Style Guides: Your Branding Bible

Jon Hamilton

By 

Jon Hamilton

Published 

Aug 4, 2022

Style Guides: Your Branding Bible

Think about your best friend for a second and consider all of the things that make them who they are.

They have a specific way they talk, a particular fashion style they wear, and even a unique taste in music and hobbies. If you know this person well enough, you can sense when something is a bit off and they stray from their norm. 

Imagine how odd it would be if one day they were their regular self and the next day they were entirely different. 

Monday they wore their typical neutral color palette and listened to Bon Iver

Tuesday they dressed in vibrant colors and blasted Bruno Mars 

Wednesday they wore a preppy suit and pondered over Bach

And so on and so on

Look, we aren’t here to say it's terrible to have an eclectic taste in music and fashion. But consider for a moment how confusing it would be as this person’s friend and see a different side of them every day. 

Not only would this be puzzling but it would be very difficult to know who this person is. You may not even be able to fully trust this person because you are constantly getting a conflicting image of them.

This is precisely why branding is so important for companies and organizations. Your branding is what enables you to craft an image for the outside world i.e. your consumers, customers, and clients. It helps others to see who you are. 

Cue: style guides! In short, a style guide is essentially your Branding Bible. It is the guide you refer to define your brand’s voice, vision, values, and overall aesthetic. It is not just merely a picture book of your logo and color palette, it is a collection of characteristics that define your organization’s brand identity.

A style guide is one of the most essential tools to have in your kit if you want to both establish your brand and use it as a reference moving forward as an organization. 

P.S. We highly recommend checking out this incredible branding style guide from Life.Church as you read through this blog. Life.Church does an incredible job at fleshing out the crucial elements of a style guide for their Oklahoma-based church.

Without further ado, we want to walk you through a few of the elements of a style guide and how you can adapt this guide for your organization!

  1. Story & Vision

Every organization has a story. If we’re sticking with the best friend analogy, you know that there is so much more to your friend than what meets the eye. They have an entire life narrative which is the very foundation of who they are. All of the outward aesthetics can be quite hollow with the absence of the story underneath.

In short, your story is essentially your organization’s personality. Within this story will be various “personality traits”:

  • Mission statement
  • Vision
  • Brand principles
  • Target audience
  • Keywords

The branding guide for Life.Church begins by defining what a “brand” is. They continue by describing their brand principles in depth. These principles include a look at their “bullseye” i.e. their target audience, church keywords, and an emphasis on authenticity. 

The style guide isn’t necessarily meant to be the place where you flesh out the in-depth story timeline of your brand, it is where you nail down the basic personality traits neatly and concisely. While your website should flesh out your entire story as an organization, your style guide story serves as the guardrails for your branding.

  1. Logo, Versions, & Placement

Your logo is a vital element to have in your style guide because it is used throughout all other elements of your brand identity. Your logo can be likened to a person’s face — it is the feature that makes you recognizable by others!

The logo portion of your style guide should start with the most recently updated version of your organizational logo. This is the evergreen logo that should be consistent across all platforms and other renderings of your logo. Life.Church included some part versions of their logo in their style guide and caps it off with their current logo. 

Depending on the organization, you might also highlight the icon utilized in the logo and even include secondary logos which compliment your original. Establishing the base elements of your logo is essential to maintaining consistency.

Speaking of consistency, it is important to establish ground rules for the logo style to maintain a consistent logo across the board. Life.Church gives a simple “do’s and dont’s” list as to what not to do with the logo i.e. change the font, add drop shadows, etc. They also establish some guidelines for how to modify the logo for specific campuses and ministries. 

Hillsong Church also has a stellar branding guide that outlines how to use the Hillsong logo on certain styles of graphics and photos and also avoids modifying the core elements of the logo such as its typography and color. 

Overall, keeping your logo at the forefront of your style guide will help direct the rest of your branding elements. It will help to direct your overall style aesthetic, especially your colors and fonts. 

  1. Typography & Colors

This section is where your style guide begins to come to life! If we refer back to the Life.Church style guide, we see some in-depth information regarding their choices of typography and color palette. 

The guide includes the font names they utilize, the different styles of those fonts, and how certain fonts can be used. It is good to establish at least one primary font that you use across the board in your branding, but it is also good to include another secondary font to be used as well.

In their style guide, Life.Church says this regarding their typography: “Typography is another key element of the Life.Church brand identity, to be used in print, web, mobile, and video environments. Like the logo, our primary typeface— Gotham—communicates the personal, yet strong personality of the Life.Church brand.”

Color is another important element to include in your branding guide. Your choice of a color palette should coincide with the “feel” of your brand. If you’re newly branding your organization, you will want to consider the mood that certain colors give off and they can best be used to compliment your brand identity. 

A simplistic color palette with 3-5 colors is a pretty safe bet for your style guide. Establishing a palette makes it easy for you to refer back to your specific brand colors when executing design pieces, merchandise, website elements, and more. 

  1. Images & Photography

A photo says a thousand words… especially about your brand. Images encapsulate the voice, mission, vibe, and so much more about your organization. You will surely utilize graphic images and photography throughout your branding and you will want to make sure they are consistent. 

When it comes to this section, it may be wise to establish an entirely separate style guide for your organization’s photographers and designers. Nonetheless, establishing some general parameters for the image and photo style is very important for your branding guide. 

Just as with previous sections, you should establish textually why this part of branding is important. Give guidelines for the types of photos you are wanting to use and then give examples for each of these guidelines. Life.Church goes into great detail about what photos they shoot, how they shoot them, and why they shoot them. 

There is a lot of detail you can include in the image portion of your style guide. When all is said and done, you want to make sure that all of your images coincide well with your story, logo, font, colors, and especially your language.

  1. Communication & Language

This portion of your style guide is less visually creative, but it is an important and often overlooked part of your brand identity. While images and aesthetics are important, if the voice behind it all is lacking, you’re going to have a major issue. 

For churches, it is not just the pastor who speaks for the church. If you are a leader in the church, you also speak for it! This is especially true if you are tasked to digitally communicate to your church as a web writer, email copywriter, or social media manager. 

To speak the language of your brand well you need to know it well! In your style guide, it can help to lay out the language “guidelines” of your organization. Life.Church boils it down to 8 major values:

  • We’re advocates for our audience
  • We’re not sucky (communicate with excellence)
  • We’re user-friendly 
  • We avoid insider lingo
  • We say less to communicate more. 
  • We don’t sell. 
  • We communicate what we want for people, not what we want from them. 
  • We’ve got personality.

They also continue with some very helpful “communicate best practices.” Including values and practices like this can be very helpful. Including specific examples of how to speak or craft your words is helpful too. 

Establishing these guidelines for communication can help those newer to the organization to “learn the language” and best represent the brand in-person and especially online.

  1. Online & Social Media

In years past, this section may have never been included in a branding style guide, but now it is the crux of our branding as organizations. 

Digital media is where all of your branding elements come together in perfect harmony and are displayed to the world. Our websites include each part of your branding and all work to reinforce brand identity. Furthermore, social media brings all of these style elements together to a broad audience from all over the world. 

For this part of your style guide, you will want to reinforce some of the previously mentioned elements and demonstrate how to piece them together. Referring back to Hillsong’s branding guide, you will find specific examples of using text and logos on graphics, choosing certain photography styles, and how to write branded captions. 

Spelling out some specific social media best practices may even push to create another social media-specific style guide, but touching on it in your overall branding guide is essential as well.

Bring it all together

If you want to see an excellent example of a style guide come to life, you have to check out People Church

Their website is excellency crafted and includes all of the elements of a branding guide we’ve discussed. Seriously, peruse their website. It is beautiful.

In addition to its website, People Church’s Instagram feed is perfectly consistent with its brand identity. You will see a consistency in the urban style of photography with black and white tones. Their photos and graphics include pops of red, blue, and tan colors and a consistent bold typeface. 

As you click on each post, you see consistency in the language People Church uses in communicating with their audience. They make their content simple to understand and accessible to everyone. The way that they marry good copy with incredible design is a wonderful example of how all of these elements have a vital part to play in branding.

As you can see, a branding guide is one of the most helpful tools you can have as an organization. It works to establish your voice through both visual and textual elements and helps establish consistency and reliability with your audience. This tool is essential, and if you don’t have it, we recommend you get one!

Our team at Pro MediaFire has the knowledge and talent base to offer you a personal and on-brand style guide for your church or nonprofit. Our branding packages include this style guide which will help guide your mission, promote your values, and ignite growth! Contact us today to get started.

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