Your brand is your identity in the marketplace. And make no mistake about it – it comprises way more than your company name and logo. Successful brands communicate who you are, what you do, and the value you create for your customers. It is also the foundation on which your customer and partner relationships are built and sustained over time.
How do you first create, and then protect, a winning brand?
Creating and protecting your brand are both a top-down and bottoms-up effort. It starts at a high level with your brand strategy – one that lays out your vision, your mission, your core values – in short, your company’s reason for being.
- What products do you sell?
- What services do you provide?
- Who is your target audience?
- What sets you apart you from your competitors?
Once your brand strategy has been defined, you need to translate these high-level, often abstract ideas into the specifics that will become your brand guidelines. These can be thought of as “marching orders” for your internal and external marketing resources (writers, editors, designers, artists, and production folks), who are charged with creating your marketing presence via communications and collateral – helping your company develop a personality that your customers will relate to and want to remain loyal to over time.
AP Style vs. Chicago Style
There are widely used industry style guides that set the standard for particular forms of writing. The two most common of these are AP (Associated Press) Style and Chicago Style. The former is used in news articles, newspapers, magazines, and other similar reporting areas, where Chicago Style is for practically everything else. Chicago is a bit more flexible than AP, which is mainly concerned with conserving space and using the least amount of characters possible.
Most businesses use these style guides as a reference and then develop their own company-specific brand/style guidelines that define rules for internal- and external-facing communications.
Success is in the details!
When it comes to brand guidelines, success is both self-evident (covering the obvious broad strokes) and “lurking in the weeds” (covering all of the many details that fall under your business’s marketing communications umbrella. Here are a few questions to consider.
- Do you have a comprehensive Style Guide that is clear and easy to follow?
- Does your Product Guide clearly spell out the proper use of brand names, trademarks, services, and solutions?
- Do you prefer active vs. passive voice, first vs. third person in your customer-facing communications?
- What are your frequently used acronyms and how should they be represented?
- How do you want tables and figures to look, where do you place captions?
- How do you want to handle dashes, hyphenation, numbers, commas, and compound words?
- Do you have templates for documents like case studies, datasheets, product brochures, white papers?
- What are the rules dictating how your logo should be used?
Brand guidelines need to become part of your marketing organization’s DNA.
Once completed, your style and product guides need to become living breathing documents, constantly used and tested throughout the organization. As we all know, things change constantly, particularly in high tech. It’s important to build flexibility into your brand guidelines and related processes so they can evolve and adjust over time:
- How is a new product added to your Product Guide?
- How does that new product make its way across all collateral and webpages?
- How is a newly emerging industry term or acronym added to your word list/glossary?
- How do you introduce a new color palette? A new template? A new Style Guide rule?
With brand guidelines, you’re essentially looking for these 5 things:
It starts with a well thought out strategy and clearly defined processes that infuse your marketing operations and communications, seamlessly aligning with changes over time.
The Bottom Line
With a strong brand strategy and supporting guidelines you know who you are and you know what you stand for, and your employees and customers know these things as well. You are also able to defend and enhance your most valuable asset – your brand’s reputation in the marketplace.
By Kathy Wilson, ETMG Writer/Editor
Kathy Wilson is an independent writer/editor/marketing communications specialist living in the SF Bay area. She works with a variety of clients, helping them understand their audience and create “the perfect messaging” for their internal and external stakeholders.