It’s not just the Fortune 500 companies that need a style guide these days. If your business has more than one employee or more than one account online, you need a style guide for your brand, too. Without it, you risk confusing existing customers and turning off new ones.
There’s loads of useful information available online about style guides — why they’re important and how to develop one. Working with small businesses, as we do at Verve Concepts, however, we know there isn’t much guidance available to those small businesses about when it’s time to develop one.
Our customers ask us this regularly, and our answer is always Yes! Developing a style guide for your brand isn’t about how big you are today, it’s about where you want to be tomorrow.
Ideally, every business should take the time to develop its brand guidelines from the very start. As soon as you produce your first business cards, website, or social media posts, you’ve hopefully made a practice of using the same fonts, color schemes, logos, voice, and imagery across all of your communication channels.
Realistically though, like most small businesses, you were probably too busy making sales, completing work, and wooing customers to worry about the “other stuff.” That doesn’t mean branding consistency isn’t critical to your business success. In fact, we believe it’s easier to develop a consistent brand style when you’re small, and before your business gets any more complicated.
From our point of view, every business benefits from the consistency a style guide brings to its brand. We also know, however, not every small business is going to take the time to develop one. If you’re debating whether a style guide is worth your time, consider the following.
You have more than one person managing your online and social media presence.
The more people you have posting to social media accounts or tweaking your website, the more crucial a style guide becomes to your brand. By defining where and how your brand will be seen, what it will say, and how it will say it, you ensure that your customers have the same experience with your brand, no matter where they encounter it.
You have a brand built on quality and reliability.
A customer who encounters your brand in an inconsistent fashion (multiple fonts, changing logos, ever-shifting color schemes) will interpret your entire brand as inconsistent. Don’t waste time convincing your customers of your quality, only to undo your efforts by being inconsistent with your branding. Details matter.
You have a brand built on ease of use.
If you promise to make your customers’ lives easier through your products or services, you definitely can’t risk a confusing brand. A style guide will help ensure your business reflects the simplicity of your products and services by keeping its design and implementation clean and clear. Use your first impression wisely, you’re likely to gain more of your ideal customer’s time.
Do this: If your ideal customer were to describe your brand in three words, what would you like them to be?
Do this: Review your logo, typography, color scheme, and imagery. Do they reflect the three words you came up with in step one? If not, find ones that do.
Do this: Formally record the fonts, colors, logos, and types of imagery you will use in your branding. Don’t worry about developing a full-blown style guide yet. But do inform your team of the guidelines, then follow-up by clearing out non-compliant fonts, colors, logos, images, and everything else that appears inconsistent with the ideals you identified in step one.
Eventually, every business should make plans to develop a more formal guide, either on your own or with a branding partner. For now, these three small steps will help ensure your brand is communicating your ideals consistently, across all your touchpoints, to all your customers.