By Melanie Kinney, Content4Demand
As a beginning designer, I wasn’t particularly enthusiastic about branding guidelines. I felt like they were cutting into my creative design decisions. Fonts, colors, imagery — my design choices felt so limited. I didn’t understand why clients wanted everything to look the same.
Then one day, as I was studying some examples of great branded content, I had an ‘aha’ moment. Branding guidelines weren’t there to stunt my creativity, but to bring the brand identity front and center in every piece.
The truth is, the constraints of brand guidelines can actually inspire you to new creative heights, and they’re designed to make your marketing and advertising materials cohesive and recognizable — in short, more effective. I’ve learned to embrace them.
It’s eye-opening to look at pieces from companies with a solid brand identity. They have these beautifully recognizable assets that are familiar even without the logo. What’s more, the pieces don’t all look the same. The creativity is still there; it’s just being used in a way that consistently represents the brand.
NewsCred posted an article about their re-brand back in March. They began by talking about what the brand was at its conception and what it has developed into.
“In 2008, NewsCred was founded as a news syndication platform. Huddled around the desks of a co-working space, we were small and scrappy. Since then, we’ve become the industry’s leading content marketing platform.”
Their Senior Designer, Jeremy Ford, gave an extraordinary and in-depth look at how they transformed the brand to fit their current needs. They’ve considered everything from the connotation of their chosen font face to the history of their colors.
In the end, they’ve developed a brand identity that is strong, well-thought-out and consistent.
Just a few weeks ago, I was fascinated by an Anheuser-Busch branding stunt.
“So Budweiser is going to potentially ingenious, potentially absurd branding extremes. The company has kept the same can you already know, but when you look closely, you’ll realize that it has swapped out its own name, ‘Budweiser,’ for ‘America.'”
What an incredibly bold move. The article, Budweiser Renames Its Beer ‘America,’ details the changes the company made to its cans and bottles through election season. (It’s also a fabulous read if you’re into the details!) There’s only one thing they didn’t change: the bow tie logo on the back of the bottle.
Imagine having a brand that is so widely known that you can change just about everything and still be recognized. This is the epitome of brand identity.
“It’s something that we could not have done overnight. If we’d launched Budweiser yesterday, as a new brand, we probably wouldn’t have had the license to do it,” Marques says. “The work of the past few decades allowed us to build this brand as a truly American brand.”
If that’s the kind of brand identity we’re all striving for, where do we start? Brand guidelines.
As designers, branding guidelines can streamline our process. Having no need to reinvent the wheel every time means not worrying about new colors, fonts or image styles. Instead, we can focus on integrating the brand into the project’s theme and to making it stronger.
And when you follow brand guidelines consistently, your brand identity shines through. This is beneficial for companies and users alike, as it boils down to one simple thing: being recognizable. We know people are more likely to use, read or buy something from companies they’re familiar with, so it’s a win-win. For some examples of brand guidelines, in use and behind the scenes, check out 36 Great Brand Guideline Examples from Content Harmony.
We’ve been more focused on our own branding at G3 Communications, and it has really unified both our work and our departments. The digital and graphic design teams have been collaborating to achieve a more cohesive look among projects. While we may not be able to structure variations of projects the same way, we can create familiarity between them by sticking to the brand guidelines.
So, the next time you’re fighting the constraints of brand guidelines, take a deep breath! Embrace the ways in which they make your life easier and serve as a launch pad for the creativity and consistency that benefit your company and your audience.
Melanie Kinney is Digital Experience Director at Content4Demand. She grew up on a beach and moved to a city. Her addictions include tea, organizing and the New Jersey Devils. She’s in love with digital design and coding. Her motto? Keep learning.