Five Ways to Keep Your Company On Brand–Even if You Know Nothing About Design


You run a small business and you are excellent at what you do. You also know branding is important, but may have no idea how to go about it. How do you create a cohesive brand for your business when the terms kerning, rasterize, bleed, widow, opacity, leave you scratching your head? When left to design and write copy for marketing materials (print or digital), many folks unfamiliar with branding, marketing, or design outsource the whole thing to a local designer or a hodgepodge of freelancers without much restriction or guidance. They conclude, “They’re the experts, let them figure it out.”

That’s a mistake. Not only is the lack of direction unhelpful for the designer and copywriter, but you run the risk of mixed results and a diluted brand.

What kind of direction can you give, especially when this isn’t your wheelhouse? You may have heard the phrase “on-brand.” On-brand also means keeping your materials similar enough that folks instinctively know who they are from, using elements from a graphic identity system and style guide. All marketing pieces are members of the same family; each one is unique, but they all have similar characteristics. You may not be the not the designer experimenting with lines, shape, and texture, or the writer crafting the exact words, but there’s a lot you can control—and you should. These are what we call brand guidelines.

Here’s a list of elements that everyone can pay attention to, even if you know nothing about design. If you don’t already have brand guidelines, this will help you get started.

1. Color – Tints, PMS colors, what have you. It’s all essentially the same way of saying color. Many businesses already have an established set of colors which makes for an easy start. From there, create a formal color palette with specific CMYK (print) and RGB (web) shades. A local designer can help you choose specific Pantones, if it all seems too much. Once you’ve decided, make sure that your publications utilize these colors every. single. time.

2. Copy – You’ve probably heard the phrase, “It’s not as much about what you say, but how you say it.” Figure out your copy style. Are you formal or folksy? What narrative style? Also consider adopting a formal style guide like AP Stylebook or the Chicago Manual of Style to help with consistency in your publications.

And, if you have a tagline or key message points, by all means use them…a lot. You might be tired of seeing or hearing those phrases, but remember the advertising “rule of sevens”–your audience needs to see or hear something at least seven times before they’ll remember it!

3. Logo – Your logo needs to be on everything–it’s essentially a signature. If it’s not on everything, now’s a good time to ask why. Do an assessment of your logo. Are all departments using your logo(s)? Do they have the logo(s) in their various formats (jpeg, eps, tiff, etc.) and colors? Do they know when to use each type? The answers to these questions will likely help you decide if you need to make it more accessible, or if you need to better communicate how and when to use it.

4. Typography – Every font has its own connotation and some of them can cause a visceral reaction (ahem, Comic Sans). I recommend starting by picking two fonts that embody your brand personality (or what you want it to be) and using them consistently.­ One can be a little more lavish and used for headlines; the other should compose your body copy. ­About four years ago I would have droned on about the importance of at least one of them being part of the standard web-friendly, albeit boring, set, but with the rise of open-source web fonts (thank you Google Fonts and others) your choices are near limitless.

5. Photography – Nothing looks worse than seeing a hodgepodge of photographic styles in the same publication. Similar to copy, decide on a photographic style (photojournalistic, lifestyle) and stick with it. When working with a photographer, show them the photography you already have so they can replicate the style. You can also extend the life of your repository by making sure that when you do a shoot, subjects are not wearing anything too trendy.

If you’re purchasing photography from a source like, you may also be also to purchase several photos from the same photographer to ensure the style is similar.

Once you establish guidelines work diligently to adhere to them in all communications. Give them to all your people. Yes, even Doug in Accounting. You’ll find your publications will gain cohesiveness, consistency, and voice. That voice is an invaluable way to set you apart in the marketplace, which is exactly what you wanted from the beginning, right?

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