What is your business known for? When people see an advertisement or visit your website what do they feel?
A recognizable brand helps your company stand out from the competition, creates a connection with customers, and serves as a guiding light for your marketing efforts. To build a brand, you need to do some branding — communicating your brand and eliciting the right emotions in your audience.
Your business can use brand guidelines to create consistent experiences across channels, including on your website. Brand consistency on a business website is a challenge when you have a variety of people adding to it regularly. That’s why brand guidelines are a valuable tool. But first, you need to understand your brand.
What’s a brand, anyway?
The concept of branding comes from cattle ranchers marking their livestock with a recognizable symbol — hence people often associate a brand with a logo. However, there is much more to establishing a memorable brand than just a logo.
Best-selling author Seth Godin offers an excellent example of the power branding has on our understanding of a company:
“If Nike announced that they were opening a hotel, you’d have a pretty good guess about what it would be like. But if Hyatt announced that they were going to start making shoes, you would have NO IDEA WHATSOEVER what those shoes would be like. That’s because Nike owns a brand and Hyatt simply owns real estate.”
Branding encompasses everything your business says, does, and sells. It’s an ambiguous term because it involves emotions. Your brand is the story people tell themselves about your company. Every touchpoint you create adds to that story.
Your online presence is full of touchpoints, and your business’s website is the center of the experience. It pays to develop brand guidelines for your website because it’s a place where first impressions are made, research is conducted, and decision-making occurs.
Here are six steps for creating brand guidelines for a business website:
1. Start with your mission, vision, and values
Why does your company exist? Base every branding decision you make on why you do what you do and who you’re doing it for.
Decide how you want people to feel when they see your logo, land on your homepage, read your blog, or click “Add to Cart.” Here are a few examples:
- If you offer insurance, financial, or legal services, you want people to get a sense of trust, safety, and reliability from your branding. Think of how “You’re in good hands with Allstate” makes people feel.
- If your mission is to challenge people to take risks, you’ll want it to be apparent in your branding. Consider how Apple’s “Think Different” and Nike’s “Just Do It” slogans and the campaigns built around them spark adventurous and even rebellious feelings.
- If your business aims to inspire people, let that come through in your branding. eBay describes itself as a place “where the world goes to shop, sell, and give.” That’s reflected in the inspiring stories on eBay’s WordPress.com blog.
Your brand is who you are as a company. Before you start putting together guidelines, give plenty of thought to your target audience and what you stand for. List the emotions you want people to feel when they think of your business.
2. Identify what you are not
What you do not want to be known for is another important aspect of brand guidelines. A list of Dos and Don’ts is an excellent way to illustrate the right and wrong ways to present your brand.
Are you an affordable or premium option? Is your business for technical users or beginners? Are you creating content for teens or their parents? Ask questions like these to choose the right words, visuals, and experiences on your website while simultaneously identifying things to avoid.
The process of defining what you are not is a good time to analyze the competition. What kind of thoughts and feelings does their branding evoke? How can your brand guidelines differentiate your business and position it in a positive way?
3. Choose a brand archetype
A helpful branding exercise involves picking an archetype — a character that personifies what you want your brand to project. There are 12 classic brand archetypes, including names such as The Explorer, The Caregiver, and The Sage, but you can also mix-and-match traits to create your own.
“Selecting a brand archetype that would appeal to the target audience enabled us to separate out personal opinion and our individual preferences, developing a unique personality for the brand as an entity.”
When your brand has its own personality, the right messaging, imagery, and tone of voice becomes clear-cut.
4. Define your brand voice
Considering your mission, reviewing the competition’s branding, and picking a brand archetype will help lead to a straightforward definition of your company’s brand voice.
Try choosing three or four adjectives that describe the feelings you want your messaging to convey. Then, further define those descriptors to set boundaries.
For copywriting, you could say, “Our messaging is”:
- Authoritative but not Aggressive
- Lighthearted but not Trivial
- Humorous but not Sarcastic
Because those descriptive words are still vague, provide some hypothetical sentences to show what works and what misses the mark. The Content Marketing Institute recommends creating a brand voice table to give context.
Deciding when and where to use the first-, second-, or third-person point of view in your website copy is another detail of brand voice. Get advice on refining your brand voice with strategic pronoun use.
5. Develop a visual identity
Without brand guidelines, it’s easy for inconsistencies to creep into your website images and graphics. Left unchecked, that can lead to a messy-looking, unprofessional online presence. Beyond the website, your advertising, print materials, trade show booth, and in-store displays also need a cohesive look and feel.
A foundational element of your brand’s visual identity is your color scheme. Choose your core colors carefully. People tend to associate different colors with feelings.
Some colors are used more often in particular industries. Green is common for natural brands as it denotes health. Luxury brands often use black and silver. Blue is considered trustworthy. You can choose to follow conventions, or you could use colors that stand out. There are no hard rules about choosing a color scheme, but you should be consistent.
Find out how to customize colors on a WordPress.com website.
The fonts and images on your website are also key visual branding elements. WordPress.com users with Premium plans or higher can personalize websites with custom fonts. An easy way to add typefaces that fit your brand is to use compatible Google fonts on WordPress.com sites.
Learn more about custom fonts on WordPress.com websites with step-by-step support.
Another decision that impacts your brand’s visual identity is the theme or website template you use. There are dozens of free themes available on WordPress.com, and those who choose a Premium plan or higher will enjoy access to additional premium WordPress themes.
More about developing a visual identity
6. Document, share, and revise your brand guidelines
Once you’ve established your company’s brand guidelines, package these insights up into a document that’s easy to review and share. Your brand guidelines will be a helpful onboarding document for new hires, a reliable resource for your marketing team, and an important communication tool for agencies and contractors.
As your company grows and changes, your website will also evolve. When As your company grows and changes, your website will also evolve. When you navigate these changes or gain new insights about your audience and the competitive landscape, there will be times when you’ll need to adjust your brand guidelines.
Rethinking and refreshing your branding presents the opportunity to start from scratch and create a new website. WordPress.com provides features and flexibility for businesses of all sizes, and our plans are designed to grow with you.
More about developing brand guidelines
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