If you've been doing business in the digital world for a while now, you probably know how important branding is to a successful company. Honestly, it's not just an online thing, branding is an essential factor both online and offline.
It brings your company, website, products, and services to life, it creates an identity of its own. This “life” is what people fall in love with, form a bond with, and eventually, start advocating.
Creating a brand identity from the ground up isn’t an easy job. It can take up to weeks of planning and research, but in the end, it’s all worth it when you see people forming a unique connection with your company and products.
And not to mention, if you have cohesive graphic standards manual (GSM) for your brand, your web designer will be super thankful to you.
Why your business needs a GSM?
Even smaller businesses have multiple people working on marketing materials. Let’s say, you have a new social media manager and they are having problems understanding what the company’s all about and they are posting things that aren’t really in-tune with your brand.
To help the new employee understand how your brand works, having a GSM can be a lifesaver.
The only problem is that creating one can take up a huge amount of time.
Nobody understands your brand better than you, so it would make sense to create a project that assesses your business and brand critically to come up with a document that has every piece of info your employees need to know to attract your customers and to do your products justice.
On the other hand, you don’t have to do it alone. You can always hire a professional marketing agency that can help you come up with your own standard guidelines.
The Benefits of Having a GSM
Wonder how a graphic standards manual can benefit your business? Well, let’s dive deep into the amazing reasons why a GSM is a must for your company.
Always At Hand
Creating a cohesive document with everything brand-related in it will definitely come in handy, not just for your employees and contractors (like in the case of a website-rehaul), but for you as well.
By having everything listed out, it will be easier to assess every single part of your brand strategy and brand identity to your tangible assets, as well as those non-tangible ones.
Having a comprehensive list of your different logos, links, apps, online and offline marketing material, business forms, presentations, company pictures, certifications, awards, and other company-related things all in one place can help you find everything you might need faster.
Helping Your New Employees
As we’ve mentioned earlier, with the example of the newly-hired social media manager, a graphic standards manual can help new employees a great deal with getting acquainted with your brand and company.
A good GSM needs to have a cohesive and easy-to-understand list of intangible company assets as well that can help your new partners and workers understand the mission and vision of your brand.
In a well-rounded GSM, your new employees will find valuable info like:
- A short message about your company and branding efforts. Motivations for starting the business, end goals you wish to achieve, and the value you want to offer to your customers
- Info on company culture and values, future plans, etc.
- Basic info on when the company was founded, business tagline, info on the company name, brand voice (the way you reach out to your customers – is it formal, informal, playful, professional?)
- Preferred color schemes for your brand and logo
- More info on your customers and competition
Getting to Know your Customers and Competition Better
As we’ve already mentioned in the previous section, new employees will have the opportunity to understand your customers’ needs better if you craft a comprehensive GSM, not to mention your competition as well.
A great standards manual should have a detailed description of the characteristics of your brand’s target market, the percentage of female and male users, income and age demographics, and so on.
Also, it should include other valuable info like client needs and your product’s and services’ role in fulfilling those same needs and the value you provide while doing so.
On the other hand, it should also give your new coworkers a better idea about your competitors. Make sure to list how your products and services are different from the goods offered by similar companies in your industry. Add links and examples so that your employees will know exactly what you are talking about.
By providing these pieces of information, your new employees will have an easier job, especially if they are expected to help drive sales or boost awareness. By knowing whom to market to and how to isolate your brand and products from the rest of the pack, they will know how to find your new customers and how to convince them that your brand is the ultimate choice.
People don’t fall in love with your product but with your brand. In order for that to happen, your brand needs to be intelligent and polished, and above all, consistent.
A GSM helps ensure that your brand stays consistent. Just think about it, a Snickers bar tastes the same in every month of the year – the same rule should apply to your brand as well.
Your logo should be the same online and offline. Your customers’ experience shouldn’t differ regarding your brand’s tone whether they make an online purchase or they choose to visit your physical store. Your vision and mission should also always stay the same.
Consistency helps to build trust and form a stronger bond between brand and customer. A great GSM should solidify your consistency efforts and thus, boost your credibility among your target audience.
Consistency and longevity should go hand in hand. As such, if you should strive to avoid devaluating your brand by using it improperly. You want to create an identity that will last. As such, every single time you manage to stretch your logo, or use it with the wrong typography, color, or alter it in any non-favorable way, you are losing equity and longevity.
A GSM can help you hold on to your brand values and graphic guidelines that over time can help you build a trustworthy brand.
Not Just For Employees
Smaller businesses usually don’t have the resources to have a dedicated in-house marketing/web-design/SEO team so, chances are, there will be a collaboration with other agencies and companies too.
As you already know, digital marketing and web design are closely connected with branding and a great GSM will give your partners all the info they need to represent your company properly.
Social media marketers will have a better understanding in regard to how to market to your target audiences. Graphic designers will know what kind of visual identity and imagery your brand requires and web designers will know just what kind of website you will need to do your brand justice.
If you are working with these people, in the long run, a GSM won’t only make your collaboration more fruitful and easier, chances are, these specialists will also help you fine-tune and improve your branding strategy as time goes by, based on the feedback they are receiving and the insights they have access to.
We’ve been talking a lot about the value of the info you provide in your GSM, but the importance of it is truly humongous.
Brands are nowadays emotions, ideas, ways companies communicate to the rest of the world.
A GSM is a priceless asset to harmonize your message across the board, offline, online, on every platform. It helps you create a cohesive visual identity, and can help you establish your name in your industry.
On the other hand, it can also serve as a trouble-shooting sheet if you experience that your brand could handle some improvement.
You should always know that a GSM isn’t set in stone so it can be tweaked and even rewritten when it’s needed.
Just don’t do it haphazardly. Make sure that every change is backed up by research, insights, and metrics. You don’t want to screw up something that was working just fine.
Also, don’t force constant changes. Be patient and give some time for your brand to start flourishing. Your customers need time to adjust to changes and constant modifications to your brand might deter them from closing a deal. Not to mention, it will be difficult for your partners and employees to constantly adapt to your changes as well.
When you have your brand guidelines set, there’s no guesswork regarding typography, font size, brand voice, and such. Eliminating these kinds of debates can speed up the processes within the company and can give more room to your employees to focus on more important things.
Before You Start
By reading this short article you may think that coming up with a cohesive GSM is basically a fly-by-night operation or a project that might only take a few minutes a day for a week to hammer out. Truth be told, a lot of time goes into creating a cohesive branding strategy and guidelines to complement it.
What we’ve listed here is only the tip of the iceberg. We haven’t even touched logo creation and placement, the importance of using the correct typography, and the scientific data surrounding color schemes and their importance in marketing and branding.
All that being said, if you are not well-versed enough in the fine art of creating a GSM, it might be best to consult a professional agency that already has experience in this area.
A specialist branding team can help you come up with a cohesive guideline booklet, not to mention, they can help you improve your branding efforts at the same time.
As you can see, there are a lot of different things going into a good graphics standard book, and every line in it should work toward improving your brand or to at least maintain its consistency, and serve its longevity.
It should also serve the purpose of being a guideline for new and old employees alike, and a valuable resource for your partners in marketing, web design, and in other areas who are also aiming to drive more sales and to raise awareness.
As such, your GSM should be a solid foundation for your branding efforts. Tweaks here and there are allowed, preferred even, however, constant changes to your GSM can potentially harm your business and sales. People, both your customers and employees, like to work to or work with a brand they can trust. Constant modifications to your GSM can confuse your workers who in turn, might market your products differently to what your customers are used to. If this is not a planned move, but a result of guideline-misinterpretation, then everybody loses.
So, if you are only at the starting phases of creating a GSM, please note that it takes time and it’s no easy job.
On the other hand, it’s a worthy endeavor, because it will definitely help you to solidify your brand and to establish yourself in your industry and market scene.