Do start-ups and SMEs really need brand guidelines?

by The Giles Agency

At Giles, we get approached by many entrepreneurs, start-up founders and small business owners looking to create their brand from scratch. We count ourselves fortunate to work on these projects, knowing what it took to nurture a company from a seed of an exciting idea, and knowing the client invested everything they have (and more!) to bring their product or service to market. Imagine how hard it must be to let an external partner into the fold and trust them to bring a nascent vision to life. These exciting briefs come with a large sense of responsibility!

Conversations usually begin with “I need a logo” or “I need a tagline”. It’s a start, but we’ve done enough of these to know that the client will need accompanying brand guidelines. It might seem like a luxury at this stage, but establishing proper guidelines from the get-go can really set a business up to succeed – and save time and costs in the long run.

Let’s start with the basics – what are brand guidelines and why are they so important?

Brand guidelines are the standards and rules a company sets for how it communicates its brand to the world (as well as specific audiences like employees and other stakeholders). They establish a consistent look and feel and messaging that your audience will remember forever, with variations catering to different platforms. There are no hard rules for how in depth these guidelines go, and they should be updated as the brand evolves, but there are some basics that should exist from day one.

Logo design

Where do we start?

The foundations of good brand guidelines include:

  • Logo
    • This is central to your brand identity. It’s the first thing your audience will recall – if done well!
    • Consider where your logo will appear – on products, your website, marketing communications, etc. This may mean you need to consider questions like horizontal and vertical placement; full-colour and black & white variations; logo mark only; partner logos and much more!
  • Colours
    • Colour palettes often go hand in hand with logo development, since the primary colour of your brand will likely be found in your logo, and secondary colours will need to compliment it.
  • Typography
    • Font selection is an oft overlooked element of brand development. Considering how much you’ll be saying about your new brand however, you’ll want everything to look consistent and easy to read.
    • Always consider online and offline fonts, as well as different fonts and/or weighting for headlines, sub-headlines and main body copy.
  • Tone of Voice
    • Brand guidelines are often misunderstood as only covering design elements, but having guidelines for tone of voice is equally important – especially for new companies that are growing quickly.
    • Tone of voice gives a brand a distinct personality. Having guidelines will ensure the brand speaks in one voice, regardless of who’s doing the writing.

How will brand guidelines set you up for success?

In the beginning, start-ups and SMEs are likely working with a small team. Everyone is on the same page in terms of what the brand looks and sounds like, so staying consistent is manageable. But when the goal is to grow the business, you’ll need to relinquish some of that control with every new starter you bring on board. You might also hire partners to develop assets on your behalf, so you’ll need to ensure everyone is singing from the same hymn sheet. Having strong guidelines from the start will make it easier to hold everyone accountable for ensuring that your brand always looks, feels and sounds consistent.

That’s not to say that these guidelines will set your brand in stone for life! In the same way your own personality is shaped by the world around you, brands evolve, and updates will be necessary. Having guidelines in place from the beginning will give you solid foundations that you can build on and adapt.

If you’re thinking about what your brand might look and sound like, check out some of our recent branding projects. Or contact us, and let’s have a chat about how we can help you set up your brand for success.