5 Must-Haves in a Cohesive Startup Branding Guide

March 22, 2022

For businesses of any size and vertical, having a solid and cohesive brand is key to standing out in a competitive market where businesses are running neck and neck at every level. But how exactly does a branding strategy benefit a business and why do businesses need branding guides to facilitate their branding strategies? 

Beyond mere memorability, a great branding strategy boosts customer acquisition and retention, which are both major marketing ventures for every growing business. More often than not, a comprehensive branding guide is necessary for maintaining consistency across all of their output, be it in the form of products or services. 

While many startups may deem branding unnecessary early on while they focus on getting their products and services out the door, establishing a brand identity at an early stage will give you an advantage by helping you stick out and rise above your competitors. 

Why Branding is Essential for Startups

If you’re running a startup and have yet to invest in branding, you should start paying attention now. But why the urgency? Here’s a breakdown on the biggest ways cohesive branding can help your business succeed with recognizability, trust, and retention.

You’re more memorable to potential customers.

With a distinct brand, you give people a look and feel to identify and recognize beyond your name. Making an impression on people even before they need your products or services is a long-term investment. If one day they need you, they’ll come back around if they remember you specifically.

People trust you more.

Between a startup with a cohesive brand and a startup with zero branding, most would choose the former. As something that’s deemed as essential, branding is what saves a business from appearing suspicious, unestablished or unreliable. This leads to better acquisition rates.

You better retain employees and customers.

Employees want to feel like they’re part of a team, something bigger than just work. Creating team merchandise like branded lanyards, t-shirts, and notebooks can do wonders for team unity and motivation. In the same way, engaging with your customers with an engaging brand personality is a great way to connect with your customers on a more emotional level.

What Your Branding Guide Should Include

Before jumping into designing your products and services, it’s important to first have guidelines that dictate their visual and conceptual direction in detail. This will ensure that all your products and services remain future-proof, consistent, and cohesive regardless of who creates them. With that being said, here are 5 things you should include in a well-rounded branding guide.

1. Brand Personality

Discord’s playfulnessApple’s minimalism, and Slack’s personability are great examples of well-established brand personalities. Once a brand has an established personality, cohesion happens when everything they produce revolves around it. That is why it is the first thing to pin down when developing a brand guide. 

If you want to display a brand that is cohesive and complete, your brand personality has to be a part of every little thing you produce. For example, Discord’s brand personality is fun and playful, so all of their assets including graphics, website copy, and social media postings reflect that playfulness. Their graphics are colorful, lively, and illustrated; and their copy is casual and energetic. This strong personality is great for creating an emotional connection with their audience, luring the right people in, and giving them a reason to stay.

2. Color Palette

Every great brand has an impressionable color palette. Think about some of the biggest global brands — McDonald’s has red and yellow; IKEA has blue and yellow; and Apple has black and white. When we think about them as a brand, we associate not only their brand name to their business, but also their colors. 

The color combinations in your color palette can be sectioned into primary and secondary colors and identified with HEX or RGB color codes. These colors will determine the look of your logo, icons, web and mobile interfaces, printed materials, and everything else you produce that represents your brand. 

When deciding on your color palette, it’s important to also think about what each color represents and what your brand personality is. For example, Coca-Cola uses HEX #F40000 as a signature red across their packaging designs, ads, prints, and more. This bright red represents their brand personality that emphasizes boldness and passion.

3. Brand Voice and Tone

Your brand voice is an extension of your brand’s personality. Having an established brand voice is key to infusing impactful messaging throughout all of your products and services. The tone and vocabulary you use in your copy will depend on your brand personality and how you want to connect with your target audience. 

This section should discuss all things revolving around textual communication, including tone, formatting, punctuation, and vocabulary. For example; an informal, bold, and crass brand personality would don a voice that uses all-caps, exclamation marks, and vulgarity, but a gentle, friendly personality would not.

4. Typefaces

Typefaces for headings, subheadings, body text should be predefined for all your branded products consisting of text. This section will also include the correct way to size, align, space, color, and position text under your brand.

5. Logo and Icons

When it comes to logos and icons, it’s important to establish a set of rules that define how a brand’s logo should and shouldn’t be used to ensure consistency. This doesn’t just include using designated icon packs and logos. It also includes how logos and icons should and shouldn’t be positioned, edited, stretched, cropped, and used in specific contexts. 

Slack’s brand guide is a great example that contains comprehensive guidelines on how to treat design elements that represent their brand.

6. Graphics

Similar to logos and icons, there should be predefined rules for how graphics should and shouldn’t be formatted, edited, positioned, and used in specific contexts. You should be clear about when and where to use different types of images, and how to select them. 

For example, you might want to reserve stock photos for landing pages and use illustrations for blog posts. Should the stock photos be bright or dark? Should they contain people or only objects? Should they contain close-up shots or wide angle shots of objects? These are some of the rules that should be defined in your brand guide.

Get Help From an Agency

If you’re not well versed with branding yourself and need help with branding your startup or a digital product, there are competent marketing agencies and software agencies out there who are dedicated to helping businesses refresh and rework their branding strategy and products. 

It’s never too late to start branding, and it’s definitely never too early. A well put-together branding guide and strategy can propel you miles ahead of your competitors — and it’s always better to get ahead.

—by Bree Ogaldez

SEM Nexus is an award-winning startup app agency focused on building and marketing mobile apps for startups. We live, breathe and dream startups. They are our life, our passion. Let us help you make your dream into a reality.

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