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15 examples of online brand guidelines

Ok ok - I know I usually speak about "brand" being wider than your logos and fonts. I know I focus on strategy not execution. But your strategy is only as good as your execution. So every now and again I do drop the odd piece dealing with execution. This is one such piece. I hope you enjoy..

Your 'Brand' is the meaning an audience attaches to a company, product or service.

'Branding' is the attempt to manage that meaning.

A key part of branding is to develop a way of consistently dressing, speaking, labeling and moving to ensure you show up and are recognised. This 'consistency' is vital to ensure that customers recognise and trust your brand, fostering loyalty and a competitive edge in crowded markets. It helps audiences recognise the communications and experiences as coming from your brand and attach meaning to you. In effect, it ensures your brand gets mental "credit" in the eyes of the beholders of the things you are producing. Audiences minds are "sign posted" to you.

Yet, achieving and maintaining this consistency poses a significant challenge, especially for large organisations. The solution lies in the creation and meticulous application of brand identity guidelines, a centralised repository of how your brand should be presented to the world. What are brand identity guidlines? My definition: 'The verbal and visual codes we will use to express our strategy'.

As a strategy consultant - my focus is always on working with leadership teams on their strategic positioning. I don't tend to get my hands dirty creating brand assets or their guidelines anymore. But I am coming across more and more clients where guidance through the process of creating identity guidelines, and ways to consistently apply them across their internal and external teams, is an essential component of the brand building process.

Brand guidelines serve a multifaceted purpose: they are the blueprint for the application of a brand's identity, ensuring uniformity in visual and verbal communication. This uniformity is essential for building a strong, recognisable brand that resonates with consumers, instills trust, and builds a formidable reputation.

However, the challenge of maintaining this consistency is exacerbated for internal teams that are geographically dispersed and operate within different cultural contexts.

Here lies the importance of having a centralised "source of truth" on brand application, a cornerstone for navigating the complexities of global branding with finesse and coherence. Back in the old days - this used to be in the form of a PDF which sat on a serve somewhere in the company. However as time has gone on businesses have become more confident to place their guidelines online which is a real benefit for any internal or external teams working with the brand.

Examples of Online Brand Identity Guidelines

Having been asked recently by a couple of clients to help guide them through the process of creating brand guidelines and help them build online portals and training to activate them I thought I could share some amazing examples of those who have gone before.

These examples show, at varying depths, how global brands protect their images from inconsistency. You'll note also that most of these examples do not simply articulate how to use logos and fonts. There are many strategic elements within them to which help to describe what the brands stand for and then how that is translated verbally and visually (had to get that in there!).

So, let’s delve into examples of companies that exemplify the use of comprehensive brand guidelines, showcasing their commitment to brand consistency:

  1. Brainly: A platform for student collaboration and learning, Brainly's brand guidelines emphasise the vibrancy and dynamic nature of its community​​.

  2. Dropbox: Dropbox's 'Design Standards' define the companies strategy, systems, foundational brand elements and writing guides.

  3. QuickBooks: Intuit’s QuickBooks showcases brand guidelines that underline simplicity and efficiency, reflecting the product's ease of use for financial management​​.

  4. Happy Viking: This brand's guidelines capture its spirit of health and vitality, with a strong emphasis on engaging visuals that resonate with its wellness-focused audience​​.

  5. IBM: A titan in technology, IBM's brand guidelines are a testament to its commitment to innovation and clarity, resonating across its global presence​​.

  6. Spotify: The music streaming powerhouse has a brilliant and comprehensive set of guidelines to ensure it consistently shows up across all touchpoints

  7. Instacart: The grocery delivery service’s brand guidelines focus on friendliness and accessibility, mirroring the convenience it brings to its users​​.

  8. Airbus: With a legacy in aviation, Airbus' brand guidelines echo its pioneering spirit and engineering excellence​​.

  9. Starbucks: The coffee giant's brand guidelines reflect its warm, inviting atmosphere and commitment to quality, mirroring the experience in its cafes worldwide​​.

  10. Flax and Kale: A testament to sustainability and health, the brand guidelines of Flax and Kale articulate its dedication to nutritious, plant-based foods​​.

  11. MOZILLA: Standing for an open and accessible internet, MOZILLA's brand guidelines emphasize its commitment to community and innovation​​.

  12. Toledo Museum of Art: These guidelines showcase the museum’s commitment to accessibility and engagement in the arts​​.

  13. Bukalapak: An e-commerce platform, Bukalapak’s brand guidelines emphasize user-friendliness and community, important in the competitive online marketplace​​.

  14. HSBC: The global bank’s brand guidelines highlight its commitment to reliability and global reach, resonating with its diverse client base​​.

  15. Asana: Asana's online brand guidelines are an example of a simple but effective approach detailing the minimum standards they expect for anyone using their identity.

Its not about simply having them

One thing I can tell you over the last 10+ years working in this space though is that just by having brand guidelines does not mean they will be used. The key to leveraging them effectively lies in the implementation process - or "activation" as its become known. For global teams, understanding and adhering to these guidelines can be challenging. Humans (especially creative ones) have a nack of adding their on stamp on communications. This is where the establishment of regular routines, such as "design councils" or "quality check" approval cadences, becomes crucial. Someone (or some people) have to be responsible for maintaining consistency - else things swiftly splinter and communications become confusing. Governance routines ensure ongoing alignment with the brand’s core identity and values, fostering a culture of consistency and excellence.

A design council, for instance, would comprise cross-functional team members who regularly review brand applications across various channels and regions, ensuring they align with the established guidelines. Similarly, setting up routine quality checks can help identify discrepancies or misalignments early, allowing for timely corrections and adjustments. Onboarding new members of a design, product or marketing team into the brand, its visual and verbal dos and don'ts and, in effect, 'training' them into what is and is not acceptable is also key. And not only for staff - for agency partners too.

Ultimately, the power of brand guidelines extends beyond mere aesthetics; it's about crafting a unified narrative that speaks directly to your audience, wherever they are. It's about building a legacy of trust, recognition, and loyalty. Its about creating experiences which exhibit the brands big idea and generate genuine unique value in the marketplace.

For CEOs and founders, investing in the development and rigorous application of brand guidelines is not just a strategic move—it's an essential pillar for growth, differentiation, and a lasting impact in the global marketplace.

So. Make brand consistency a key factor of consideration when developing a new brand - not an afterthought, but a foundational factor to build a resilient, recognisable brand.

In an era where brand perception can shift with a single tweet (or is is a X now?), the role of brand guidelines and the routines that surround them cannot be overstated.

Setting these up well from the start is the key to navigating the complexities of global markets with a consistent, coherent voice. Embrace these principles, and you pave the way for a brand that not only stands out but stands the test of time.


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