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Ch 1: The Importance of Brand Standards

Why brand standards manuals matter

Professionalism in design, writing, and many other fields means getting the details right the first time, and consistently getting the details right every time. A standards manual (sometimes called a style manual or stylebook) is the record of decisions made regarding those details, and provides the guidelines for future decisions. A good standards manual will, according to designer Alina Wheeler, “save time, money, and frustration.” (Designing Brand Identity, 184)

Designer David Airey points out that a designer who prepares a standards manual is assisting the client’s future success: “[Style guides] ensure that anyone within the client’s company who uses the design does so in a consistent manner. Consistency breeds trust. Trust wins customers.” (Logo Design Love, 185)

When you create a brand standards manual, you are responsible for establishing standards for all forms of organizational image and identity, both tangible and intangible. In almost all cases, the keys to effective standards are consistency and completeness.

Your efforts, however, will be for nothing if the rules in the standards manual are not respected. Therefore, the standards manual must express values and philosophies that are endorsed by the highest levels of the organization’s leadership. Additionally, the standards must be well understood by all members of the organization at every level, and understood by other stakeholders such as suppliers and partner organizations. So, even though the primary readers of standards manuals may be design professionals, the manual must be useful for other readers also.

Creating brand standards ensures that members of design teams work effectively with each other, and with clients. As noted by consultants Emily Cohen and Jen Miller, “The design team’s level of growth is based on their ability to share knowledge through well-defined standards, training, and communication.” (Designing Brand Identity, 172)

Wheeler also points to the long-term benefits of a brand standards manual when she states “Creating the brand identity is easy; managing the brand assets well is harder.” (Designing Brand Identity, 172). A comprehensive brand standards manual is the tool that is used to manage the brand assets, in all of their potential forms.

Definitions of brand

American Marketing Association: brand is a “name, term, sign, symbol, design or some combination of these elements, intended to identify the goods and services of one seller or group of sellers to differentiate them from those of competitors.” (The Science and Art of Branding, 5)

“A brand is a complex, interrelated system of management decisions and consumer reactions that identifies a product (goods, services, or ideas), builds awareness of it, and creates meaning for it.” (The Science and Art of Branding, 6)

“Brand identity is a delicate dance between intended meanings sent by the company and perceived meanings elicited through customer response.” (The Science and Art of Branding, 8 )

“Brand image is the generalized perception of a brand in people’s minds.” (The Science and Art of Branding, 9)

“A brand or brand name is a simplified, “shorthand” description of a package of value upon which consumers and prospective purchasers can rely to be consistently the same (or better) over long periods of time. It distinguishes a product or service from competitive offerings.” (Smart Thing to Know about Brands and Branding, 13)

“Brands have three primary functions:

  • Navigation: Brands help consumers choose from a bewildering array of choices.
  • Reassurance: Brands communicate the intrinsic quality of the product or service and reassure customers that they have made the right choice.
  • Engagement: Brands use distinctive imagery, language, and associations to encourage customers to identify with the brand.”
    (David Haigh, in Designing Brand Identity, 2)

Who develops a brand/brand identity/branding strategy?

It’s a team process. Designers, copywriters, and marketing specialists play key roles. A visionary leader might have a significant impact (e.g., Steve Jobs, Jeff Bezos, Oprah Winfrey, Martha Stewart). Lots of other stakeholders might influence decisions.

Working as a team to developing the brand standards manual ensures that the contents are complete, and promotes the “buy-in” needed to sustain a brand identity program within an organization.

Clarifying the importance of your brand standards manual

Often it’s helpful to begin a brand standards manual with a definition of brand that will make sense to all prospective readers. You may want to write a purpose statement for your manual also.

In particular, focus on explaining the purpose of the standards manual to your readers who are not professional designers. Let them know why they should value and promote consistent brand identity in all the ways that are relevant to their organization.

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