As a creative marketing agency we’ve produced, worked with, adhered to, stretched and developed corporate guidelines.
What are corporate guidelines, exactly?
Usually harnessed in a document, corporate guidelines describe how the brand of a company, or it’s product or service is to be represented visually and in writing. It lists how the name should be used, the sizing of the logo, any accompanying icon(s) or element(s), its tone of voice and the colour palette.
Moreover, it should describe how these elements should be adjusted across multiple channels. We all know that a logo on a brochure cannot be the same size when used on a 468×60 web banner.
Firstly, there is an art to creating a set of good corporate guidelines. However, we’re sorry to say it, the quality varies greatly. We’ve seen those that were simply incomplete, leaving room for interpretation and leading to an inconsistent brand experience.
Or one-sided guidelines, focused on offline channels only as if digital doesn’t exist. For companies with an extensive digital presence, this is a severe handicap, again leading to a varied experience.
Secondly, there is a balance to be struck between providing the right direction to those applying the guidelines to their creative (e.g. marketers, agencies) so that the brand experience remains the same and allowing enough flexibility for innovation at campaign level.
Brand vs campaign
Incomplete and one-sided guidelines are a challenge, but restrictive guidelines are the worst. In this case, companies believe that brand and campaign are one and the same thing and hence should adhere to the same guidelines.
In practice, this stifles creativity and limits the brand in question’s ability to be innovative and creative to stand out to such a degree that the objective becomes nigh-on impossible to achieve.
A campaign is not regurgitation of brand cues and strict logo placement, it’s a means to get stand out and presence in a creative way that people still recognise is part of an overarching brand. A campaign can have its own graphics and images as long as they are part of the overall tone of its brand owner. The brand logo and strapline can still sign off the creative idea, however campaign creative, its hook/copy line and imagery can still be achieved and incorporated without the need for the piece to look like a boring guidelines driven design. Or should we say ‘colour by numbers’? Campaigns are expressive, they are hard hitting, and they are fun… they are not, however reaffirmation of guidelines. Guidelines are supporting mechanics for these campaign vehicles.
The solution lies in the creation and regular review of the brand guidelines. If you’re responsible for brand guidelines, the below tips help you keep the right focus.
- Don’t be over-directive; what you’re creating is a framework not a set of hand cuffs
- Separate brand communications from campaign communications; campaigns deal with seasons, promotions and launches, brand communications sit at a strategic level above it
- The guidelines must be fit-for-purpose; if they don’t work in practice (or cease to work), discuss it internally and adjust them
- Think about the nuances of how you want to portray the brand in each channel; will the guidelines enable you to do this?
- Are your guidelines working with or against your business objectives?
- Think of longevity and don’t be frightened to evolve your guidelines as more channels are added to the marketing mix
- And finally, provide a helpful contact number/email address, at the end of the guidelines, that you can be contacted through, should anyone need any extra guidance.
Good luck! We’d love to hear your experiences, as always.