How to create a Brand Manual
So we’ve successfully commissioned and completed our brand project and we’ve got a shiny new brand identity sitting on the tarmac ready to take off.
What happens next will determine whether all the blood, sweat, and tears at the design stage will actually pay dividends or not.
The last thing that anyone wants is to have an amazing brand that is either applied inconsistently or hidden in a cupboard. This stage of the brand process is commonly called the Roll-out and is probably the most important stage in the process.
To help smooth the path of the Roll-out, welcome to your new best friend – the Brand Manual.
What is a Brand Manual?
The Brand Manual is the handbook that should be supplied when every new brand is taken out of its cardboard box. Look on it as an instruction booklet which explains the thinking behind the design of the new brand, the technical specifications of the design, and appropriate guidance as to how the brand should be applied to all the collateral that a company uses on which their brand appears.
So let’s take them one at a time. A new brand should speak for itself in terms of its ability to communicate an idea or theme. However, the Brand manual will probably show the old brand and give a brief synopsis as to the thinking behind the redesign. It’s also an opportunity to explain the less obvious elements that aren’t immediately obvious to the casual viewer.
A Great Example
One of the best examples is the FedEx logo and the directional arrow in the negative space between the e and x. Believe it or not a large percentage of people just don’t see it.
Next comes, the “tech spec”. Designers are a pretty precious bunch when it comes to their creations and rightly so. Consequently, they want to make absolutely sure that the brand is faithfully reproduced when a third party, which could include suppliers of printing, signage, vehicle livery, promotional goods and a host of others get hold of it.
Advice on the appropriate resolution of image, colour specifications, safe areas and formats, should be provided to ensure that when reproduced, the design looks exactly the same as it did when it was first presented to the client.
Finally, the manual will also show examples of how the brand applies to a representative range of items that the company plans to produce. This will differ in each instance but typically the brand will be shown on stationery, signage, vehicle livery and clothing. It will also give the designer the opportunity to recommend size, positioning, background colours and additional design elements.
Many Brand Manuals don’t stop there. It’s not uncommon, especially in larger companies, for the Brand Manual to extend to other aspects not directly related to the logo itself such as style of communication, tone of voice, imagery etc. However, unless you’re Google or Amazon it’s probably best to keep it succinct.
Show the world
So we’re now armed with our Brand Manual and are prepared to inflict bodily harm on anyone who doesn’t follow its guidance to the letter. How and when do we share it with the world?
There are two schools of thought – the “Hard Launch” or the “Soft Launch”.
Going hard means that a date is set for the launch and thereafter the old brand is completely replaced with the new version. Stocks of anything with the old brand on it are disposed of and new stock is ready to go on the date of the launch. It’s “out with the old and in with the new” in one fell swoop.
This approach can prove to be quite expensive and possibly environmentally unfriendly if, for example, large stocks of brochures, stationery and other printed material need to be disposed of. The advantage is that clarity, decisiveness and a feeling of positivity can be strategically used to influence how staff feel about the new brand and the company in general. Everyone likes to work for a company that is dynamic and single-minded in its vision.
The soft launch takes the foot off the throttle. A date can be set for the brand launch but the new identity is introduced much more gradually. So when stocks of printed material run out they are replaced with new branding. When finances allow, new signage is applied and vehicle livery changed. Inevitably there will be a changeover period where the old brand may coexist with the new until it is eventually replaced.
The downside to this approach is that it may portray the company as indecisive, conservative, and a bit less dynamic. There are really no rights or wrongs and much will depend on how determined the owners or managers are to implement the new brand and whether finances are available to speed the change.
Finally, it’s always a good idea to keep your staff onside with what’s happening. Getting their “buy-in “ can often determine the successful roll-out of the brand. Including them in research sessions at the design stage, asking opinions, and explaining in detail the logic behind the process will all help to make them feel invested in the new brand. When staff feel proud and enthused about the image of their company that positivity will be apparent to customers.
A successful Brand Identity design and Roll-out project should result in a company feeling better about itself, looking better to its customers, and poised to capitalise on these feelings of progressiveness, dynamism and aspiration in its marketplace.