Why Your Brand Needs a Visual Style Guide for Online Content

You might have a Brand Style Guide …
but does it actually guide the online content you create?

Most businesses that work with creative teams understand the importance of brand guidelines. For those not yet familiar with what they are, brand guidelines are “rules” for expressing your brand identity. They’re typically captured in a document called a Brand Style Guide, and often include elements such as brand values, fonts, colours, photography styles, logo treatment and key messaging.

But what about the way your brand comes across on social media channels, in newsletters and on your website?

As a content marketing agency, we often work with business owners and leaders who have ‘done their branding’ and/or who do have Style Guides—but still feel stumped about how exactly to apply those rules to online content such as blogs, social posts and stories, and social channel branding. As one client recently put it, “we feel like our branding is all over the place” when it comes to looking professional and consistent online.

THIS is where a Visual Style Guide for your online content comes in. Whether it’s added to your overarching Brand Style Guide, or separate to it, a guide that’s specifically about how you express your brand online can be a vital tool for maintaining visual consistency, reducing questions about how to create new content, and for communicating your basics to any new folks, freelancers or agencies you might work with to support your marketing efforts.

Figuring out your branding online is important because social media marketing is all about intention and consistency, whether it’s just you doing your socials, or an internal or external team. Intention is about knowing what you want to say, and being clear about the kinds of content you’re going to focus on. And consistency is about showing up regularly in a way that’s recognizable to your audience, no matter where or when they come across your content.

What is an Online Style Guide?

An Online Style Guide defines how your brand will look and feel, keeping your brand’s appearance consistent and recognizable across multiple online channels. An Online Brand Style Guide is specific to your digital brand, providing detail about your website and social channels.

What’s in an Online Style Guide

As mentioned earlier, a standard Brand Style Guide, you’ll usually find rules about how to apply and use the logo; guidance on design styles, corporate colour palettes, white space usage, typography details (font families, sizes, kerning and line height/spacing), layout specifics such as how elements are positioned on a page, and information on website navigation and visual hierarchy.

But the sky’s the limit around what you can include in your Online Style Guide; essentially an Online Style Guide gathers the rules, assets, guidance, and material you and/or your marketing or comms folks need to create content ranging from web copy to social channel branding and bios to social and visual posts and stories. At a high level, an Online Visual Style Guide gathers–all in one glorious, beautiful place–information about how you want to express your brand essence on your online channels.

At a high level, an Online Visual Style Guide gathers–all in one glorious, beautiful place–information about how you want to express your brand essence on your online channels.

It picks up where your Brand Style Guide leaves off, identifying any specific or different ways your branding needs to show up online, whether it’s your Brand Mission, your messaging, or the core values you most want to visually express. You also might, for example, have a slightly different audience for your online content than for your branding in general. The Online Visual Style Guide is precisely where to capture it.

An Online Visual Style Guide typically outlines:

  • Your brand mission (if unique for your online audience)
  • The core values you most want to visually express on your online channels
  • Your target audience: who you most want to speak to, visually, on your online channels
  • Your brand’s visual personality, or ‘signature style’, online
  • The tone of voice you want to convey online (possibly specific to each social media channel)
  • Your logo, its variations, and how it should be used (specifically on online channels)
  • Your brand’s colour palette (this can be different online from IRL)
  • Online/web fonts and typography
  • Photography or visual guidelines and crediting
  • Any other visual elements like patterns, graphics, illustrations that you want to regularly use or pull from in your online content

 

In the Online Style Guides we produce for clients, we often also include:

  • A page gathering screenshots of all relevant social media accounts, so that they can be seen together (and then tweaked for visual presentation, bio writing, etc.)
  • Links to or summaries of strategies you want to use for your content marketing
  • Sample content you want to create for your key channels and/or Content Templates we develop in Canva, to give your content team a head start on frequently used content types, such as visual testimonials, quotes, or employee stories
  • Guidance on how your content should be expressed: to showcase exactly how content should look and be created on your various channels AND enable you or your team to quickly and easily recreate them. Consider, for example:
    • How you’ll share links
    • Hashtag usage
    • Emoji usage
    • Length of copy
    • Style specific to content type (how you want Instagram Reels to look/function, stickers to use, etc)
    • CTAs

The Key Benefits of Creating an Online Style Guide

Ultimately, an Online Visual Style Guide can:

  • Help YOU get super clear about how you want your visual brand to look and feel
  • Clarify how you want your audience to perceive you and feel when they encounter your content online
  • Help you sort out the right blend of fonts, colours and graphics to express your visual personality
  • ‘Level up’ the way your current branding comes across online
  • Ensure consistency in the way you’re presenting yourself across various channels and content types
  • Get everyone on your team aligned, giving everybody a central ‘source of truth’ and reference point
  • Give new folks on your team a clear understanding of what you’re trying to express

In our experience, the first HUGE win in creating an Online Brand Style Guide is really to get crystal clear about how you want to show up in your online content. This can be transformational, leading to visual expression of who and what you are that truly feels authentic and right.

After that, the value is in the greater efficiency you’ll see in your content creation. A solid Online Style Guide creates clarity and ease for anyone creating content, bringing to your fingertips all of the elements you need to create great content.

The result? Consistent, genuine, premium visual messaging across your online channels that helps you focus on living your purpose.

 

Want to ensure your brand looks better online? Get inspired by these

8 Beautiful Brand Design Style Examples

 

Forge & Spark Media is an award-winning content marketing agency supporting purpose-led brands and business leaders to thrive, thanks to killer content and social media marketing. If you’re a purpose-led leader needing support in creating an Online Style Guide, please check out our course on Better Online Brand Design, or get in touch!

We offer done-for-you Style Guide services along with more customized workshop-focused support.

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