The serenity of your local Starbucks. The happy “surprise” of an Amazon delivery. The purposeful craftsmanship of an iPhone. Successful brands resonate with customers on a fundamentally emotional level. They make buyers feel things, associating emotions with seemingly mundane actions like making a phone call or buying dish detergent online. It’s subconscious. It’s Pavlovian.
And it all starts with a style guide.
Planning out your personality
A style guide is a blueprint for how you plan to portray your company. It’s a consolidated list of rules establishing who you are, what you do, what you believe in, and how all of that is translated into an outward-facing brand presence. At the most basic level, it includes basic identifiers of your brand, things that your first lemonade stand* might have had back in third grade:
You may have winged this in your lemonade peddling days, but for a successful brand presence, even elements as simple as these can’t be chosen arbitrarily. Your brand name, for instance, should be relatable and recognizable (not to mention available for trademark). Choosing typefaces and colors will be largely contingent on where they’ll be appearing: online, in print, or elsewhere. The importance of your logo pick certainly can’t be overstated, either.
So whether you’re just starting out with a new ecommerce venture or you’re refreshing an existing property, your style guide must be informed by discussions such as:
- What is the personality of your company? If it were a person, who would it be?
- Who is your audience? What do they want? How do they view themselves?
- What is the mission/goal of your company, and how will it be achieved?
- What are the primary benefits and points of differentiation of your company?
These questions, as well as copious marketing research, will help you choose what your brand should be and how it should look. A formal review of your answers is important, because it prevents your (well intended) team from stretching the company’s image in too many directions at once. You’ll have to choose where you land between certain end points: sophisticated or edgy, friendly or exclusive, mass-market or niche. And although you can certainly aspire to greatness, remember that anything too far from your company’s actual mindset will ring hollow.
Finalizing, organizing, and distributing your style guide will set the foundation for all your design. After that, you must work to actively enforce your style guide to ensure all your communications – from website copy to advertising campaigns – echo your important personality choices.
Going beyond the basics
Once you’ve got the necessary elements covered, you can expand your style guide to further reinforce the tone you’d like to convey. Think about all of the ways customers will be interacting with your company. They’ll of course be at your website, as well as your physical store, if you have one. Your audience will see or hear advertising that could range from simple to elaborate. And they’ll most likely interact with your employees at some point, possibly at a critical customer service juncture that will make or break their allegiance to your company.
With all that in mind, your style guide needs to go past the basics of lemonade stand commerce. Consider setting rules for the following:
- Website design and UI/UX
- Photographic and videographic style
- Tone of voice, written and spoken
- Product names and descriptions
- Product packaging design
- Music genres and applications
- Physical store layout, lighting
- Customer service training
For most established brands, you could probably describe several of these attributes off the top of your head. GoDaddy’s tasteless, in-your-face messaging. ThinkGeek’s wacky product inventory and sales copy. Even in the the early days of ecommerce it was true – remember Gateway’s cow print PC delivery boxes?
Fully executed cross-platform, cross-media branding is a certain sign that these aspects of your shopping experience have been carefully standardized within a meticulously crafted style guide. So if you want to make your storefront stand out from the crowd, you’re going to have to develop one.