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Imagine you’re at a friend’s party. You’re taking a scoop of guacamole when someone walks up and introduces herself as Madeline. She’s warm, but reserved—shy even. You chat for a while, then eventually part ways. Then, a couple minutes later you observe Madeline chatting with someone else—only this time she’s Madi, she’s wearing a different shirt, and she’s speaking loudly and brashly.

You’re confused. This was not the person you just met. Which one is the “real” one? Is there a real one? Maybe both versions are equally inauthentic. You certainly don’t walk away with any sense of connection to Madeline/Madi, or trust in their character.

This is a metaphor we use in brand strategy workshops all the time, specifically in reference to the importance of brand personality. But the analogy works for branding as a whole. Inconsistent brands work the same way as inconsistent people. Best case scenario, you question their authenticity. Worst case, you avoid them entirely. Conversely, consistent brands are magnetic. They draw you in, win you over, and ultimately inspire trust and loyalty.

It’s fundamental psychology: consistency breeds familiarity, and familiarity breeds trust. And what’s more important to social impact organization than trust?

So how do you ensure your brand is consistent? That you don’t show up as Madeline some days, and Madi on others? Especially when there are lots of people representing your brand out in the world?

You figure out ‘who’ you are and how you present yourselves to the world. That’s branding.

What are Brand Guidelines — And Why Are They Important?

Having your brand identity locked down is one thing. Making sure that identity is correctly and consistently brought to life in every email, Instagram post, and conference appearance is a whole other ballgame. That’s why brand guidelines are so important—because they establish clear rules for how an organization should be represented, from how a logo should be used to which fonts serve a particular purpose.

Let us put it another way: establishing clear brand guidelines are how you ensure that everyone is singing from the same songbook. Which is the first step to consistency…which breeds familiarity…you know where we’re going with this.

A Briteweb brand guidelines page

What’s The Difference Between Brand Guidelines and a Style Guide?

Perhaps your organization has a style guide, but no brand guidelines. What’s the difference? While some use these terms interchangeably, we consider brand guidelines more extensive than a style guide. A style guide tends to be more basic and have the ‘hows’ of using the brand identity system visually and in text—like logo, typefaces, color palette and perhaps guidelines around text style, like whether the organization uses the oh-so-divisive Oxford comma.

Our brand guidelines include a style guide, but also dive a bit deeper, outlining all of the above but also exploring the strategic foundation of the organization.

Take a look at some of the pages from Leading Educators‘ Style Guide, which we developed.

What should brand guidelines include?

Ideally, brand guidelines should include everything a staff member, volunteer or board member might need to understand the fundamentals of a brand, and how to represent the brand in a way that’s true to the organization’s identity.

Briteweb’s brand guidelines typically include the following components, and answer the following questions.

Strategic Foundation

  • Your purpose statement: Why do you exist? Why does the world need your organization? This concise statement, paired with the positioning statement, act as an organization’s North Star.

  • Your positioning statementWhat do you do, and for whom? How is your organization different from other organizations?

  • Your brand personalityHow does your organization show up in the world, and how does it make people feel? What personality traits does your organization embody, and how do those traits come across in the way you communicate?

  • Audience profilesWho are you speaking to? What are their demographic and psychographic profiles, and what do they need, want and expect from your organization?

Messaging Materials

  • Organizational bios: What’s your organizational story? Typically, we write brand bios in long, short and micro versions, so your team can simply copy and paste messaging as space allows.

  • Talking points: If a member of your staff or Board is at, say, a conference or a dinner party, how should they talk about your organization? What are the most important details they should have at the ready?

Visual Identity Guidelines

  • Logo use: How, where and in what circumstances should the various iterations of your logo be used? How much space should there be around it?

  • Color palette: What colors do you use to represent your brand, and in what circumstances?

  • Typography: What are your brand fonts? In circumstances in which those typefaces are unavailable, which ones should be used instead?

  • Photography style: What type of images should photographers capture? If and when your team needs to use stock imagery, what should they look for?

  • Chart style: How do you visually represent data? What should charts and graphs look like—say, in your annual report?

Screenshot of brand guidelines page

The Bottom Line

At the end of the day, your brand guidelines protect your brand from attrition by ensuring that it’s used consistently and correctly—saving you time, energy and money in the long run. And it makes your team’s job easier by setting clear expectations and eliminating guesswork.

Want to chat about how your organization can benefit from brand guidelines? Drop us a line!