A New Way to Build a Brand Style Guide

Use the Identity Prism for a Distinctive and Simple Brand

I love branding. But it's not all about design. As the kid of a clinical psychologist, I appreciate it on another level. It is both highly valuable and almost completely psychological.

Let’s pull back.

What is a Brand?

In essence, a brand is a name, term, design, symbol, or any other feature that identifies one seller’s good or service as distinct from those of other sellers.

The power of a brand is the collection of perceptions that those identifiers unlock in the mind.

Simplicity is Key to Brand Success

The world’s successful companies all say the same thing. The biggest asset is the brand. Some brands seem clear and obvious. Apple. Ikea. Krispy Kreme. The best brands are strong and distinctive, as well as simple and clear.

If you look at the Interbrand top 20 global brands, all of them are clear, strongly defined, and use simple stories that people understand. In fact, anyone can understand them. Even children. That’s the power of simplicity.

But if you’re small and a service provider, you can deploy the same tactics.

What is a Style Guide

A Style Guide is a document that contains the writing, formatting, and design rules for your materials.

Be Succinct and Distinct

Some brand manuals are enormous, like encyclopaedias. You be the judge. Cover what you need to cover. My advice is to start small and include only the fundamentals.

The Style Guide is an evolving document so it will change over time. Convey the essence as succinctly and distinctly as possible in each facet of the prism.

Where to start

Consider using a shared digital space e.g. a Google Drive folder. In the folder called Brand Manual, include copies of logos, forms, research, elements, Google Docs, or PDFs that need links for your team. Consider a password protecting the folder.

For a quick and simple Style Guide, I may use Google Slides.

This is what to cover.

1. Physical Elements

Logos and Symbols

Include all the versions you need.

  • Print
  • Web + retina
  • Audio logo
  • Favicon
  • Emoticons
  • Icons

Include B&W, full-colour CMYK, RGB, Reversed and the Pantone options for print.

File types to think about are high resolution, such as eps as well as pdf, jpeg, png, gif.

TIP: You can consider a page that shows them and links the image to the actual file in your Drive.

Usage Rules

Include logo usage simple rules, especially if multiple people will be handling them. I have seen some logos so distorted they could be horror movie posters.

  • colour backgrounds
  • stacked and unstacked
  • with taglines and without
  • minimum sizes
  • exclusion zones (X space) around logo

Colour Palette

  • Brand colour palette
  • Reference the hexadecimal numbers for each web colour, as well as the PMS number for print, or CMYK
  • Reference paper stocks for print and packaging, and paper thickness

TIP: For convenience at an Operations level, include the supplier of printing, design work, and merchandise for reorders.

Typefaces and fonts

You may have a separate font for web to print.

Record the details here, and include a hyperlink to the place you can access font files.

2. Personality

If your brand were a person, who were they be?

Tone, Voice, Language


Have notes on how you explain jargon in your brand’s way.

Here, you can link to a fully alphabetized guide if you need to.

Metaphor and Analogies

Mixed metaphors can be hilarious. Not so hilarious when you hear staff mangle your message.

TIP: You can specify analogies and metaphors for how you explain your services.

Guiding people on how to explain concepts through simple metaphors and analogies can be really helpful. It shows new staff, sales staff what to say and how to say it, so everyone is on the same page with service descriptions.

The Elements of Style, by Strunk, White & Kalman, is the quintessential bible of editorial styles. Depending on your service, you may be wise to include items such as spellings, languages, and styles (e.g. I use British English. The New Yorker uses diacritics (but not hyphens) in all conjunctions e.g. preëmptive).

For academic or scientific writing, be sure to specify whether to use the Vancouver Style, AAP referencing styles, or the Harvard Style.

3. Values/culture

If you have company values, link them here.

You might have a one-page tag cloud or a moodboard of images that reflect the culture or values of your organisation.

Tell our brand story in a pithy paragraph.

TIP: Your mission or purpose statement can be a good starting point.

4. Customer Self-Concept

This is where you succinctly summarise the self-image of your customer. Your client persona is what goes here.

The self-concept will emerge through depth interviews.

What’s important about this facet is an overview of information like demographic data interests but most importantly attitudes how they see themselves.

TIP: Put into three clear words how your customer sees themself.

5. Reflecting the self-concept

We dig deep into the mind of our customers and try to understand what they really want in life. There is a way they see themselves, and how they want to see themselves.

This is what advertising is. We polish their perspective, like our Zoom auto-retouching screen, we make them recognise themselves in the light they aspire to.

I’m speaking about the emotional and spiritual dimension of personal growth that everyone carries. How does your customer esteem themselves?

People use brands as a form of self-expression.

Are they adventure-seeking? Many people over 60 years of age are seeking new experiences. Are they freedom-seeking? Are they health-seeking? You will never get self-concept from demographic data, you need a deep listening conversation or someone else’s qualitative research.

What symbols and images best reflect the deeper aspirations?

Soap for people who see themselves as part of a wealthy elite?

Imperial Leather logo
Imperial Leather logo

TIP: What can your brand help your customer to express about themselves?

6. Relationship with the Brand

What are the customer touchpoints?

If they are busy, will you have very short and easy forms?

Consider your touchpoint inventory

  • Forms
  • Brochures
  • Magazines and reports
  • Gifts
  • Mascots
  • Merchandise

TIP: How do you want your customer to think about you?

Brand Essence at the Centre

Right in the middle of the prism is the brand essence. One simple question can help you nail this.

TIP: What word do you want to own?

Parting Words — Consistency and Clarity

You may not need to have a lengthy style guide, but only if you are running solo. As soon as you start outsourcing, however, or take on a partner, or employee, or delegate functions, you’ll find your own style guide very helpful.

The purpose is to maintain consistency and clarity. There are no fixed rules as to how. Whatever works best to achieve this will do. I hope this has given you an insight into how to make your brand strong and distinctive, as well as simple and clear.

Writes about strategy, storytelling, messaging, and communication…Prone to bouts of fiction.

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