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How to Create Brand Guidelines in 5 Steps (Tips, Examples + Templates)

Learn how to create a comprehensive style guide that empowers everyone on your team to create cohesive, consistent brand content.

One of the hardest parts about owning a brand, growing a business, and launching a rebrand is maintaining quality and consistency. That includes working on materials yourself, handing the work off to employees, or describing your brand to freelancers. Without the right vision and direction, you can end up with content in the wrong colors, the wrong font, distorted logos, and an overall Frankenstein’s Monster for a brand. This bricolage of a brand can lessen your brand’s integrity and lose you valuable clients. The solution? Create comprehensive brand guidelines and use them.

What are Brand Guidelines?

What are Brand Guidelines?

In the design world, brand guidelines are the holy grail of brand identity design—but for business owners and leadership, brand guidelines are the key to brand consistency. Like an operating document for visuals, a brand style guide outlines every aspect of your brand from logo size and usage to colors, fonts, typographic language, image treatments, tone of writing, and more. 

Brand guidelines help businesses and organizations stay consistent on visuals and content as they scale, delegate, and grow their presence. A professional design agency will give you brand guidelines in an easy-to-use format that you can reference to keep your brand on point.

Why do Businesses Need Brand Guidelines?

3 Reasons Businesses Need Brand Guidelines

Ever sit at your desk and wonder what kind of content to make? What colors to use? What fonts your flyer should use? Well, your brand guidelines outline all of these things and more. Instead of wondering what to use or having to ask one point person every time you need to create something on behalf of your brand, guidelines help you stay consistent in an efficient way.

Not only do brand guidelines provide consistency, but they also benefit your brand in several ways.

Keep your brand on point 

  • A great mentor of mine once said that “design degrades,” meaning that designers often work hard to create a visual identity that will achieve business success only to have it degrade immediately after they hand it off.
  • A set of brand guidelines helps business owners and employees maintain a brand better, for longer. Keeping your brand on point extends and amplifies the impact of a brand identity process, so brand guidelines are a must.

Help others propagate your brand

  • With a proper brand guidelines document, companies can trust more people to propagate their brand correctly and effectively. Employees, freelancers, and internal teams will all have the tools they need to create content and messaging for your brand.

Better Brand Recognition

  • The more consistent your brand messaging and visuals are, the more likely people are to recognize your work. Whether you’re as dedicated to red as Coca-Cola, or have a new custom font like Spotify, using your brand assets correctly and effectively bolsters brand recognition.
  • “When people see the Coca-Cola red, they think of the real thing, the real taste, and the original Coca-Cola."

What should Brand Guidelines Include?

Three Things every Brand Guide should include.

Brand Core

Think of the brand core as the high-level, driving force behind your brand’s core principles. These influence everything from the way you speak to your audience to the reason you design your website the way you do. Your brand core encompasses things like:

  • Brand Purpose: Why You Exist
  • Brand Vision: What Future Looks Like and How You Help Create It
  • Brand Mission: What Your Brand is Here to Do
  • Brand Values: What Principles Guide Your Actions and Behavior

Written Identity

Usually confused with Verbal Identity or Brand Voice, your Written Identity is how you speak about your company’s brand in all forms of writing. From product descriptions to email newsletters and communicating with customers, your Writing Identity helps you express your brand in language. This includes:

  • Brand Writing Voice
  • Brand Writing Tone
  • Brand Writing Personality
  • Brand Tagline
  • Brand Value Proposition
  • Brand Messaging Pillars and Differentiators

Visual Identity

Your visual identity is everything your customer sees. Literally. From the very first social media profile image to your storefront and customer flow through checkout, your visual identity encompasses everything your clients come in contact with. This includes at the minimum:

  • Logo
  • Colors
  • Typography
  • Photography
  • Wayfinding
  • Paint Colors and Hierarchy
  • Iconography
  • Data Visualization
  • *Note, if you’re just starting out, you may not yet have a comprehensive brand identity created. You should, however, at least have the basics like logo, color, and typography, as well as brand voice and personality guidelines. 

If there are elements that you’re missing or are lacking, let’s have a quick chat about how we can help.

What makes a good Brand Guide?

What Makes Good Brand Guidelines?

My grandpa Walt used to have a bucket for water with holes in the bottom. That’s what it’s like having an incomplete style guide—it’s as useful as not having one at all. In order to create a brand style guide that holds water, it ought to be:


  • As I wrote previously, your guidelines should help anyone and everyone you bring on to create on-brand collateral and materials. Make sure to include as much relevant information as possible in your guide.


  • Guidelines that are too overwhelming, on the other hand, mean that your people aren’t likely to use it. Provide clear direction with helpful examples in order to avoid a cumbersome document your team will avoid like Covid.


  • Accessible as in optimized for different visual, physical, and mental abilities as well as in a place that people have access to. Everyone on your team should be able to easily access your brand guidelines. Many large companies even publish their brand guidelines to micro-sites which allows everyone in their company to access it, and also allows others to wonder in amazement at everything they have figured out. (We like microsites or Notion workspaces for our clients). 

At the end of the day, the best brand guideline document is the one that gets used. So if it needs to be a printed and bound book, then print and bind it. If it needs to be an audio book, then record it. Whatever makes the most sense and is most likely to be used will give you the best guidelines.

How to Create Brand Guidelines in 5 Steps

How to Create Brand Guidelines?

Choose your Brand Style Guide format.

Step 1: Gather Your Brand Assets & Standards

Brand assets range from your writings about tone, style, and messaging to your colors, fonts, images, and how to combine them all (don’t forget that last part: flour, eggs, and sugar can make both bread and cookies—how you combine your ingredients is just as important as the ingredients themselves.

If you’re going through a brand identity development process with a professional agency, then you’ll be creating these documents and assets along the way. If not, you’ll have to look deep into your hard drives to find the necessary files and writings, if they’ve been written down at all.

Step 2: Choose Your Format

There are a number of different ways to propagate your brand guidelines, each with its own set of strengths and weaknesses. Let’s cover a few.

Printed Brand Guides (Static)

The classic model of a brand guide is a printed document. Back before computers and 4-color printers existed, it was mandatory to have a physical brand document. Printed versions elevate the status of a brand and also speak to the permanence of the standards. Printed guidelines also do a great job of sitting on a shelf or desk for easy access. The drawback is they can be expensive—so the trade off of having a physical copy is up to you.

Digital Brand Guide (Static)

In the realm of digital brand guidelines, you can distribute a static .pdf document. A static document is one that doesn’t change as easily as, say, a webpage, but does change more easily than a printed volume. A word of caution when using a static digital copy is to stay on top of your versions. When companies are frequently updating their .pdf files its easy for employees, contractors, or freelancers to use outdated versions and therefore make branding mistakes.

Website Brand Guide (Interactive)

As your company grows, it gets more and more practical to host your brand guidelines on a dedicated website or subdomain. Online brand guidelines are the simplest to update (just press publish) and just as easy to send out to the people who need it—once they have a link, they always have the latest version of your brand guidelines. 

The two major concerns with online brand guidelines are 1) ongoing costs, and 2) their security. Its not terribly expensive to upkeep a website, but it is a cost. If you’re small and not using many freelancers, it might not be worth it. As for security, if you don’t password protect your site or assets, then anyone scouring the internet could find, use, and create content that sounds as on-brand as anything else you produce. Not a huge risk, but a risk nonetheless.

Workspace Brand Guidelines (Interactive)

As company workspaces and tools become more robust, we’re seeing more users want their guidelines where they are already working. One platform in particular, Notion, is a great place to host brand guidelines.

Notion is a digital platform that let’s user host documents, embed images and videos, and create dynamic links to outside content. Pairing Notion with a smart filing system in, say, Google Drive, is a great way to both create functional guidelines and keep your brand organized. If its a workspace you’re already using, then its worth putting your brand guidelines there. 

Build your Brand Style Guide

Step 3: Build Your Brand Guidelines

Once you know what for you’d like your guidelines to take and have all the pieces that go into them, it’s time to put them together. 

In our experience, brand guidelines get better when the also feature these few sections:

Dos and Don’ts:

Just as helpful as what to do with brand assets are rules on what not to do. Examples include stretching a logo, using an off brand color, rotating an image, adding a drop shadow, and so on. List a few dos and don’ts in order to give your guideline readers a head start in their work.


As you use and implement your brand identity, you’ll find a few processes that make life easier and more consistent. As you come across what works and what doesn’t, turn it into a checklist. For example, we have checklists for:

  • How our blog articles get written
  • What images we create for posts
  • How we edit our videos
  • Steps to optimize what audio sounds like
  • SEO checklist for new published website pages
  • And so on…

By including checklists in your brand guidelines, you also make the document a place that people continually refer back to, creating and solidifying the habit.


Create and collect examples of your brand in action. When you create your brand guidelines, create examples of how to use your brand and what it looks like when its successful. Then, as you continue to create content, marketing, and media, collect the examples that perform well, feel the most on-brand, and grow your brand the way you intend. You can have a shared folder that collects great examples of your brand in the world.

Coca-Cola has a whole department dedicated to archiving the history of their company and they are in constant communication with their global marketing teams. Their marketing, branding, and PR teams are always looking at examples of successful, on-brand messages the company has used in the past.

Tools and Resources:

Some brand identities come with tools ranging from Google Doc templates or Adobe files to customized softwares that generate artwork and layouts. Whatever your toolbox might contain, be sure to document where it is, what it is, and how to use it. 

Pro tip: tools and resources can be explained in a simple tutorial video. Using a platform like Loom can help you quickly and effectively explain and document your brand tools.

Test your Brand Style Guide

Step 4: Test Your Brand Guidelines

As a brand creator, of course you’re going to think your brand guidelines make sense—you already know all the ins and outs and have a good idea of how to implement it. That’s not helpful. Instead, try handing your guidelines over to someone else and asking them to create something for your brand that’s on brand. There’s no quicker way to find the holes in your guidelines than testing them through someone else.

Make Your Brand Style Guide Accessible.

Step 5: Make Your Brand Guidelines Accessible

As I previously mentioned, make sure your brand guidelines are accessible. Put the document ina place that gets used, not one that collects dust. Its something you and your employees should frequently be referring to in order to keep your brand top of mind.

“Every week we have a team meeting, and we spend just 10–15 minutes reviewing a different brand persona and walking through a scenario. It’s been so helpful for our team.” —Brian Anderson, Blue Sky Homes

And that's it! Generally...Of course, if you don’t have the capacity or expertise to create your brand guidelines, find out what it’s like to work with me on your brand identity. I’d be happy to take it off your plate.

Kaleb Dean
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4 Brand Style Guides to Inspire You

Mailchimp Logo Lockup and Animation

1. Mailchimp

The strongest part of Mailchimp’s brand style guide is its guidelines for writing. While Mailchimp provides a guide for their visual identity, the Mailchimp Content Style Guide is an incredible resource for all of their content writers. Covering everything from goals and principles to writing about the company versus writing about other people, the guide is an invaluable resource to uphold their branding. 

Starbucks Logo History

2. Starbucks

Maintaining a megabrand like Starbucks would be impossible without comprehensive brand guidelines and a stellar creative team. To help them stay on track, Starbucks has a microsite dedicated to their brand guidelines. The site includes things like logos and colors and even photography and writing tone. Perhaps the most interesting part of their guidelines is the use of the spectrum. Certain elements, like illustration style, come with a guided spectrum ranging from functional to expressive which is a great way to cater to a larger audience.

Starbucks has also recently invested millions of dollars in reimagining its stores. What used to be dimly lit, dark cafés that have become the standard for coffee shops around the world are now light, bright, and inviting places to work for an afternoon. This intentional shift is part of their new brand strategy, and so thief brand guidelines include their physical stores.

City of Chicago Logo Lockup

3. The City of Chicago

It’s rare for American cities to have comprehensive brand identities (though the value to the city would be immeasurably positive). Chicago has long had a flag the people loved and recently adapted its design into a brand guide of its own. 

Chicago’s brand guide microsite cover’s the city’s official design system, symbols, and lockups. For a city, it’s important to be able to include multiple departments, personnel, and public marks in the larger identity. The guidelines outline how the system works within the city and with all other departments, making it comprehensive and practical. Pair this with the interactive web guide and how-to section and this brand guide gets four out of four red stars.

Dropbox Brand Design Intro

4. Dropbox

Last on our list is possibly the most comprehensive, Dropbox. The Dropbox brand style guide comes as its own full website and includes everything one could imagine: brand strategy, customer journeys, logo, typography, shape, UI systems, and a manual of writing style. 

The Dropbox brand guide is everything the company needs to execute its brand. It’s clear, simple, and so easy to access that a quick online search brings it up as an immediate result.

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