What IS Branding?

And What Goes in a Brand Book?

 Ask someone what branding is and you’ll get a LOT of different answers. From how you present yourself to what people say about you when you’re not in the room, branding encompasses everything from the physical business card you hand to someone to the intangible “feel” people get when they see your marketing materials. Throughout history, branding has also meant everything from cattle brands to the more contemporary logos and elaborate brand books big corporations use today.

So What IS Branding?

Cattle brands excluded, we agree with just about every definition of branding. Branding IS the way your organization looks, speaks, and feels to other people.

If you’re thinking of logos, that is a part of it. But by itself, a logo doesn’t make up an entire brand. Your brand is your logo, your color scheme, and your fonts. Your brand is also the voice you use to communicate with your clients, your value proposition for your organization, and the key messages you share with the world. It’s your identity and also your reputation.

What is a Brand Book?

That’s great, but how do you capture those things on paper? How do you even begin to define them? You’re in luck because there are tools for that!

A brand guide or brand book can be as simple or complex as your organization needs it to be. We’ve seen (and created) everything from a style sheet that is a one-page sheet with color codes and fonts. We’ve also created brand books with upwards of 20 pages mapping out your visuals, logo usage guidelines, brand voice, and even key messages.

What to Include In Your Brand Book

We like to organize ours with 2 main sections: Messaging and Visuals. Messaging encompasses all the guidelines for phrasing, terminology, voice, and grammar for your brand. Visuals is all the design stuff! Not just fonts and colors, but styles and where/how to use icons, photos, and other graphics. Let’s break this down even more.

Brand Messaging

  • Target Audience Overview – Because everything starts with your audience, right? This is just a quick reminder of your audience (or personas) and what their primary needs are. The full target audience descriptions can live somewhere else.
  • Positioning Statements – You get to decide how many of these you need. We like to include a tagline, mission statement, vision statement, and elevator pitch.
  • Key Messages – These are key concepts about your organization that you want to express. It could be something like your values. (Ex. If a value is “diversity,” how do you showcase it and what other language do you use to emphasize it in your marketing?) It could also be features or selling points for a product. Key messages differ pretty drastically depending on your target audience and what industry you’re in.
  • Voice – How do you talk and what do you talk about? Determining voice is providing everyone who manages marketing, social media, sales, or public relations in your organization a way to talk about your organization in a consistent way to help solidify your brand.
  • Grammar – What types of grammatical rules should your written communications follow? This can include anything from emoji usage to capitalization, hashtag guidelines, and terminology. For example, we specified that we always spell “nonprofit” without a hyphen and we never say “not-for-profit.” Why? It’s a little arbitrary but it fits with our value of efficiency and our SEO will improve if we’re consistent with our keywords.

Brand Visuals

  • Logo Usage – Demonstrate any different versions of your logo and provide guidance on when to use which version. You might have versions with and without a tagline, or stacked vs horizontal, or single color vs full color. If you do, you need to let people know when to use each one or at least how to make an informed guess.
  • Colors & Fonts – Consistency, consistency, consistency! This is one of our biggest pet peeves. When people don’t know their colors, they tend to guess and the less of a “design eye” you have, the more random shades of blue you end up with. It looks sloppy and unprofessional. Stop doing this. This page should include color codes for web and print, as well as define fonts for headers, body copy, and print vs web if needed.
  • Graphics – What types of graphics does your organization use? Explain (with examples) the style of graphic you use and provide guidance on where to obtain or get these graphics created. If you have an in-house designer, bonus!
  • Photos – Same general idea here. Let people know what types of imagery you use (stock photos vs taking ones custom for your organization) and if you have any rules about filters/color overlays. For an organization that uses a lot of photo backgrounds, they might have specific color overlays that are permitted.
  • Iconography – We gave icons their own category because even if your organization uses only photos and no graphics, chances are you’ll still have icons on your website. We use icons to indicate things like social media networks without spelling out the full names, and most websites use them to give a simple visual representation of their services or any other information breakdown. Icons are available in different styles too, so you might specify the drawing style or where you obtain them in order to maintain consistency.

Branding Bottom Line

Feeling overwhelmed? We don’t blame you. We slowly built up this list (and our own brand book outline) over several YEARS. We’ll reiterate what we said earlier – you don’t need EVERYTHING in this list, especially when you’re getting started.

Here’s what we recommend you start with if you’re building a new brand and want to hit the ground running:

  1. Target Audience Overview
  2. Positioning Statements (tagline and mission statement)
  3. Logo
  4. Style Sheet (colors and fonts)

When All is Said and Done, Your Brand is Your Promise to Your Customers

Are you making a statement your customers will care about? And are you living up to that promise?

Creating a consistent, strategic brand with added value is what we strive for, which will allow you to charge more for your product or services. Take the iPad vs. other tablets as an example. Because Apple has such a top market position, some consumers refer to tablets as iPads regardless of the manufacturer — and they will pay more for that trusted brand.

BrandSwan takes great pride in helping Delaware businesses define their dream brand. We start with your logo, the foundation, and the simplest form of communication. The typography, colors, slogan, and all other materials created for you ultimately define your company’s unique voice and mission. Schedule a discovery call to start brainstorming your brand!

Free Resources

Download our Target Audience Worksheet to start connecting with your audience and converting them into leads!

Target Audience Worksheet preview | a free resource from BrandSwan, a Delaware branding agency