When you and your team produce content, what words do you use? You probably didn’t have to make that decision consciously, as you likely all speak the same language. But when it comes to visual language — colors, fonts, images and the look of the content you produce — are you still on the same page? If not, you need to establish a unified “language” that everyone on your content team learns how to “speak.” That language is your brand guide.

Small marketing teams often work without brand standards at all; they try to justify it by saying they need the flexibility as the organization grows and the company evolves. At larger organizations there’s a good chance you have brand standards, but they’re built more for advertising teams, not content marketers.

Here’s why your content team needs to develop a strong brand guide and what it needs to include for effective content marketing.

To Establish Brand Consistency

The basics of a visual brand include the colors, fonts, logo usage and images that reinforce the feelings your brand is meant to evoke — edgy, respected, playful, serious and so on. People learn to recognize those visual cues, and if your content team strays too far from them you lose the power of that recognition.

A brand guide records those requirements so everyone can reference them and create content that’s consistent across platforms, media and creators. This is especially important when you have multiple people creating content. Here are some of the elements to include in your brand guide:

  • Colors: Spell out your primary, secondary and highlight colors.
  • Typefaces: Specify typefaces for headlines, subheads and body copy.
  • Stock photo and illustration requirements: Should they be literal or metaphorical? Should they include people? Can they be manipulated with a color wash? Do you allow text over the images?
  • Logo usage: How much space is included around the logo? What are the secondary logo colors? What are your rules for rendering in horizontal or vertical spaces?

As you work through your guidelines, share examples of how they are applied to common decisions your content team will need to make, such as blog post images, social images and email newsletters.

To Improve the Team’s Efficiency

You want your team to be able to produce sharp, engaging content without you having to micromanage every piece.

You also don’t want your team to have to start from square one to decide how a piece of content should look. Limit the choices they have to make along the way and you’ll have no trouble keeping things moving.

Working from brand guidelines also reduces the back-and-forth a team might face when getting approval from other teams. They can help you build templates that every person can use to create content quickly, such as statements of work, contracts, slideshows, letterhead, white papers, case studies and blog images. When multiple people produce these assets without brand guidelines, they’re going to look different. The perfect template requires no design thought: Just plug in the new content each time and you’re done, with all company visuals remaining compliant with brand guidelines. Making the process easy ensures people will stick to it.

To Prepare a Foundation for Growth

As your content team expands you’ll need processes that help it scale smoothly. A brand guide will make it much easier for new team members get up to speed quickly. It helps serve as the brain and organization behind all of these moving pieces and parts, and it can support new and old employees.

It also makes it easier to outsource content to agencies and other outside vendors, giving you flexibility to manage surges in demand. The first question I always ask when starting work with a new client is whether they have brand guidelines. If they don’t, I then have to “decode” the brand and the decisions that went into it, without knowing the reasoning behind those decisions. Having brand guidelines saves money and time for outsourcing, allowing your design consultants to focus only on solving the design problem at hand.