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Solidifying a Brand

Author : Michael Hutton


What is a brand?

You might have helped a new company develop and create an identity only to see your hard work go down the drain by leaving it up to the company to change its logo?s colors, letterforms, elements and placement of the logo in any given space. You may have even seen three different types of letterhead being used with you name all over it as the designer of the identity. It can be absolutely maddening. However, one way you save your hard efforts from massacre, all the while helping a company solidify its identity throughout all avenues of communication is by developing guidelines on how the mark should be used correctly.

It?s irrelevant if the company is IBM, AT&T, Coca-Cola or Mom and Pop?s Small-Time Widgets; specific guidelines on the proper use of the mark act as a guide for your client?s new look. This is not necessarily a mandate for your client. It is simply a useful and effective tool that will help a company gain higher market visibility and greater awareness by the continuous, repetitive and correct use and placement of your mark.

The Brand

Many new designers think that a brand is a logo and that by creating a logo thus creates a brand. However, a logo is merely an aspect of a brand. A brand as a whole transcends its physical attributes and encompasses the life of the company, its employees and its audience. The experience gained from a company and its services or products creates the brand. Most of this work is up to the company, but by creating guidelines you will have helped them maintain their look consistently to their audience.

A brand has personality. It has a specific group of people it wants to get to know and befriend, but is open to all. Brands are powerful. A brand know what?s hot among teens (Abercrombie & Fitch), what the best tasting diet cola is (Coke) and the best phone service (AT&T). While the consumer is intelligent to know what it wants and needs, it gets easily confused if the product or service looks different.

So, what is the difference between the top brands and Mom and Pop?s Small-Time Widgets? Mom and Pop want a piece of the market share too. They have the same goals and objectives. What they don?t have is someone to direct them into solidifying their brand. One of the most important things is consistency in solidifying a brand. Help your client become consistent in its look and message.

Brand guidelines

What is in a Brand Guidelines Manual?

Brand guidelines are essentially an explication on the proper use of a corporate mark. It details how the mark was created and can be recreated. It shows an official color palette, grid system, typography, correct and incorrect usage and placement of the mark, corporate communication dimensions and placement of the mark as well as how the mark should be used in a website. The guidelines may extend into grammar, usage and writing styles specific to that company and its audience.

Some corporate guidelines are available for the general public to see. Have a look at the guidelines of three of the world?s top companies:

  • AT&T
    http://www.att.com/brand/inter_pb/ci_main.html
  • Microsoft
    http://www.microsoft.com/mscorp/ip/trademarks/
  • Oracle
    http://www.oracle.com/technology/tech/blaf/specs/branding.html

They are quite specific in how the look and style of their brand should be reflected all of the time.

Like I mentioned earlier, it?s irrelevant that these examples are of large companies. There is no reason why a small time business should not have a fully developed identity. You guidelines don?t have to be that specific nor even that extensive. Just help your client in maintaining their look by providing some basic rules.

You will of course gather all of the necessary information (design wants, needs, target audience, mission, value propositions and so forth). Create a publication for the company called Corporate Guidelines or Brand Guidelines or something to that nature:

  • If you have the freedom to create a color palette, choose the corporate color palette wisely. Present the color or colors in formats for print and digital media. This variety gives your client the option of using the color consistently throughout print, web and even television graphics.
  • Set a standard for typography. Choose no more than two complete typefaces as their core typefaces. This gives your client the option to choose different weights of a font without going from one typeface to another. You may offer them two additional alternative typefaces as well. All of this ensures a proprietary look to their organization.
  • Set up a standard useful grid system for all layouts.
  • Show your client how the mark should properly be used. Also, show them how it should not be used. If the logo has different elements, consider if the elements can be used independently, and if so, demonstrate it in the manual.
  • Demonstrate how the mark should look on the letterhead. Include measurements, and placement. In addition, explain the minimum size requirements for the logo. A logo?s legibility is important for all scales.
  • Be sure to give your client all of the graphics you developed. Color, no color, vector, raster, letterhead templates and so forth.
  • Present the guidelines in a full-color, cleanly designed book. Wire or coil bind the book with a cover and distribute several copies for your meeting. Be sure to save one for yourself. This also becomes an additional multi-faceted portfolio piece for you. It demonstrates knowledge in the project, publication design, technical writing, identity development and understanding of a company?s brand.

Too Much Work

If you think this is more than what its worth, think about how irritated you got when you saw your logo?s color changed or hardly seeing it at all on a busy background. Think about the time you invested to create a logo only to see it in different places on a website or on a brochure.

In all actuality, you are not doing that much more. You already have to explain your reasons for why the logo was created in the way that it was. You already know how the logo will look best on a page or on a website. Go further and explain how the logo should be used. You were retained to create. Go beyond the empirical and empower your client to become the best. You are a transparent member of their vision and if you want to keep your designs from being tarnished, develop the reference tool that your client can use consistently.

To borrow GMC?s slogan, "It?s not more than what they need. It?s just more than what they're used to."


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