What is a brand bible?

What is a brand bible? Ask 10 brand practitioners and you may get 11 different opinions. From graphic design standards, to ‘how to’ guides, to positioning documents, and everything in between. The only common element is the aim to provide clarity (ironic, no?) when it comes to understanding what the brand shalt, and shalt not do.

I’m all for clarity. Brands are valuable. And the more people who use the brand –  sales teams, marketers, an AE prepping the boss’s powerpoint, or the local print shop – the more danger of diluting or damaging this valuable asset. The easiest way to avoid this is to create a simple document that maps out not only what / what not to do with a brand, but why. A bible for all to follow.

What should go into a brand bible?

Do a quick scan of Google, and you see most brand practitioners recommend a table of contents that includes:

  • An overview of the brand, including its history, vision and personality,
  • Brand graphics, including logo design, logo usage, typography palette, and colour palette,
  • Visual communication standards, including photography style,
  • Practical graphic applications, including letterhead and business card design.

 

This is a great foundation. To me, though, what’s missing is an exploration of the brand’s relationship with the world around it. Yes, history, vision and personality help. But it’s only when you contextualize history, vision and personality that you begin to understand why the brand developed as it did. Useful, yet often overlooked elements might include:

  • The brand’s target audience, described as an actual person (a persona or avatar, for the meme-centrics among us). Make that person appear in front of me, as if Scotty had just beamed them up for us to meet.
  • The brand’s power score. I was introduced to this term by my old boss Mike Maddock of Maddock Douglas. It boils down to comparing the strengths and weaknesses of your brand vs other brands. What are you good at that they’re no good at? What are you weak in that they’re strong in? Where does everyone fail? Where is everyone awesome?
  • Key terms people use when describing the brand.
  • The optimal user experience. When someone discovers, shops, buys and lives with your brand, what does that relationship entail?
  • Key visuals. Is there a picture that sums up the brand perfectly? Not the logo, mind you. Think of the Krazy Glue guy hanging from a girder by his helmet.

Why is a brand bible important?

One word: value. When a brand presents itself as cohesive, not confused, it increases the brand’s perceived value.

marc stoiber brand strategy

Consistency allows your brand to appear more professional and reliable. I’ve been brought in to work on brands by M&A firms who wanted to take that brand to market – the money people fully understood that a singular, focused brand drove the valuation of the entire company up.

By agreeing on, mapping out, and implementing a brand bible, you make it easier to maintain the quality and integrity of your brand’s image.

Think of the brand as a living, breathing human. We don’t like people whose personalities are inconsistent or erratic. In fact, we worry about the mental health of that person. Brands, as the personalities of products or services, are held to the same standard.

Brand bible vs brand guidelines

If a brand bible is the overarching what and why of a brand, brand guidelines are the more accessible what and why in a specific situation.

A brand steward – the manager of an international shampoo brand, for example – needs to know how a brand should behave in every conceivable situation. But what about the college kids doing free shampoo giveaways to freshmen on campus? What about the producers and voice talent recording a radio spot? Giving them the entire bible wouldn’t help an iota. Specific guidelines would.

A smart marketer develops specific brand usage guidelines to curb inconsistent brand representations in different situations.  The last thing they want is to have a shampoo commercial play in a freshman’s headphones as they walk by college kids giving out shampoo samples – and have the two look like they came from different companies.

What is a brand bible? Think human.

Professionals tend to slide inside the jar of expertise. Their need (perceived or real) to get specific takes them off the big picture path. Soon, you have brand fiefdoms everywhere, and portrayals of a brand that just don’t line up. All the brand professionals, each in their own jar, unable to connect with each other.

When in doubt, think human. Your brand needs to be complex – we humans are complex. But at the end of the day, it all hangs together in a natural, unforced way. Perceived from any angle, whether it’s the radio commercial or the kids handing out samples, needs to feel like it came from the same place.

Of course, making it easy is hard. It requires some thinking, just like giving a Hollywood character a back story is hard work. But it all pays off, in a brand that we innately get.

If you enjoyed this story, please pass it along to a colleague who might benefit from it. 

 

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