Communicating your brand starts with building your brand foundations.
Whether it’s a designer, social media manager, copywriter or even blog writer *waves* – there are lots of different ways, and lots of different people, who have an influence on how your brand is communicated. For any of this lot, brand guidelines are their go-to source (which we’ll get to in more detail later). However, there’s a stage before brand guidelines, and it’s something called brand foundations.
Sounds interesting! So, what are brand foundations exactly?
Excellent question! Brand foundations inform the behaviour, the creative and the promotion of a brand and are used to build a brand from the bottom up (kinda like setting the foundations for a building.) David Ogilvy described brand foundations as: “the intangible sum of a product’s attributes” which is pretty darn accurate, if you ask us. Every brand builds their foundations differently – but typically, this is the foundations of those foundations.
- Purpose or Why: ‘This is why we exist’
- Vision: ‘This is what we’re aiming to achieve’
- Values: ‘This is what we believe in, these are our guiding principles’
- Personality: ‘This is who we are’
Let’s get to the details.
Purpose / Why
The brand ‘Why’ is a short statement, generally used internally, that defines an organisation’s purpose and reason for being. It is usually high-level thinking; something that can never truly be achieved, but that can always serve as a focus point. (Eg: Ours is to inspire creativity in everyone).
The Vision is usually an extension of the Why, but serves as a longer, more detailed statement of intent. It tells staff, partners and customers in a concise way, ‘this is what we’re aiming to achieve’. A Vision can also be shared externally, often done so by consumer facing brands to encourage people to buy into the vision.
The Mission tells people what steps a brand are going to take, or what kind of business a brand is going to be, in order to achieve the Vision and Why. It tells stakeholders, ‘this is what we’re going to do’ or ‘this is who we are.’
These are a brand’s beliefs and principles; they guide how the business, brand and people behave.
Brand personality is a set of human characteristics that are connected to a brand name. A brand personality helps build brand loyalty, and because people understand people, it helps them ‘get’ your brand. Typically, it’s the sum of your day-to-day outlook, your ambitions and the personalities of your team.
Okay, brand foundations – I get it. Now, what are those brand guidelines you mentioned?
When it comes to building a brand – we always like to think of it as a person. Now, if you keep that in mind, everything above (vision, personality etc) affects how we communicate ourselves as individuals, right? Flip it back to brand-mode, brand guidelines take those intangible aspects outlined during the brand foundations stage and gives guidance on how to make them tangible through how your brand communicates. There are two major parts of brand guidelines:
- How your brand speaks and sounds (see tone of voice)
- How your brand looks (see visual style)
Tone of Voice
Your tone of voice affects how your brand speaks. It’s split into two parts, voice and tone (funnily enough). Just like a person, your brand voice doesn’t change, but the tone can shift, depending on the context (eg: on social media, your brand tone might be more light-hearted, but in a business proposal, it could be a tad more formal).
This relates back to those brand foundations because your brand personality has a direct link to how your brand speaks. For example, if you described an element of your brand personality as positive, then the language you use would reflect this, right? Here’s an example:
Playful: We know our stuff, but we’re kids at heart. We’ve never lost our curiosity, imagination or sense of fun (and never will).
Tone of Voice
Fun, but not silly: Our energy, enthusiasm and humour come through in how we communicate, but it’s not over the top. In other words, we’re serious when we need to be, but don’t take ourselves too seriously.
Your tone of voice should take inspiration from elements of your brand personality, but translate them in a way that’s tangible for a writer/social media manager/speaker to take them forward in whatever they’re creating to communicate your brand.
A visual style is essentially anything, well, visual about your brand. Again, if we think of a person, they express their personality through how they look – from the clothes they wear, to their haircut (see where we’re going here?). When it comes to developing a visual style, it’s different for every business (that’s the whole point, after all) but here are some of the things it can include:
- Brand mark and usage: the face of your brand and how it can be applied to different mediums
- Colour palette and groups: Which colours your brand uses across all materials and how those colours work together
- Typefaces: Any fonts/typefaces your brand uses (primary typeface, body copy etc)
- Overarching visual style: This includes anything from graphic devices, to patterns, icons and illustrations.
- Photography: Anything from photography types to treatments
- Video: Again, videography types, treatments and audio
Again, this all comes back to communicating your brand personality. If you position your brand personality as ‘brave’ you’re not exactly going to have a colour palette of corporate blue and grey, with a bank of stock photography where people are just pointing at things and laughing at their salads. Every single social media post, photo and internal doc plays a part in how someone perceives your brand, so that personality should always shine through.
Right, so I get that personality plays a big part in creating these guidelines, but what about all the other stuff in brand foundations?
We were hoping you’d ask that. The way we see it, brand personality is the bridge between brand foundations and brand guidelines, and is a slightly more tangible product of all the other elements within brand foundations. Again, if we think of a brand as a person, our personality is affected by our own vision, mission and values, which then comes through in the various ways we communicate.
Probably the most important factor in all of this is your brand purpose or ‘why’. Every single output should be measured against what you, as a brand, stand for. It’s probably the most intangible element of the entire branding process and yet, it holds the most gravity. Once you have your ‘why’, everything else will follow.