Brand guidelines; do they signal an end to your creativity as a marketing manager?
A marketing manager’s work is never done.
From monitoring budgets to creating the most brand-appropriate marketing campaigns, being successful in the role means creative thinking is a must.
And the nature of the position means being open to working on an array of briefs and projects, thinking of interesting and creative ways to showcase your brand, service or offering to your customers.
And a creative mindset is certainly of great importance in a marketing role.
Your objective, and challenge, as a marketing professional is to make sure you are creating content with a purpose; coming up with new ways to share the same brand message in a way that moves the brand forward.
Which is certainly not an easy feat, when working in such a fast-paced industry.
But this desire to share fresh, new, exciting ideas with your team and using your creativity and industry know-how to produce great things is one thing you love about your role.
But there is one phrase that can often strike dread within marketing teams, making them feel that their creativity is no longer needed in their role; a set of brand guidelines.
Brand guidelines are commonplace in today’s marketing world, creating a list of ‘rules’ for every piece of design and marketing collateral to follow.
But unfortunately, this set of rules can often make marketing managers feel restricted from the outset.
They often feel like the presence of brand guidelines don’t allow for them to think ‘outside of the box’, therefore diminishing their creative output.
Well, in this guide we will explore if it’s possible for brand guidelines and marketing managers to work creatively side by side, and whether these rules signal the end for your creativity, or maybe even the start of it.
So, let’s start from the beginning.
What is branding and what are brand guidelines?
According to HubSpot, a set of brand guidelines dictate the “composition, design and general look and feel of a company’s branding”.
Whether this is through the creation of a logo, a piece of blog content or marketing collateral, a set of brand guidelines should create an image of your business and make it instantly recognisable.
In a brand guideline document you can expect to see:
- a summary of your brand; its history, vision, personality and key values
- a mission statement, explaining exactly why your brand does what it does, including exploring your brand’s tone of voice
- a description of your buyer persona; a “fictional representation of your ideal customer”
- examples of how the logo should be used across marketing collateral
- inspiration for the brand’s colour palette; including corresponding primary and secondary colours
- the brand’s desired typography, in the form of an editorial style guide
- examples of imagery and brand literature that follows with the desired brand identity
And with such a well detailed, brand-specific document, the introduction of these guidelines can often make employees feel like there’s no room for their own opinion, thoughts or creative ideas when it comes to their marketing efforts.
But, is this true? Are brand guidelines a tactic created by your management team to restrict your creativity and stop any ideas you may have in their tracks?
Well, when you say it like that, it does sound ridiculous, doesn’t it?
Brand guidelines aren’t there to make your work life more difficult; in fact, they’re there to help guide you to the desired outcome that’s most appropriate to the brand.
But, that’s not to say the concern for coming up with fresh ideas when sticking to a set of rules isn’t there.
So, the question is, how do you keep to brand guidelines and allow for creative expression within your marketing campaigns?
“A style guide should do just that – guide, but never restrain creativity”
Well, it’s first important to note that brand guidelines are just that. Guidelines.
Although they are a set of rules that need to be followed, they are there to ensure the brand image and tone of voice is consistent, no matter where or when people see or hear it.
And it’s fair to say, it takes a lot of time and investment to create the right brand recognition in the marketplace.
Each time your brand is seen it must reinforce the existing values the brand guidelines have laid out, time and time again.
This is where consistency comes into the picture, as not only does this make your brand recognisable, but it should also garner trust and loyalty with customers; old and new.
And consistency is something that becomes even more important for marketing managers, where they are working with multiple platforms and media outlets to get their brand message across.
But consistency and change certainly don’t go hand in hand. So, how do you, as a marketing manager, create fresh, new campaigns whilst still keeping that consistency needed to support your brand identity?
Well, it’s important to remember brand guidelines are a ‘working document’.
This means the guidelines require regular updates, additions and changes to ensure they consistently develop alongside the way the brand is moving forward.
And not only is your brand changing but so is the market, along with the needs of your customers.
This is why it’s vital to update the guidelines at regular intervals, not only to showcase your developing brand identity but also to allow for fresh, new ideas in relation to your brand’s creativity.
And here are four steps to allow for creative expression when working to a set of brand guidelines:
Step 1 Get to grips with the guidelines
So, a new set of brand guidelines has landed on your desk. You take a read through, you understand them, and then you get on with your busy day as a marketing professional.
You create a set of social media posts, write a piece of content for your brand’s blog, or even create an email template. And within that time, you may not have considered those guidelines once as you work hard to fulfil your role.
Which is why really getting to grips with the guidelines is vital to ensure that you can keep to the brand identity, and still keep an element of your creative freedom.
By having that understanding from the start, and really embracing the nuances of the brand guidelines, there’s more chance that you can astutely deviate and manipulate the rules to suit your intended outcome.
Step 2 Open to interpretation
As we will make clear throughout this guide, brand guidelines aren’t a set of strict rules, so therefore it shouldn’t be a huge issue to work your creativity around them.
If a set of guidelines have been drawn up in great detail, although this may feel more restricting from the outset, in most cases it means that they have been created with the idea that they will be ‘worked around’ to move the brand forward.
Guidelines that are less detailed may allow for further deviation than agreed by a brand, and therefore they immediately lose their value and mean the brand identity won’t be as strong over time.
This just shows how important and effective brand guidelines are as an asset to any organisation, which is why investing or taking the time to draft this document up will provide added value in the long run.
Step 3 Change is the only constant
Working as a marketing manager, you will be open to an array of different strategies that will allow you to explore and suggest ideas to your peers and senior management teams.
If your business is also open to change to allow for growth or a different brand direction, then there is no harm in making suggestions when it comes to a creative brief.
A distinct deviation or lack of thought surrounding your idea may not go down too well, but subtle additions to enhance the guidelines already in place may certainly appeal to open-minded management teams.
And we’re not talking about changing the brand colours, altering the logo or adding a completely new font into the mix.
Secondary colours or well-thought-out, slight deviations from the original guidelines may be of consideration and allow you to follow your creativity without feeling restricted to the guidelines.
In most cases though, if your business has invested in a high-quality set of brand guidelines, there shouldn’t be anything to be concerned about when making new suggestions if you’ve thought about your reasoning beforehand.
Step 4 Don’t let guidelines stunt your growth
Finally, it is important to understand that these guidelines shouldn’t stop you from using your marketing know-how to create unique, interesting and inspiring campaign ideas.
These guidelines shouldn’t hold back your creativity. Instead, they should be there as a helpful asset to ensure consistency across all your marketing collateral.
If you have queries or suggestions on your own brand’s guidelines, in most cases, with the document constantly changing and evolving, there should be no problem with proposing any ideas that are brand-focused.
And encouraging marketers, designers and external creatives to adopt these new set of brand guidelines is also another task in itself.
So, how best can we prompt creatives and other team members to read, digest and take on board the proposed brand ‘bible’?
Tip 1 Ensure to include the ‘story’ of the brand
Whether it’s sharing your brand guidelines with new team members or highlighting your brand identity to external agencies, it’s vital that your brand guidelines highlight the context of the company.
This will include a history of the brand, a mission statement and the values the company stands for.
This information is vital for employees and the wider team, as this explores exactly why the company was created and its purpose.
Not only will this give team members the opportunity to learn more about the company, but it also acts as a great starting point to make sure they understand the ‘why’ behind the business and highlight this in their content moving forward.
From the ‘why’ surrounding the choice of fonts, to ‘why’ a particular colour palette has been selected, all these factors may resonate with a team member once they understand more about the background of the business.
According to Wrike, the project management software, by sharing your brand guidelines with every team member you will essentially be “tying them to a greater objective or purpose [which] serves as extra motivation to actually stick to them”.
In turn, this may work to ensure that the guidelines are at the forefront whenever they create anything on behalf of the brand.
Tip 2 Clear, concise and easy to access
Well, what’s the point of creating a set of brand guidelines that aren’t easy to understand or find?
To ensure that the brand guidelines are adhered to across the business, it’s important to make them accessible, whether through an internal intranet or as part of an induction package for a new starter.
Having these stored in an area that is attainable will ensure that everyone has access to the same information, resources and ‘rules’ to ensure fluidity across the organisation.
In the same way, ensuring that your guidelines are clear and to the point will stop any confusion in its tracks.
By showcasing a list of ‘do’s and don’ts’, you’ll be more likely to receive a more understanding response to the guidelines, and give employees the best chance of following them efficiently.
Tip 3 A working document to share
As we’ve mentioned throughout this guide, a set of brand guidelines aren’t a fixed document; you’d easily expect them to change along with the needs of the business and its customers.
So, when any changes or updates are made to them, it’s important to share this with your team.
As much as it sounds obvious, if your company has spent hours crafting a new set of guidelines; whether that be a logo, font or full re-brand, once the hard part is over, you might not even remember to share this far and wide with your stakeholders.
This means employees will be sticking to outdated guidelines and therefore making any new documents null and void.
And after discussing so many benefits to creating a detailed set of brand guidelines, we’re suggesting that now’s the time for marketing managers, and the extended team, to change their mindset surrounding the concept of guidelines.
They’re not there to instil control over all of your creative ideas.
In fact, they are there to not only give you the freedom to intuitively move the business forward to suit your customer demographic, but to ensure you do so with the brand’s perception at the forefront.
According to the graphic design platform, Canva, “this little document will make your life a breeze”, and it’s fair to say, by investing in brand guidelines, it can make a positive difference across all areas of your business.