If brand is more than a logo, why are most brand books little more than a style guide? A style guide isn’t going to empower your employees to deliver on your brand’s promise, guard your brand’s differentiators, or make everyday decisions in line with your brand strategy.
A good brand book should serve as a user manual that aligns your team and keeps your brand strategically focused and explicitly clear. Your brand book should contain all of the strategic positioning, messaging, storytelling and decision-making tools needed to breathe your brand to life everyday from the inside out. Here are a few of the components your brand book might include:
Mission: Your brand’s mission or purpose is the central unifying ambition around which your organization revolves. It’s why your organization exists — beyond just producing money and jobs. Think of is as the higher purpose that guides everything your company creates, achieves and contributes. Virgin American airlines’ mission is to “make flying good again;” S’well water bottles’ mission is “to rid the world of plastic bottles;” Harley Davidson’s mission is to “fulfill dreams of personal freedom” through the experience of motorcycling. Aligning your brand around a cohesive and persuasive simple purpose is a matchless strategic advantage — if, and only if, employees and leadership understand and pursue that mission throughout the organization every day.
Promise: What promise does your brand make to its customers? What can they expect from you at every interaction? Defining your brand promise reduces the likelihood you’ll experience gaps between your customers’ expectations and their actual experiences. In order to “make flying good again,” Virgin America promises to provide new planes, attractive fares, top-notch service, a host of fun and innovative amenities, and an experience unlike any other in the skies. Delivering on this promise is how Virgin lives its purpose and owns its strategic position in the market.
Positioning Statement: A positioning statement answers five critical questions that define the value proposition of a differentiated brand and the humanistic needs of your target markets. These five insights focus and inform brand-savvy decision-making throughout organization: What you do, How you do it, Who you do it for, When they use or buy what you do, and Why they want or need what you do.
Differentiators: In order to guard your brand’s differentiators, your employees have to know what they are and why they matter. A good brand book clearly and explicitly identifies what differentiates your brand from the competition in ways that are relevant to your customers.
Decision-Making Criteria: A list of clear and concise decision-making criteria is an easy way to evaluate whether or not an idea, product or decision is in line with your brand. Your decision-making criteria should ensure every decision delivers on your brand’s purpose and promise while guarding your differentiators. One of S’wells’ decision-making criteria, for example, might ask: Will this decision rid the world of plastic bottles?
Language and Voice: Defining your brand’s voice ensures every advertisement, brochure and Facebook post is written in the brand’s own language and voice — rather than reflecting the voice of whomever happens to write it. When everyone on your team knows what your brand sounds like, it’s easy to ensure your brand sounds the same across touchpoints, departments and locations. Is your brand’s voice snarky, sweet, feminine, rugged, sophisticated? Does your brand use conjugations, swear, speak at a fourth-grade reading level? Are there words your brand avoids or uses often? Who or what does your brand sound like?
Story: This is the official telling of your brand’s story. This short, compelling narrative should reflect your purpose, promise and the position you want to own in the market.
Primary Messaging: Primary messaging typically includes an elevator pitch, tagline, and the most important and frequently used messages that articulate who you are, what you do and why it matters. Having clear and concise primary messaging ensures that everyone in your organization is telling the same brand story — whether they’re describing what your company does at a networking event, writing a press release or pitching a prospective new customer.
Values: What must your brand value in order to deliver on its purpose and promise while guarding its differentiators? Identifying customized values is key to maintaining relevance, guarding your differentiators, making right-fit hiring decisions and onboarding new recruits.
Style Guide: Your brand’s visual identity is the visual representation of your brand. While your brand book should never be reduced to a style guide, brand guidelines would be incomplete without a defined visual identity. This includes logo treatments, typefaces, color scheme, etc.
The real value of a brand book lies in its use rather than its mere existence. Use it to onboard new hires, guide and inform marketing efforts, and around the table during decision-making sessions. If your brand evolves, your brand book should too. Markets shift, customer expectations change and differentiators evolve; think of this brand book as a living document — keep it current to keep it relevant.