How to Create Brand Identity Guidelines That People Won't Break

This is the bain of every marketer’s existence only to have this happen.

This is the bain of every marketer’s existence. You’ve poured countless hours and dollars into building out a killer brand. Your design team then compiled all of that work into your new Bible, your brand guidelines, that you could release to the masses.

“Now no one will misuse my brand!” you naively exclaim.

Ten minutes after you send out a mass email with your brand guidelines, you see one of your salespeople post your logo on Twitter with a gradient background, which you clearly forbid!

It’s okay. We’ve all been there, but it begs the question, how can I create brand identity guidelines that people won’t immediately break?

There are tons of resources out there already on building brand identity guidelines. This isn’t one of them. This blog’s one and only mission is to teach you how to implement your brand guidelines in a way that will lead to people actually using them.

Simply follow these steps, and your brand will be safer than ever.

Start With Persona - Or Just Personal - Research

You wouldn’t build a product without first considering user research, so why would you do it with your brand? Who is going to be “using” your brand? Do you need to worry about salespeople and how they use the brand in their pitch decks? What about junior marketers who misuse the brand in blog posts? Maybe your brand will be used primarily by highly-skilled designers and marketers with a penchant eye for details. Knowing who will be representing your brand will help you define how you need to represent your brand to them.

If you work in a large organization, you’ll want to do persona research just like any other marketing activity. Interviewing individuals in the positions you’re looking to equip would definitely help, but it isn’t necessary to focus on their individual opinions. Instead, use these interviews to paint a broader picture of your “user base.”

If you work for a smaller organization, you can base your style guide off of the individual preferences of your users. Have three salespeople, all of which have short attention spans? Make the guide short and sweet. Have a team of two other marketers who sweat over every last detail? Bust out the 50 page style guide, boys.

Build Your Brand Identity Guidelines Around Your “Users”

Once you have a good idea of who will be using the guide, it becomes exponentially easier for you to create a guide that will actually get used. Based on my experience, I’d break your users down into a few categories:

These could be young marketers who don’t “get” brand identity, executives who don’t care about visual consistency, or salespeople who just want their next commission check. No matter the position, these users don’t understand why you’re sending them a 25 page style guide, so they won’t read it. If you call them out on misusing the brand, they’ll get defensive. So how do you get them to pay attention?

Keep it short and sweet. What do they need to know? Are you talking to a salesperson who likes to alter pitch decks? Give them high-level logo requirements (size, proportions, color, and optimal backdrop should suffice), fonts, and a color palate and let them run! What about an executive who has no idea how to properly format his internal memos? Give him letterhead, fonts, and get out of the way.


Every marketing department has that one English Lit major who won’t shut up about what the brand is actually trying to say. This is the formula for great marketing copy, but it can be a pain to build a style guide that they’ll understand. They could care less about how much space you have to put between the logo and the tagline.

To cater to this demographic, create an effective voice and tone document to compliment your visual brand identity. This will help them understand the “why” of your brand so they can keep making magic happen in your copy writing.

Detailed Designers

Whether your brand will be mostly used by your own designers or designers for other companies and vendors incorporating your brand into advertising, these are the type of people who want the 50-page style guide with 5 pages of logo requirements. If you’re catering to this user base, make sure to include plenty of details. If you’re not, however, try to keep it simple.

Distribute And Defend Your Brand Appropriately

After you’ve built the right brand identity guidelines for your user base, distribution is king. Does anyone pay attention to your company-wide emails? If the answer is “no,” you’ll have to try harder. Reach out to individuals or their managers and get them a printed copy so they have things like color palate on their desk at all times. It will be much more effective in plain sight than sitting in a shared folder somewhere.

Finally, once your brand has been misused, you’ll have to defend it, but don’t get defensive! Because this brand is your baby, it can be easy for you to get upset when someone abuses it, but most of the time they either don’t know they did anything wrong or don’t know why it’s a big deal. Treat every misuse of your brand as a calm, cool, collected adult and make sure that you always provide guidance as to how they could have used your brand more effectively.

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