Brand Guidelines. Does Your Business Need Them?

May 04, 2016

Brand Guidelines. Does Your Business Need Them?

I asked a new client this week for their brand guidelines. Their answer: 'we're too small to have those.' My answer--small business, big business, start up businesses, medium size business -- it doesn't matter the size of your company, you do need brand guidelines. 

Brand or logo guidelines are critical in an organization where multiple departments are ordering. Everyone has different opinions--that's why there's so many flavors of ice cream, right?

One of our clients several years ago had multiple locations -- and a 'brand nazi'-- their phrase, not mine -- at their corporate headquarters. (Kinda like the "Soup Nazi" on Seinfeld!)

One of the regional VP's ordered branded shirts, as well as office promotional items and corporate gifts. She was always defying the 'brand nazi'.

When there was a company meeting, the real fun began. All the other locations wanted whatever she had ordered for her region -- because her choices for business swag were cool and against corporate brand guidelines. We made every one who ordered the 'contraband' sign on the dotted line that they knew they were going against the 30 page brand guidelines document. Seriously. 

How did it end? The 'field' won. Brand guidelines were eventually amended and shortened. Company was later purchased and the logo was no more. 

We have another national brand client. We thought they would be VERY particular about their brand's color as it's what they are known for. WRONG!
They take any and every shade of their core brand color for promotional items - from light to dark. I don't agree, but they're the client. 

Another client forwarded an email from their marketing department asking the 'vendor' --that's PROMOrx -- to make sure 'their logo was used correctly' on their company swag order. They had already emailed PROMOrx their vector logo art file. They told us they didn't have logo guidelines.

So, how does a vendor like PROMOrx, know if we are using your company logo correctly?
ANSWER: When you provide brand guidelines. And if a vendor doesn't ask for them, read them and then follow them, FIRE THAT VENDOR. Yes. I said that.

Here are some of the items, but not all, that should be addressed in your company's brand guidelines. A professional graphic artist should be aware of these issues.

1. Minimum imprint size for printing on promotional items. WHY: This will save your staff as well as the promotional product vendor time. Many logos are simply too small to be printed legibly on items like nicer pens and styluses.   SOLUTION: There are many less expensive pens that the entire barrel can be printed. Have your graphic designer come up with a 'Pen' version of your logo. The average decoration area on nicer business pens is around 1.5" - 2.0" wide and .25" - .50" tall. 

2. Maximum imprint size for printing on promotional items. Bigger isn't always better when it comes to logos on a padfolio or meeting tote bag for instance. Bigger is better on most all pens but does depend on your logo.

3. Pantone and CMYK colors listed as well as 'built in" to all logo files you provide to a vendor. TIP: providing only Pantone colors and then asking your vendor to convert to CMYK doesn't always create a good outcome.
Your graphic artist should know this and specify to keep your brand's colors as close as they can be to the original design.
NOTE: Pantone colors are only guaranteed on white paper. Don't waste your money paying for this upgrade unless your logo color is very specific.

4. You need a 1 color version of your logo. If you need a promotional product laser engraved (like executive pens) or debossed, like on a leather portfolio, you'll need it. TIP: If your logo doesn't translate well in black and white, rethink the design. It should.  

5. File formats. Most promotional product vendors will ask you for a vector logo file. That's an .eps or .ai format typically. You must have special software to open these files. The marketing assistant or office manager usually does not have this software, so they can't open to make sure they are sending the correct file to the promotional product company. SOLUTION: Have your graphic artist save the logo file as a pdf. Everyone can open and see this format. If the pdf file is created in graphics software, like Adobe, it's vector and will work just fine for most vendors. 

Make sure your graphic artist hits a couple of buttons before saving the logo file: all fonts must be saved as outlines also known as paths or curves. Why? There are 1000's of  available fonts. If we don't have the same font on our computer, when the file is opened, it will substitute a font. That font will most likely look awful -- totally unlike what it should. Two clicks by a graphic artist is all it takes to remedy this problem.

6. Various layouts. In addition to a file with only a logo, will you ever want your url or phone number used? Have your graphic artist design a layout incorporating those elements. Save as a pdf file. (see number 5) 
Additionally you should have your graphic artist provide you with a stacked version of your logo as well, especially if it is wide.  Perhaps even a circular version should be considered if you intend to do any round objects, like this Recycled Tire Jar Opener
Creating brand guidelines--it's a job that's a must for your 'to-do list'.  Who better to interpret how you want your logo to look on any given item than you?
It will save loads of time, headaches and money over the long haul not to mention the frustration of falling in love with a promotional item only to find out it won't work with your logo because the imprint area is too small, your logo will fill in, etc. 

BONUS: you might also want to consider if you want to share logo space. If it's Nike, it's one thing, but what about lesser known brands? Read more here: Do You Intend to Share Your Logo Space When Buying Business Swag
Blogger: Jay MacFadden, the CFO. I'm Hawaii born and a golf lover. I have a knack for taking the complicated and making it easy. 
Want to talk about your company's brand guidelines and the best promotional items? Call Vickie, the MD* Marketing Doctor: 888.553.9569 extension 3