25 April 2013

How Rigid Should A Brand Style Guide Be?

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A Brand Style Guide is essentially a internal communication compass. It provides guidance on how a business should communicate the Identity, Personality, and Authenticity of a brand.

The rigidness to which a business should follow its communication compass depends upon the culture of the company.

Some company cultures are very rigid with specific dos and don’ts on communicating the brand. When I was at Starbucks Coffee, the company culture was VERY rigid in this manner.

Other company cultures are less rigid. Whole Foods Market gives tremendous autonomy to its regions to design and deliver marketing programs. Which means, inconsistencies exist in how the Whole Foods brand looks and feels in the Mid-Atlantic region versus the Southwest region.

My retail marketing advice is to be 100% rigid with the visual Identity of the brand. No matter where the brand’s logo and tagline appear, it should be 100% consistent with the direction provided in the style guide.

I think the rules are less rigid and more up to interpretation as it relates to the Personality of a brand. The emotional identity of brand should be understood by all marketers but ultimately, a company’s CEO, CMO or Marketing VP should be the arbiter of what’s on-brand and off-brand.

Every business must strive not to compromise the Authenticity of its brand. This should be 100% rigid. Businesses should create and follow a DO NOT COMPROMISE list of activities never to do and strictly follow that list. (Learn more here.)

A brand’s visual identity should be 100% consistent. It’s personality should be very consistent. And a brand’s authenticity should never be compromised.


If I showed you a fragment of a glass bottle could you tell me the brand name and what the product was? Wait, before you answer… There is no label. You can’t see the brand name. The bottle is empty. You can’t even tell what color the product was.

I would answer