One key way to build brand equity 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. It is recommended that even the smallest companies develop and maintain brand standards. The breadth and depth of brand standards can vary greatly, depending on your needs. Keep in mind that if you are too strict, you may hem yourself in creatively, while if you are too loose, design chaos can result. Focus on strategy and consistency in the following five areas:
1) Logo – There is perhaps no single element more important to your brand standards than the consistent use of your logo. First, you should never alter or re-draw your logo. Second, its placement and sizing should remain consistent within each communication vehicle (e.g., letterhead, brochures, postcards, etc.). Rules can vary by type of material, but not drastically. 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 helps your customers remember your brand faster. Also, stay consistent with borders and/or backgrounds—or show a pattern of consistency that complies with your brand standards. For example, 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 in brand identity. It makes an immediate impression on your audience, and plays 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. Remember that colors have different meanings in different cultures.
4) Fonts – Choose a handful of fonts for use on all your materials, selecting at least one serif font and one sans serif font. Serif fonts have “feet” at the bottom of the font to guide the readers eye, while sans serif fonts don’t. (Times New Roman and Century Schoolbook are examples of serif fonts; Helvetica and Verdana are examples of sans serif fonts.) Serif fonts work well in paragraphs (”body copy”) because they give the eye something to “hang on” to. Sans serif fonts should be reserved for headlines, numbers in charts, very small text, and/or text that is 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 can be used sparingly.
5) Illustrative and/or photographic style – Consider what type of visuals (pictures) you want to feature on your marketing materials. Will your visuals consist of illustration or photography? 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 have identified rules for the above, write them down and distribute them to any employee or vendor (like a designer or printer) who may need to reference them. Brand standards go a long way toward building brand equity. It’s worth the time and effort to do it right.
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