I move fast and learn things.

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I move fast and learn things.

This is where I share those learnings.

What info belongs in a brand book?

Estimated reading time: 13 minutes

Whether you call it a book, a bible, or guidelines, the brand book is foundational collateral that will be referred to for the life of your business. This post contains a rundown of the info that belongs in your brand book.

First things first: Definitions

What is a brand book?

To me, a brand book (often called a brand bible) is a canonical document that documents everything one needs to know about your brand. Inside it, they’ll find the WHY behind the brand. The history, the foundations, the pillars, and the brand story. They will also find your identity and guidelines including design language and employee brand. Everything you can possibly think to craft as the foundation of a brand can live inside a brand book.

Brand bible vs brand book what’s the difference?

None! Brand books and bibles are names for the same piece of documentation that gives the whole overview of the brand from its origin to style laws all the way down to business cards and letterhead.

What are brand guidelines?

Brand guidelines (also called a style guide) are a document that typically only outlines the rules around the visual manifestation of a brand as opposed to a brand book which includes far more information including the brand origin, foundations, pillars, branded beliefs, and industry observations. In my work, the brand guidelines are a chapter inside a larger brand book.

two tablets showing side by side comparison of different contents pages for brand guidelines
👆🏼 Two guidelines with very different contents 👆🏼

Brand guideline vs style guide what’s the difference?

None! Same thing. Brand guidelines and style guides are documents that lay down the law about the visual manifestation of your brand. That said, I suppose you could say that establishing the tone of voice is more of a brand guideline and less of a style element.

Alright now that we’re aligned on definitions, you’ll know what I mean when I say that I’m talking here about brand books which are living documents that grow with the brand.

What should go in a brand book?

In my time as a brand designer, I’ve collected and crafted many beautiful branding documents and each one is different. Some are 50 pages, some are 20. They all contain different sections including—but not limited to—foundations, design language, voice, personas, and corporate image.

At times, I’ve come into a business after these documents were created and been responsible for keeping them fresh and relevant. For example, building supplemental guides and personas like below 👇🏼

Two tablets displaying brand bible supplements like a customer persona and photography guidelines
👆🏼 Personas and rules for specific types of creative work are documents that will help suppliers and in-house teams deliver on-brand creative work 👆🏼

Section 1: Brand Foundations

What info belongs in the first chapter of a brand book?

This should be the first section in your brand book. It’s all about the why behind the business. Pages in my brand book foundations chapter are: our golden circle, brand pillars, values, story, and persona. If team members and suppliers don’t know why you do what you do, they won’t be able to treat your brand like it’s their own. It’s also a very useful section for new team members and if the brand book in its entirety doesn’t apply to their role, this section can be separated out and used as an onboarding document.

How do you gather the info for the first chapter of your brand book?

This is your business. You know why you exist, right? You know your brand pillars and values? Think twice. Making things simple is hard. When you’re so close to something and eyeballs deep in operations, it can be hard to remember why you’re doing this. I come alongside founders and conduct a series of workshops to help them organize and document their thoughts. They often even discover a new excitement for their business and the impact it should be having on the world.

“Going into this exercise, I assumed that, as the brand owner, narrowing down my values should be simple. I realized quickly that I had to make some choices about my brand. To simplify everything is actually kind of hard. Elizabeth made the process a lot easier and my brand’s value proposition has changed drastically.”

Rachel V, founder of a private label baby brand

What is a brand’s golden circle?

This is where all of my brand books start and it’s influenced by a well-known TED talk from Simon Sinek in which he builds a visual model of how we should approach pretty much everything. You can apply this to any industry or discipline. I use it here to build a model of why your product or service exists, how it accomplishes that why, and—lastly—what it is you’re selling.

👆🏼 My personal golden circle 👆🏼

We so often want to start all marketing or sales conversations off by trying to sell the WHAT. If you connect the why with their pain point, the what hardly even matters. They’ll buy it.

What info belongs in the values section of a brand book?

Your brand values are just that. Values. Examples from a couple of my clients are “duty, unity, tenacity” and “experience, compassion, expertise”. Like everything in your brand, these flow from your why. If you can articulate the reason your product or service exists, you will discover your brand values.

What is a brand story?

The next part of the foundations section in your brand book is the brand story. A brand story is a narrative about the brand and it isn’t just a piece of marketing collateral—It will be used in sales pitches and presentations from your C-suite. This story needs to be something that people can connect with.

A great example of a brand story is Victoria’s Secret. It’s no longer lost on the general public that Victoria is an old man who lives in Ohio. Founder Roy Raymond masterfully crafted a brand story around “Victoria”, a British woman. He chose the name Victoria to evoke the propriety associated with the Victorian era. Victoria’s “secrets” were hidden beneath her prim, refined surface.

What is a brand persona?

This might be my favorite page in the brand books I craft with clients. This is where we take the bones of the brand and put the skin on. This is where the brand becomes a person itself and takes on a life separate from its founder.

When you are the founder of a business it’s so easy to make your brand a mirror image of yourself, your preferences, and your own communication style. However, this brand has personhood of its own and the persona section is where we introduce that person to the reader. I run a brand archetypes workshop with my clients to craft this section with them. It’s so much fun.

Section 2: Brand Voice

What info belongs in the voice section of a brand book?

The voice section is where we discover how the brand communicates. I say “discover” because we don’t really make these choices. These choices are informed by research into the audience, competitors, and industry.

In the voice section of my brand books, you’ll find: tone of voice, messaging examples, vocabulary, and beliefs. Like any person, your brand might be more casual with their friends (on social media) and more buttoned-up “at work” (sales decks). Equally, the voice might be consistent throughout.

In this section, I give specific examples of common industry words and phrases and how the brand says them.

For a telemedicine client, I did a virtual roadshow and interviewed many different people who would make up the target audience. I discovered that while many people embrace their disease, others don’t think they’re addicts, even when they are in the grips of an all-encompassing addiction. So instead of “addicts”, the brand just calls them “people”. Instead of addiction, they say “substance use disorder”.

What is a brand tone of voice?

The first page in my brand voice section is the tone of voice. The tone is the way we convey the brand messages with feeling. What emotions are we trying to evoke? At this point, we will have already discovered what you want people to feel when they interact with your brand (because it’s in one of the first workshops I do with customers).

Here, we decide how one would speak in order to make people feel that thing. Tones could be empathy and empowerment, zeal and zen, or strong and aggressive. My tone of voice is smart and snarky. Tone of voice is also determined by what we discover about the brand’s archetype and persona.

What are brand messaging examples?

Your brand will very likely have more than one audience or persona that it’s connecting with and serving. This section of your brand book takes the tone of voice and breaks it down further by audience segment.

Audiences include customers, recruits, investors, or shareholders. While your tone might always be aggressive (i.e. Harley Davidson) it’s important to decide now how that tone might come through when talking to these different audiences.

I am always a smart ass, but that will come through differently with my parents than it does with my kids.

What is a brand vocabulary?

The brand vocabulary section in your brand book is where specific words and phrases are given a green or red light. I.e. “we say this and not this”.

a tablet showing the brand vocabulary page of a brand book
👆🏼 Vocabulary page of my own brand book 👆🏼

Section 3: Design Language

What should I know about the design language of my brand?

Ah. Design language. This is where many brand guidelines begin and what many might think of when they hear “brand guidelines”. Design language is a vital part of the brand, and as I’ve hopefully proven, design is only one important element.

By this point in our brand adventure, we’ve discovered the brand’s purpose, personality, and how it sounds. Now, we get to discover how the brand looks. Design language is the brand’s visual vocabulary and the laws and principles that guide the brand’s visual vocabulary. Having laws and principles ensures that anyone communicating on behalf of, or designing for, the brand, these outputs have continuity.

Remember that movie Face/Off? The wife was like “you look like him but…something’s off here”. This is how your audience will feel if there isn’t consistency in the visuals that come out of your various communication channels.

👆🏼 A few style guide pages from a brand I recently designed 👆🏼

I once worked with a brand where the person who managed digital made decisions about how the brand looked in the virtual world and the brand manager who handled retail made different decisions. Colors, messaging, and even the brand’s strapline were inconsistent across the brand. This is what I would call a schizophrenic brand.

Some of the world’s largest brands have suffered from multiple personality disorder. Mercedes is no longer the #1 luxury car brand in Europe because they didn’t stay on-brand. Once a business abandons its distinctive personality or position, it’s just a matter of time before confused customers start to drift away. My mantra here is “a confused mind says no”. Remember: simple is hard.

What info belongs on the logo page of a brand style guide?

The design language section of the brand book is a self-contained chapter that we’ll call the style guide. On this page, you’ll find the word mark, the logo mark, the colors it can appear in, and the usage laws that should never be broken no matter what. You might also learn the story of the logo, its mythology, and its construction.

A laptop displaying the logo construction page of the uber brand book

What info belongs on the colors page of a style guide?

The colors section of a style guide will display the brand’s core and secondary color palettes.

The color swatches should display the HEX or RGB and CMYK codes for accurate usage digitally and in print.

What info belongs on the fonts page of a brand book?

As with the logo and colors, this page outlines the brand fonts. You’ll find the usage laws which may include sizing, spacing, line height, and weight. I like to take this opportunity to also be specific about the hierarchy of headlines, subheads, and body text and which fonts should be used in which spaces.

Along the same lines as colors and fonts, you may also have guidelines about brand artifacts, textures, layout systems, photography style, and video style. There’s really no end to how comprehensive a brand style guide can get.

Other sections in my brand books

I’ve not only crafted these documents with brands; I am often also the champion for the brand going forward. In this role, I’ve discovered that there are other useful items that could be added to the brand book. These are sections about:

  • Employee branding
    • Naming conventions for roles
    • Branded uniform appearance
    • Digital dress code (Zoom backgrounds, avatars, email signatures)
  • Corporate image
    • Business cards
    • Letterhead
    • Vehicle fleet design
    • Merch
    • Etc
    • Etc
    • Etc

While there’s so much more that I haven’t written about here, I think that’s a pretty damn good start on the subject of the things you might like to have in your brand book. Now, save yourself the trouble and hire me to do it with you 😉

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