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Creating Brand Standards for Your Business

You can set your business apart with consistently designed marketing materials. This branding expert shows you how.

One key way to develop your brand is to create a set of design rules that tie together the look and feel of all your marketing materials. These rules are often referred to as "brand standards." Ideally, brand standards do the double-duty of creating awareness of your brand and differentiating your brand from your competition's. Think you're not big enough to worry about your brand? It's recommended that even the smallest companies develop and maintain brand standards from the very beginning.

The breadth and depth of your brand standards can vary greatly, depending on your needs. Keep in mind that if you're too strict, you may hem yourself in creatively, while if you're too loose, design chaos can result. Focus on strategy and consistency in the following five areas:

1. Logo. There's perhaps no single more important element to your brand standards than the consistent use of your logo. First, you should never alter or redraw your logo. Second, its placement and sizing should remain consistent within each communication vehicle (for example, your letterhead, brochures, postcards, fliers, etc.). Rules can vary according the type of material you're using your logo in, but they shouldn't vary drastically.

And if you want to look like a large company, remember this irony: The bigger the company, the smaller the logo.

2. Graphics. Use distinctive symbols and shapes in a consistent way. Choosing the same basic graphic elements will help customers remember your brand faster. Also, be consistent when using borders and/or backgrounds--or show a pattern of consistency that complies with your brand standards. For example, you could choose a cupid-themed border for a Valentine's Day ad and a clover-themed border for a St. Patrick's Day ad. In both cases, your border should be consistent in size and/or weight (the amount of emphasis it receives relative to the other elements on the page).

3. Colors. Color is one of the most important components when it comes to brand identity. The colors you choose will make an immediate impression on your audience, and play a large role in memory retrieval. Therefore color can significantly impact someone's perception of your brand. For example, gold, silver and burgundy are perceived to be upscale, while green is viewed as fresh and healthy. I highly recommend you research and/or test-market certain colors before you commit to a palette. One easy--if not scientific--way to do this is to create a brochure or ad in three or four different color palettes, then survey various people for feedback. And remember that colors have different meanings in different cultures.

4. Fonts. Choose just a handful of fonts for use on all your materials, selecting at least one serif font and one san-serif font. Serif fonts have "feet" at the bottom of the font to guide the reader's eye, while san-serif fonts don't--"Times" is an example of a serif font; "Helvetica" is an example of a san-serif font. Serif fonts work well in paragraphs or body copy because they give the eye something to "hang on to." San-serif fonts should be reserved for headlines, numbers in charts, very small text or text that's reversed out of a color. As a general rule, you should use no more than two fonts in a document, although a third, decorative font could be used sparingly.

5. Illustrative or photographic style. Consider what type of visuals-pictures--you want to feature on your marketing materials. Will your visuals consist of illustrations or photos? Try to stick with one or the other. Regardless of your choice, your visuals should be similar in style and color usage--black and white, four-color, two-color, etc.

When you've identified rules for the above areas, write them down and distribute them to any employee or vendor--such as a designer or printer--who may need to reference them. Your brand standards will go a long way toward building your brand equity. It's worth the time and effort to do it right.

John Williams is the founder and president of LogoYes.com, the world's first do-it-yourself logo design website. During John's 25 years in advertising, he's created brand standards for Fortune 100 companies like Mitsubishi and won numerous awards for his design work.

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