Brand Standards: Your Identity Playbook

Why do organizations spend so much time and energy on brand standards? Ask most people about branding and they’ll think you’re talking about logos. Logos contribute to a brand in a big way, of course, but a logo is only part of the story. An organization’s brand is more. It is the visceral, emotional response people have at any point of contact with that organization.

Consider the Coca Cola brand, which is all about classic refreshment, belonging and connection. Likewise, Nike has a brand identity, which is all about an athletic mindset, admiration of athletes, aiming for a personal best. Brand standards codify the components of each company’s brand identity so that the visceral, emotional reaction people have to the brand is consistent. Both Coke and Nike (and divisions within them like Coke Zero and Nike Football), have extensive guides that support and cultivate these identities for their customers.

A cultivated brand identity takes people’s experiences and hones them, capitalizing on the key components that the company wants in people’s hearts and minds at every point of contact. Part of that emotional response comes from the mindset and expectations that people bring to their experiences, which you can’t necessarily control. But you can cultivate those expectations through consistent brand standards. Think of it as a playbook. Only instead of providing plays that a sports team can run during a game, you’re giving your team a clear set of strategic and tactical guidelines for communication.

Say you’re trying to create a brand identity for a kids’ arcade that’s wholesome, fun and playful. Customers expect this much, and your staff members interact in ways that are lighthearted and fun. But you could further cultivate those qualities by adopting fresh, bright colors in the decor and in your team members’ clothes. You would update your logo with fonts and colors that evoke the ideals you’re trying to encourage. You’d have those concepts woven into your messaging. Your tone and feel would be lighthearted. Your website might include some entertaining games. And you would create an experience that reflects the qualities you want to inspire in the hearts and minds of everyone who encounters the brand at every point of contact.

But what if the brand identity you want isn’t that close to the current experience? You may need to create a transitional brand as you work to heighten desirable qualities that already exist in people’s experience with the company, downplaying and overcoming elements of the current experience that don’t match the brand identity you want. You might create a look, style and message that evoke a feeling closer to what you want while keeping in sync with what you have. Then, as the experience people have when they interact with you gets closer to what you want, you can evolve the logo, messaging, look and feel.

Defining and codifying brand standards can help companies evolve and grow. It requires companies to ask and answer challenging questions about identity and consistency: Who is my brand for? How should they feel about my brand? What am I promising them? How close is that to their actual experience? The answers can be laid out in great detail, as with Dallas Ft. Worth Airport’s  brand guidelines, or very simply, as with LinkedIn’s Brand Resources web page.

In each case, the company has set up a framework of:

  • Visual iconography
  • Typography
  • Colors
  • Language
  • Tone of voice
  • Sometimes, tactile stimulation, scent and flavor

These are codified in a set of standards for application to print materials, signage, electronic communications, environmental graphics, and potential future possibilities that don’t exist yet. Ultimately, these rules when applied consistently over the life of the brand, help people recognize the organization and its personality.

By defining key brand components clearly, you enable everyone – from the people who contribute content to your website to the people who represent your company in the media – to keep your brand consistent, exactly the way it should be.