Does Your Website Need Defined Brand Standards?
When you’re building a website, your options are virtually unlimited. You can organize elements of your pages in different ways. You can experiment with different colors, fonts, graphics and more. Barring any limitations to your technical skills – which website builders like iPage practically eliminate – if you can dream it, you can build it.
That said, if Geocities taught us anything, it’s that “more” design isn’t always better design. Just because you can use every color of the rainbow and every font ever designed doesn’t mean that you should. The best websites use design in a way that supports their purpose, rather than overpower it – and they do so in a way that creates a memorable brand for current and future customers.
Creating a Strong Visual Brand
Whether you’re building your first site or looking to improve your existing web presence, the importance of visual branding can’t be understated. According to Canva’s Jacqueline Thomas:
“Whether you’re knowingly influencing it or not, your audience is defining your brand. If the visual that you’re conveying does not match your values, it will disappoint, confuse, and alienate your audience.”
Think about Coca-Cola’s well-established red and white branding. Can you ever imagine them pushing out their iconic logo in neon pink? Bright purple? Of course not. Their brand standards are well-defined and well-enforced across departments to ensure a consistent, cohesive experience in every customer interaction.
You may not be Coca-Cola, and you almost certainly don’t have the budget enterprise-level companies like them can throw around on professional branding initiatives. Fortunately, you don’t need these resources. All you need is a defined brand standard.
What is a Brand Standard?
Spoiler alert: we’re answering the question asked by this article’s headline. Yes, you need a brand standard, also known as a brand guide or brand style guide.
Essentially, a brand standard is a central repository of design decisions you’ve made as a company to ensure that every communication or customer interaction you undertake is carried out in a consistent way. Often, brand standards are contained in Word or PDF documents; in other instances, they’re published to websites or intranets where they can be accessed by all relevant parties.
Cameron Chapman, writing for the Web Designer Depot, shares why having an established brand standard is so important:
“Style guides can save you time, money, and tons of frustration down the road, making your marketing materials easier to maintain and create. Consider it like an extension of well-commented markup; it gives you instructions for exactly how things should be done, and sometimes even insight into why.”
Imagine that you decide to outsource the creation of some marketing materials to a freelance designer. Your brand standard is what tells them how to properly render your pre-selected branding elements so that their final documents match the look of your website and other materials.
Even if you never plan to outsource, consider the work you do to design your website and update it in the future. With an established brand standard, you aren’t left wondering which font to choose or where your logo should go on the page. Instead, you can work efficiently and still wind up with a finished product that looks professional and won’t leave visitors wondering if they’ve inadvertently wound up on another site entirely.
Creating a Brand Standard
Building a formal brand standard isn’t a process that should be undertaken lightly. If possible, we suggest the following process before you’ve invested significant resources into your website or marketing materials. But even if you’ve already established your company, it’s still better to codify your branding choices now than never.
The following considerations include those most commonly involved in the brand identity creation process; however, this list isn’t exclusive. Begin with the prompts below, but add other elements as required by the specifics of your brand.
A brand is not a logo, though the marks used to represent your brand visually should be treated with importance by your brand standard.
Your “logo” may actually consist of several things:
- Combination marks
- Legal marks, such as trademarks (™) or service marks (SM)
Ian Main shares the following example of Twitter’s logo breakdown on the QuickSprout blog:
In addition to defining these logo elements, your brand standard should dictate how and where they can be used.
Walmart’s brand standards, for example, encompass both what should be done (in terms of line spacing, colors, indentation and more):
…And what should not be done, as in the case of past, retired logo treatments:
Imagine a situation where you have to give your logo to an advertising partner, freelance designer or other miscellaneous providers. With standards like these, you can rest assured that your logo will be used in a way that’s consistent with the brand you’ve built for your company.
Fonts and Typography
Typography decisions dictate the way type will be used on your website and other marketing materials, and may touch on:
- The fonts you use (you may, for instance, use different fonts for your website headers, relative to your body text)
- The weight, kerning and line spacing of type
- The font sizes you use
- The colors of your font
- Whether you’ll use title case, lowercase or uppercase lettering
- The styling of block quotes on your website
UCLA’s typography standards, for example, use a single overarching typeface, but also allow for specialized fonts to be used sparingly in different cases.
McDonald’s golden arches couldn’t be as universally golden without the use of an established brand standard setting their specific Pantone 123 color. As the image below demonstrates, McDonald’s brand identity is carefully controlled through the use of specific colors and instructions for their usage.
Another aspect addressed by many brand standards is the question of imagery. When pictures must be used on your website or in your other marketing collateral, will you use illustrations? “Real life” graphics of people? Will you display these graphics in black and white, with an overlaid color gradient or with an Instagram-style filter?
Take a look at the way Invensys defines their company’s use of imagery in marketing campaigns:
Maintaining a web presence in today’s modern environment requires engaging with visitors in a number of different ways. You may, for instance, publish articles to your company’s blog or post updates to various social media channels.
While you’ll want to extend the design guidelines described above to these assets, you’ll also want to consider the voice and persona you put forth on behalf of your company.
In developing these guidelines, ask what you want visitors to remember about your brand. Do you want them to see you as authoritative? Friendly? Compassionate? Or even aloof? Different brands will have different objectives for connecting, and each instance will dictate the type of language and styles of communication you’ll want to use across your web presence.
While these five elements should be found in every brand standard, there may be others you decide to include, based on your unique circumstances, including:
- Design layouts
- Email signatures
- Social media guidelines
- Preferred or prohibited advertising formats
- Your company’s history
- Insight into the specific choices you’ve made
If you’re in need of a little inspiration, take a look at the following example brand standards:
- Macaroni Grill
- Beats by Dre
- Black Watch Global
- Calgary Chamber
- Wolf Circus Jewelry
Evolving Your Brand Standard
A brand standard can be as long or as short as you desire. Multinational companies – particularly those that spend seven-figures hiring professional branding agencies – may have 20+ page books dedicated to outlining their brand requirements. A simple document with a few guidelines may suffice for your needs.
Regardless of its length, consider your brand standard to be an evolving document. Pay attention, as you implement marketing or website design projects, what questions you find yourself asking. Where uncertainty exists, recording your answers in the form of established standards can make future design efforts easier.
Yes, you do – ultimately – need a brand standard for your website. Hopefully, this guide has demystified the process of creating such an identity and made it more accessible to you, whether you’re undertaking it as a solo entrepreneur or as the owner of a larger company.
Investing time upfront in creating such a guideline may seem impossible – we haven’t met a business owner yet who doesn’t wear too many hats – but the time, energy and effort it’ll save you in the long run can be significant. Enjoy the benefits that come with consistent branding and styling by building your own brand standard.
Agree or disagree? Share your thoughts on building an established brand standard with us by leaving a note in the comments below.