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Brand Guides: The Unseen Force Behind Brand Communication Strategy

CSG Brand GuidesIf the relentless quest for authenticity in marketing has taught us anything, it’s that brands need a story, a source of truth, an identity quite as much as people do. Brand communication strategy can’t be faked nor rushed. It’s the stuff success is made of.

Quick, name three brands. Any three brands.

Quick brand recall is about as challenging as reciting the alphabet because good branding sticks. Love ‘em or hate ‘em, the golden arches are instantly recognized even in a strange land. The swoosh is iconic. With only the description of a logo, those brands leap to mind, their look and feel and taglines as familiar as your own address. That’s the magic of an effective branding and communication strategy.

And it starts with the humble brand guide.

If all the world’s a stage, and all the men and women (and brands) merely players, a brand guide is the stage direction that cues how a brand should look, sound and interact. It’s a source of truth that keeps everything, from tone and voice to the application of color and the size of fonts, consistent. In any application, any medium, any context. It’s why Apple commercials are unmistakable and why REI has fanatics, not fans. Without the guide rails of a brand guide, the ethos and identity that win hearts and minds would be lost. Far from being a fanciful creative branding agency upsell, brand guides are practical, tactical documents that set the foundation for all other marketing efforts.

Effective brand guides:

  • Define the brand mission, vision and values
  • Support strategic brand communication initiatives
  • Establish clear visual and written guidelines
  • Articulate the brand story
  • Inform the creation of content and assets

Communications Strategy Group (CSG®) frequently develops brand guides as part of an integrated marketing communication and brand strategy. As part of our Solve for Why philosophy, we evaluate our clients’ needs in the context of their challenges and goals. Though the core elements of any brand guide remain consistent, our approach has been to develop custom components to ensure maximum impact for our client teams. Let’s take a look at two brand guide projects that emerged from different needs and informed different outcomes.

Mock-up of CCALT's 25th Anniversary Impact ReportColorado Cattlemen’s Agricultural Land Trust (CCALT)

CCALT has a passionate, yet niche, donor base. The conservator saw value in embracing a new target audience and tapped CSG to develop a sub-brand in support of a fundraising initiative designed to expand CCALT’s reach. That new audience? Urban outdoor enthusiasts. People who love Colorado and the land that makes it such a unique place in which to live, work and play, even if they don’t actually work that land. The end result was Forever Colorado — a visually rich sub-brand, complete with key messaging that celebrates and explores the passion that links Colorado’s working ranch families and the weekend warriors who relish open spaces, outdoor adventure and farm-to-table experiences. With Forever Colorado in place, CCALT was able to develop a stylized and sophisticated impact report, pitch partners in the consumer space and create a landing page designed specifically to garner support from the outdoor enthusiast audience.

Mock-up of Ripplshot's Brand GuideRippleshot

The fraud detection specialists at Rippleshot have a category-defining product with the potential to make massive strikes against card fraud, but they lacked a consistent identity that captured their story. Far from being standoffish technologists, the team at Rippleshot is deeply engaged and personally invested in their work. But the classic industry visuals and language they were using did nothing to alert potential customers to the fact that customer service is a priority for the brand. CSG worked with the Rippleshot team to develop brand messaging and a look and feel that capture the duality of their sophisticated technology and their commitment to people. That effort immediately supported a website redesign for the brand, as well as critical updates to its marketing and sales materials.

Ultimately, telling a compelling brand story depends upon having a clear brand identity. How can you know who and what you are to your customers otherwise?

Ask how our creative team of writers and designers can help you tell a meaningful brand story.