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useful brand guidelines for small business

When you’re busy dealing with all the various aspects of running a sustainable and profitable small business, it’s understandable that coming up with brand guidelines may not be at the top of your to-do list. However, spending time planning your branding will help ensure longevity in the future. Stay tuned as we explore:

  • The purpose of brand values
  • How to create effective & useful brand guidelines 
  • How to integrate brand values with your marketing plan 

Branding doesn’t have to be difficult, so stay tuned as we help you plan and supercharge your small business success… 

What are brand values? 

Brand values are a set of core principles and beliefs that your company stands by. Your values dictate many areas of your business and help form your identity and personality, and they’ll also help steer your marketing goals and planning. 

How do brand values relate to brand guidelines? 

It’s a partnership. The brand guidelines exist to help communicate your values, and the values help shape the various aspects of your brand to employees, agencies and customers. 

Whilst many people may believe that brand guidelines are simply an artwork-based document used to inform design decisions, they are far more useful than that. They should serve as the rulebook for your company, helping to inform decisions and provide continuity and consistency across the business.  

How to create effective & useful brand guidelines

Depending on the nature of your small business, your brand guidelines should demonstrate key aspects of your businesses personality, such as: 

  • Brand values and identity
  • Brand mission and strategy
  • Audience and target market overview
  • Brand personality (such as tone of voice and word choices) 
  • Visual identity (such as logo, colours and typography) 
  • Brand history 

Imagine you have a brand new employee taking on an integral role at your business – your brand guidelines should be like a book they could pick up that informs them of everything they need to know. 

Brand values & identity

What does your business stand for? Perhaps you are a business that values sustainability and ethical choices, or you are a person-led organisation that values fairness and equal opportunity. Whatever your values are, they run deep, and they should be highly relatable to your employees and your audience.

Brand mission and strategy

What are you trying to achieve, what is your mission, and how do you plan to get there? Are you a vegan business that wants to disrupt the milk industry by providing a delicious alternative to flavoured dairy milk? Or a fitness business that wants to make exercise accessible to school children by offering classes to schools? 

Consider the problem you are aiming to fix and outline how you intend to solve it. 

Audience and target market overview 

Who is your target audience, and why? Clearly explain your demographic using key descriptors, such as:

  • Gender, age, income, hobbies and marital status 
  • Geographical location, do you want international clients or people to visit your shop in a specific town?
  • Buying behaviours – what platforms do they do product research on and when are they most likely to buy? 

Identifying your target audience will save you hours in the future as you won’t need to waste time guessing who you are marketing to.

Brand personality

Most consumers relate to brands like they would people – if they resonate with a brands personality, they are more likely to trust it. There are several aspects to crafting a brands personality, and it should be one of the first things you do when building a small business. 

Be sure to include:

  • The tone of voice (TOV) – are you informative, formal, expert, casual or creative? Think about what your customers want from you and your products, be it professionalism, a friend, or even some humour.
  • Descriptive words – which descriptors would you use to describe products? Are your products innovative or game-changing, convenient or robust? 
  • Any other communicators such as emojis or sentence lengths – things that help your messaging stand out against competitors or can identify your business.

Visual identity

Your visual identity should also be consistent across all messaging platforms so that your identity is familiar and reliable for your customers. You should include:

  • Logo – demonstrate how your logo should be used with options for light and dark backgrounds, positioning within documents and any exclusion zones around it.
  • Colours – list primary and secondary colours and state which colours should be used together and in what instances.
  • Typography – include which fonts (and sizing) you will use in which instances, such as headers, sub-headers and paragraphs.
  • Web VS print colours – web (RGB) and print (CMYK) colours differ, so either define alternatives or create a specific palette for each.
  • Photography – define how images within your marketing should look. Will you use stock images or take photos of your staff? How will your products appear, what will make them look consistent? 

Your visual identity is crucial when it comes to informing design agencies on how your marketing materials should look – such as packaging and labelling, brochures, websites, social media assets and more. Defining your visual identity early on will help prevent endless iterations and wasting money in the long run. 

Company history or story

An overview of your company history or story is super informative when it comes to helping to communicate your brand. If you’ve been trading for a while, you could include a company timeline and talk about key members of your business and how they became integral. 

This can be funny, informal and entertaining, and as long or short as you would like. The aim is to give those reading a good flavour and understanding of your business.

How to integrate brand values and guidelines within your marketing plan

As you can see, your brand values and guidelines are key informers when it comes to creating your marketing plan and should be referred to as much as possible. Marketing plans are different to business plans, as they inform how your business will get exposure over the year ahead. 

Given that marketing plans naturally include points covered in your brand guidelines, you should refer to them for guidance as often as possible. For example, imagine you are considering attending a business expo that many of your competitors are at, and you’re not sure whether to add it to your marketing plan or not. Using your brand guidelines, you can quickly identify whether or not this is something your target audience would be interested in and whether it matches your brand values. 

Now you can see how investing the time in pre-defining your business values, mission and identity all in one document can save you lots of time and effort in the future, guiding your business for years to come.

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