How to create a proper brand identity guide

Branding TipsCognite MarketingGraphic Design


Your brand identity is the visual representation of your business’s essence. It is one of the most valuable assets of a business and it must be carefully thought out to ensure that it properly represents the business. Creating a brand identity is important for making sure that your customer’s perception of the company echoes the way that you want to be seen.

This article will go through the process that precedes the Brand Identity Guideline document compilation as well as the guide content itself. For you to know what to put into your guide you will need to know what your company is about. Failing to ask yourself questions about your company’s core will just make the guideline document a very consistent guide to giving the wrong marketing message.

So how do you start? First decide what your company is all about…

SWOT Analysis

First thing you need to do is take some time to get a clear image of your business’s purpose and place in the market. One of the easiest ways to start this is to perform a SWOT analysis to gain some insight into the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats in the market place.

SWOT analysis has been around forever, but most companies do not realise that they need to revisit the process often. Knowing your market is a big first step to understanding where your specific Goldilocks zone for brand positioning is.

Once you have a better understanding of your SWOT then you will have a good understanding of what you should focus on improving and what negative aspects you should try and counteract.

Defining your brand in 5 easy steps

Defining your company’s identity can be simplified into 5 steps. These 5 steps will help determine what your business stands for and what sort of emotions you want people to feel when they come into contact with your visual identity, i.e. a charity would want clients to feel compassion whereas a security business would want their clients to feel safe.

Step 1 – Vision Statement
A vision statement is short and sweet, it should never be more than 1 sentence in length and it should be something catchy that will stick in your clients mind. When coming up with your vision statement you need to consider a few things:

  • What are your offering through products and services?
  • What products and services will never be offered?
  • What is unique about your business?
  • How do your clients describe your brand?
  • Where would you like your business to be in the future?

Examples of Vision Statements could be :

“We intend to provide our customers with the best online shopping experience from beginning to end, with a smart, searchable website, easy-to-follow instructions, clear and secure payment methods, and fast, quality delivery.”

or perhaps

“Our salon will change the way you think about a haircut. Full service comfort, friendly staff, a relaxing atmosphere, and the best prices in town give you an experience that will leave you glowing both inside and out.”

Step 2 – Mission Statement
A mission statement should be simple and straight to the point. It defines the purpose of your business and should be easy to understand yet motivating to employees as well as clients. When creating your mission statement you should consider the following:

  • What specific market needs exist for the business to address?
  • What will the business do to address these needs?
  • What will be the guiding principles that define the companies approach?
  • Why do your clients choose you instead of opting for your competition?

Examples of Mission Statements could be:

“To continuously add value by providing objective and innovative audit services that evaluate risk, control and governance processes.”

or maybe

“To be the providers of I.C.T. strategies and services, which deliver long term commercial benefits, based upon our clients key business requirements. The strategies evolved should be economical, efficient, durable, flexible and allow the organisations to respond rapidly to both market and customer needs.”

Step 3 – Essence
Your business’s essence can be described using one word. When clients come into contact they should feel the essence of your business through your brand identity, so think about what you would like your client to feel when they think about your business or see your branding. Your branding should convey the heart, soul and spirit of your business, consider the following:

  • When your clients work with your business, what emotions do they experience?
  • If your business were a person, how would you describe their personality?

Step 4 – Personality
The personality of your business needs to be personified through your brand identity. The type of personality you want to convey to your potential or existing client base will ultimately depend on what your products and services are and how it resonates with the type of people that are most likely to buy into them. Choosing one of each from the list below will give you a starting point for the personality:

  • Elegant or Bold
  • Playful or Serious
  • Traditional or Modern
  • Personable or Professional
  • Feminine or Masculine
  • Colourful or Conservative

Step 5 – Positioning statement
A positioning statement is a short statement describing your product and service’s unique value and benefits to potential or existing clients. In this statement you will need to define the audience and category which your product/service falls under and how your business is different or better than your competitors. Questions to ask yourself when creating your positioning statement:

  • What business and industry do you focus on?
  • Who is your target market?
  • What does your target market need?
  • Who are your top 5 competitors?
  • What benefits do your clients get from you compared to the competitors?
  • What is your Unique Selling Proposition?
  • What guarantee can you offer your customers that you can deliver?

Take a look at some examples of Brand Positioning Statements or another explanation of brand positioning here.

…Then decide how to visually present it…

The important thing to remember is that you need to set time aside and fully commit yourself when creating your brand identity because the work you put into it now will set the tone for the business’s future and could be the determining factor in the success or failure of your business venture. The following sections are generally what you would need to add into your Corporate Identity Guideline document.

You will need to sit with your designer and decide what direction to take, tweaking it, mulling it over and finally making a firm decision on it. Remember that you can always adapt your brand identity in the future so rather get marketing with a brand identity that is at 95% completed than trying to go for 100%, living in paranoia about failure and never letting it see the light of day.

The logo
So you have done all the theory work and you have it all written down, but what about the look? Although all of the above is incredibly important for your brand identity, none of it will matter if you haven’t grabbed a potential client’s attention long enough for them to want to know more about your business.

Your logo is the champion of your brand identity. You can compare it to your own face. Your friend will see your face, recognise you and automatically they will get a gut feeling, based on previous good or bad experiences in dealing with you. You logo is is the face of your company.  Luckily your company is not born with a face. You can design it. A great resource for logo inspiration is Logo Pond.

Simple logo design Do’s and Dont’s:

  • DO… Keep it simple – Simple logos are easier to remember than complicated logos.
  • DO… Research – See what your competitors are doing and try to come across as unique.
  • DO… Think of a clever way to represent your company identity, even if it is not obvious
  • DO… Focus on using less colors. The logo will be easier to reproduce accurately and will help to keep it simple.
  • DO… Make sure that the logo is not too tall or wide as it will be difficult to use in other media.
  • DO… Make sure that your fonts will read easily when the logo is reduced in size
  • DO… Try and design a logo that looks good in one color as well as multiple colors as this is an indication of a strong overall design.
  • DO… Bounce your logo design off friends and family. Not because of their creative input, but for the perception that they get from it. Does it fit the brand that you are trying to create?
  • DO… Ensure that your logo does not look like that of another famous company because you will spend a lot of money trying to get out of their shadow.
  • DO… Make sure that your logo does not pigeonhole you into a specific industry if you have long term plans to expand into others.
  • DO NOT… Use free clip-art that you get online. You will get what you pay for.
  • DO NOT… Copy someone else’s logo as this defeats the purpose of creating your own unique design plus you will likely get sued for copyright infringement.
  • DO NOT… Use fonts that are too decorative and fancy. They should be readable and clear no matter how you resize them. Avoid using too many different fonts in your logo as well. Stick to 1 or 2 fonts maximum.
  • DO NOT… Segregate the important parts of your logo design too much. This means that the mark, type and tagline need to appear as part of one design.
  • DO NOT… Place the logo on a patterned, image or textured background unless the background is part of your identity system as well. The logo should usually sit on a solid colour or white background so that the background does not overpower the logo itself.
  • DO NOT… Use too many drop shadows, embossing or other effects as it will come across as a novice design. It is like getting Photoshop the first time and using Lens Flare on everything.
  • DO NOT… Use photos as part of an image, unless it is very simple and has been vectorized accurately. Raster imagery (JPGs, GIF) will pixelate when enlarged.
  • DO NOT… Ask a lot of colleagues for their opinion on a logo concept. You will get so many different opinions that you will fall into analysis paralysis and second guess yourself and feel insecure about any decisions that you make.


Another important thing you need to think about is the colours you want to use in your branding. Of course you will have a main colour that your business will be known for, i.e. Facebook is blue, McDonald’s is yellow and Coca Cola is red. You can mention a color and you will very likely be able to recall about 5 brands per color off the top of your head.

On top of your primary colour you need to decide if you want a secondary colour, i.e. Mac Donald’s has red as a secondary colour. The secondary color is optional but you would need to control the usage of it in relation to the primary color.  A good way to plan ahead is to do research into the possible ways that a color could be perceived emotionally. There is no rule that you have to have a specific color for a specific industry, but it is important to realise how society has been using colors to influence emotion.

Once you have your color scheme down, first look for the Pantone color value that matches it the closest and then find the matching CMYK (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, Black/Key) and RGB (Red, Green, Blue) versions of it. The closest color reproduction would come from Pantone, but you might use CMYK for most of your printing. It is just a good idea to have a proper matching Pantone color available so that you don’t plan your colors using CMYK and there is no accurate Pantone color match for it when you need to print using Pantone only. You might use Pantone colors to save money on large volume prints or just to make sure the colors come out accurately.

Explore Adobe’s free Kuler color scheme service for great ideas on color combinations.


The power of typography is something most people discount or underestimate. Used correctly is can bring your whole brand identity together. Most of your communication with the target market would be via written marketing messages so your typography choices will become crucial.

You do not want to your readers to work themselves to death trying to go through some basic copy. Keep it simple. Here are some great tips on planning the typography for your brand. The big part of the planning of your typography is working out a viable hierarchy for headings and body font, font types, color, letter spacing and line heights, font sizes and how they would laid out together within the same design.

Tone of voice

An important part of all marketing messages is to make sure that your tone of voice is consistent. The tone of voice guides the copy writer and photographer and designer in how a message must be conveyed. The copywriter will know how to word a message, the photographer, if you employ one, will know how to take product photos and how to crop them and the designer will know how to combine the copy and imagery into a design that fits with the brand positioning that is required.


The types of photos or illustrations that you choose for your marketing collateral is an art in itself. You may decide to use 2D or 3D illustrations to add more depth to your designs or you might focus on stock photos. You may decide to choose cartoony illustrations, minimalist design or decorative vector art. For the photos you may decide to have it always involve people looking happy, or only product based photography, photos that are gray scale or tinted with one of your brand colors or stylized in a specific way. Whatever you do, write down the goal of the imagery for your designs and create a mood wall of 10 or 20 photos to illustrate what the visual tone of voice should be. Take stroll over to 123RF for affordable stock photos and footage as well as vector illustrations.

Additional Identity System Elements

A logo is the first thing that pops into your head when thinking about the identity of your brand, but even though it is the foundation of your brand and makes your business instantly recognisable, you cannot focus on just the logo alone. You need to include additional identity elements that expands on the base logotype and supports it to create a fuller overall look & feel. The rule of thumb is that if it doesn’t add to the character of your brand then it takes away from it. Do not create design noise. These additional identity system elements may be specific types of background textures and borders or content dividers that you want to use. It might be watermarks or specific types of vector illustrations that you use across your stationery and marketing collateral.

Examples of how it all fits together.

Now that you have pinned down the individual aspects of the brand identity you should get your designer to add them into compilations where you can see the photos, logo, fonts and additional design elements work together in a single tone of voice. Here you will see if they all work together and if the design is tight. If something just feels off then trust your gut. Stand back and imagine each element being moved around and if it needs to be balanced out better. A way to spot the culprit would be to remove one element at a time until the balance is better and then replacing that element with another option.

Examples of famous Corporate Identity Guidelines

Take a look at Logo Design Love’s massive list of downloadable corporate identity guidelines. Here you can see prime examples of doing it correctly.

…That will afford you these great benefits…

When you combine all of the above mentioned guidelines, you will end up with a brand identity that has:

  • Pride – Showing that you are committed to your character
  • Visibility – Helping clients to recognise you easily
  • Credibility – A strong visual message and a professionally developed brand
  • Retention – Keeping on repeating your brand consistently will improve recall.
  • Differentiation – Being different and standing out is sometimes more important in marketing that being perfect.
  • Stability – Having a consistent visual identity will give the impression of consistent quality and predictability. This is a key aspect of brand loyalty.
  • Support – With a strong visual appearance you may increase the possibilities of investment, if required.

…Which leads us to the conclusion that…

You will need to spend the time to understand what your company is all about. Sometimes it is necessary to repeat the process yearly or even every 6 months as the company might change, product and service may have been added or removed or the industry has evolved. All of that may mean that your SWOT has changed and that you may need to adjust your positioning in the market to adapt. If you change your positioning then you may need to take a look again at your visual identity to make sure that it is still in line with moving the company forward toward your vision and mission.

It does sound like a lot of work and it may cost you a bit of time and money, but in the fast moving business world it is all down to adapt or die. Refreshing your brand every now and then will remind your customers that the company is fresh, forward thinking, modern and that you listen to their needs. Inject time and money into your brand development and it will pay you back with interest.