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Anyone who has met me during my 20+ years in the design industry will have heard me bang on about keeping your visual branding consistent. But what does that mean?

Consistent branding means that whenever anyone comes into contact with your branding, whether it’s your website, your business card, an email from one of your staff, an exhibition stand, or a brochure, they see your organisation represented consistently. It means that your logo always looks the same, the colours and fonts used are all the same, and the look and feel of everything looks the same.

Why this matters to you and your business

A consistent look builds recognition in your target audience. It’s why Coca-Cola is easily recognisable on supermarket shelves from a distance – they always use the exact same shade of red.

If your potential clients and customers see a cohesive visual identity, they are more likely to remember and engage with your advertisements and promotions, and your messaging will be communicated more effectively.

Customers equate consistency in branding with the consistency of the product or service on offer. Put simply, if your branding is all over the place, people will feel like your offering is all over the place. But if you get it right with robust and cohesive branding, your target audience will feel your product or service can consistently deliver great results, making them trust and want to buy from you.

But wait—here’s the best bit: consistently high-quality branding can encourage your audience to perceive your product or service as higher value, meaning you can charge more!

Don’t forget that internal communications are just as important as external branding. From your internal signage to your staff newsletter, it’s worth ensuring you are always representing your business in a visually uniform way. If your branding is consistent internally, your staff is more likely to take branding standards seriously in all outputs. Cohesive branding inside and outside encourages your staff to live and breathe your brand values and become ambassadors for your brand.


Branding guidelines

You must ensure your style is displayed as accurately as possible at every touchpoint. The best way to do this is to ensure anyone who works with your branding – be it your design partner, internal design team, web developer, social media partner, large-format graphic companies, etc. – has a copy of your branding guidelines.

Depending on your business needs, a single page detailing the basics could be enough. However, the more elements your branding has, and the more people are likely to work with it, the longer you’ll need to create the guidelines.

Please don’t feel you need to pad out your guidelines with waffle (oh yes, I’ve seen a fair few of those in my time!), as people will be less likely to engage with a cumbersome tome, meaning they’re less likely to replicate your branding accurately.

Equally, allow space and flexibility in the guidelines for creativity and different scenarios. If you’re overly specific, it may be difficult or impossible to follow.

The worst example of this I’ve seen was for a pharmaceutical company. They went to the extent of specifying exactly where the address should go in millimetres and how large the text had to be in point sizes. This only worked for some of their sites because some sites had much longer addresses and couldn’t fit in that space at that point size! The document had far too many overly prescriptive directions, and even the design examples in the guidelines document didn’t follow the guidelines!

The absolute bare minimum guidelines should include the following:

  • Logo usage. You probably have full-colour and single-colour variations of your logo, so you should specify when these should be used.
  • Colour palette. Include CMYK values, RGB values, hex codes, and Pantone references for each colour.
  • Fonts.
    • Think about who will use the fonts and how. For example, if your web developer only uses Google Fonts, make sure your fonts are available from Google Fonts. Otherwise, obtaining your chosen fonts could be costly, or your developer may use other fonts, resulting in inconsistent branding.
    • Describe how these fonts should be used; for example, which is for headings? Which should be used for body content?
    • You should also select a system-standard backup font like Arial for situations where access to other fonts may not be possible, such as in PowerPoint.
    • You can specify details like sizes and line spacing.

Additional items to consider for your branding guidelines:

  • Additional logo guidance. You can specify the minimum sizes your logo can be used for screen and print and the minimum area around it to be left clear to ensure it’s always recognisable.
  • Imagery style. Define the types of images, illustrations, and icons that align with your brand’s aesthetic. Include guidelines on photo treatments and filters if they are used.
  • Tone of voice. Although not visual, maintaining a consistent tone in your written content complements your visual identity.
  • Layouts and grids. You can specify grids to form the basis of designs, too, but do so cautiously—don’t end up like the pharmaceutical company above! For items like emails, be specific with details like spacing and font sizes to ensure every person in your organisation has matching email signatures.
  • Examples. It can be helpful to demonstrate how the graphic elements work in practice, especially if you have a lot of branding elements to work with.
  • Templates. It can be useful to include templates for commonly used items like social media posts and PowerPoint presentations, particularly in larger organisations. Make sure these are saved in an easily accessible place where all staff members who may need them can easily find them.

Get everyone involved

Now you’ve got some solid, practical branding guidelines, train your team in how to use them. Ensure that everyone creating content understands and adheres to the brand guidelines. Keep your guidelines in a central location, with your templates, if you’ve made some, so that everyone can refer back to them.

Keep it going!

Consistent branding isn’t a hit-and-run exercise; it’s an ongoing process. Conduct periodic audits of your marketing materials and digital presence. Look for any deviations from the brand guidelines and correct them promptly. Gather feedback from customers and employees to identify areas where the brand might be inconsistently represented.

The takeaway

Maintaining consistent visual branding is not just about making things look pretty; it's a strategic move that helps your business become more profitable. Every visual element should align with your brand's core values and resonate with your target audience. By following the steps outlined above, you can create a cohesive brand identity that stands out in the crowded marketplace, fosters loyalty among clients and staff, and drives sales. Consistency really is the key to success!

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