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Brand guidelines are not boring

James Morrissey |

A friend of mine in the advertising industry told me about an experience when the agency he worked for won a new client, an internally known fast food giant. The agency creatives were excited to review the identity guidelines. Yes, they get excited about such things, especially if it is a world leading company brand.

So they waited anxiously for the courier to show up and bring the printed version of the guideline. What arrived was in fact a white van full of boxes, all of them pieces and segments of the brand identity—boxes and boxes of binders. The creative director told everyone to take a binder and report back the findings so they could make sense of it all. After all, the brand guidelines are the rules of engagement, and in those days they were secret.

Today is a different story. Take the website

In a post from 2012 they linked to over 80 identity guides from some of the world’s greatest brands. You can see what Uber does and stands for, what Boston University does, what Walmart does. And then there is Brands of the World where you can download the world’s largest collection of identities in vector format. And better yet, you can upload identities to the site and receive feedback from visitors.

One thing we’ve learned from reviewing identity guidelines over the years is that many companies are missing the special sauce. The special sauce is inspiration.

If our agency lands a great new client and we receive a brand guide with just logo usage rules we always think that was a missed opportunity to engage us, educate us and inspire us. That’s why identity guidelines are becoming more of a forward reaching document, one that yes, tells us what we can and can’t do, but also shares a vision and a reason why the company exists. I love reading this stuff. When you get a great strategic identity guide you get connected. You understand. You get cranked up. You drink the company Kool-Aid.

Chances are, if a brand has a plan, they can find a way of including it in the guideline. Why not share all the great work you’ve done to make the brand a reality, and take us on a journey into the future.

Here is a portion of the identity guideline we created for the rebranding of Volunteer Alberta. After a year of reflection and hard work, Volunteer Alberta emerged with a new sense of purpose and an identity to help push their vision. The guideline is littered with moments from our research, from their own internal work, with an eye to the future. Now if someone works with Volunteer Alberta they can be ready. They will “get them.”


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