Rules for Creating a Cohesive Brand

July 21, 2017

Eric Small

The first rule

When you look at some of the best brands in the world, you’ll notice a high degree of consistency in the collateral they produce. Everything just seems to fit together in a way that makes every piece feel like a part of a larger family. Does this happen by chance? Of course not! That style was created, expanded, and refined to work the way it does. So how do you create a signature brand image? The most important rule for building a brand… is to create rules!

Creating rules helps to establish and maintain consistency across different pieces of design and helps them to all fit together in a cohesive manner. Branding is all about consistency, and consistency is all about following set rules. These can be as simple as: “We will only use these two versions of the logo,” or “Green is our primary brand color,” and get as complex as: “A 2-point line weight is required when utilizing spot illustrations on print designs smaller than a business card.” These rules can be as complex or as simple as you wish. Complex rules can ensure greater consistency, but may limit creative exploration. Simple rules are easier to follow and leave greater leeway for interpretation.

Rules can be helpful when a third party is working with your brand assets. Many larger companies will have a brand standards guide to ensure that their brand is properly represented at all times. Smaller companies may not need a full brand standards guide if they have the same individual (or team of individuals) working on all their brand materials.

A great way to begin establishing rules for your brand is to gather all your brand materials, and examine them for consistency. Are you using the same colors, typefaces, and illustration styles? Grab things you like and items that share similar aesthetics, and try to distill them down into what makes them fit together. The consistencies are where your rules live. Are there pieces that feel out of place? Toss the outliers, they are probably detracting from your cohesive brand image.

Rules can be made for just about anything for your brand. Employee uniforms, tagline usage, and even the way the phone is answered can be used to enhance your brand image. These things may seem small, but they create a pattern in your customer’s mind whenever they interact with you.

The second rule

Now for the second most important rule of creating a cohesive brand image… Rules are made to be broken. This might sound counter-intuitive if you’ve read the previous five paragraphs, but there’s a good explanation.

If your brand doesn’t occasionally step outside of the set rules and explore new directions, it runs the risk of becoming stale and outdated. Some of the most iconic brands of all time have changed their branding. Apple, Google, and McDonalds come to mind for some of the bigger businesses, not to mention that just about any professional sports team that has been around longer than a decade or two has changed their brand at least once or twice.

Times change and trends change with them. While it may not be the best idea to go chasing every single trend that comes down the pipeline (I’m looking at you, .com boom swoosh logos), it’s important to remain current and relevant. Breaking a few rules to try and evolve your brand image can help keep you relevant.

It’s important to note that every time you break a rule and use something different from the norm, it will create a disconnect in your customer’s mind. Therefore, it is extremely important to analyze whether the change is a good one, or, even if it is a good change, whether it is a change worth making. Some changes are easier to get away with than others, like shifting your color palette slightly to appear more modern. Others have the potential of backfiring completely, especially with brands that have a lot of nostalgia associated with them.

Rules make it much easier to maintain a consistent brand image, and making tweaks to that image can tweak the set of rules that you use. Too many tweaks over too much time could create the inconsistencies that we’re trying to avoid with the rules that we’re creating. Also, existing brand material that is actively circulating will take time to replace. Keep these factors in mind when deciding to modify your brand.

So should I make rules, or break them?

Making rules is a great way to create consistency in your brand image. It ensures that you are controlling the way your brand is experienced. Rules create consistency, consistency creates repetition, and repetition is how your brand is remembered by your clients and customers.

Breaking rules is a great way to expand or shift your brand image. Stale brands can update their image by creating new rules to replace some older ones. This is done at the expense of consistency, but if the new rules stick around long enough, they create a new consistency.

Branding can be tricky business, but with the right rules in place, your brand image can be controlled and directed.

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