. Of course, big brands with big budgets are able to employ the services of a branding agency to help them fine tune their identity, but this doesn’t mean SMEs can’t get creative and nail it without having to invest as much.

When it comes to colour palettes, remember that it’s a good idea to choose colours that work on both light and dark backgrounds, and be careful when selecting both primary and secondary brand colours that are likely to clash or not stand out enough when used together. Most SMEs will have designed a standard logo that is used for everything, but with there being so many different specs to adhere to for both print and online, it’s a good idea to have a couple of variations.

Typography is just as important. Choose a font that is most importantly legible, but also professional. Nobody is going to take a brand that uses Comic Sans very seriously.

the guardian comic sans

Also, it’s not a good idea to rebrand too often as people become accustomed to associating specific visual cues with brands and changing this frequently can cause confusion.

A picture may speak a thousand words, but…

Getting the aesthetics right is a huge part of branding, but words are equally – if not more – important. Language and tone need to be a priority when bringing a brand to life and it needs to carry through all marketing materials from the tagline to the micro-copy. If this is something at which your business is not very strong, speak with a copywriter who can assist with writing content that helps to tell your story.

For some great examples of brand guidelines, check out this great post by Hubspot to inspire you!