July 25, 2018

Should we digitize our brand guide?

In this episode of the Smart Communications Podcast Claire Taylor Hansen, one of Big Duck’s Art Directors, shares digital brand guide trends and best practices in the nonprofit and for-profit worlds and offers suggestions for keeping your brand guide alive. Tune in!


Sarah: Hey welcome to the Smart Communications podcast. I’m here with one of Big Duck’s fabulous art directors, Claire Taylor Hansen. Hi, Claire.


Sarah: Claire joined our team a few years ago and had her own shop before that, and worked in-house on the creative teams of several amazing non-profits. She’s joining me today to talk about a kind of nerdy communications topic, which is creating a digital brand guide. Before we get into digital brand guides, let’s get straight what a brand guide is.

Claire, how would you explain what a brand guide is?

A brand guide is a document or a platform that not only explains how to use your brand correctly, but why. It has a lot of rules and guidelines and sort of “demonstration” visuals that demonstrate the correct use to create communications.

Sarah: Yeah and I would say just to add to that, there are brand guides, there are style guides. There’s different terms for this. When I think of a brand guide, I think of something that isn’t just the visuals, it’s also the brand strategy, it might include the messaging, it might include guidelines for language you should use consistently or other things. Whereas usually if we’re talking about something that’s strictly the visual elements, like logos, colors, typography, we’re usually talking about the style guide. Is that correct? Do you agree with that?

Claire: That’s definitely correct.

Sarah: You brought to our attention, I don’t know, last year or year before, that brand guides were going digital. We started investigating these, or you started investigating these and we started working with these with ourselves and with a couple of our clients. What’s a digital brand guide? How is it different?

Claire: A digital brand guide can look in a few different ways. The common aspect is just rethinking how we can use the internet to make this document more living and more life-like and be more usable for the client. Nowadays, it’s taking many different forms. It can either be a page on your website that’s password protected. It can be a PDF that’s been uploaded online so that everyone can access it without remote access to your server. Or even there’s some third party company startups that are creating ways to have your brand guide and all of your brand assets live on an online platform that you can access. It’s really … It’s new, so it’s taking shape in many different ways. The commonality is that it’s solving some problems that are existing with current brand guide, which is that they very quickly can go out of date and become less useful. They have a shelf life.

Sarah: This solves a problem because the communication staff can just update things to the digital location even if it’s a PDF, I can go in as a communication’s person and update the PDF and repost it. If nobody’s downloading that PDF or printing it out and keeping it in their desk drawer forever, theoretically the next time they go, it’s been updated, and you know that everybody’s got the latest and greatest version.

Right, it actually solves a few problems. It also solves onboarding staff. Historically you might share a print out. You might attach a bunch of files to an email. You might send a pack to a server, a dusty old corner of the server where you’ve archived a bunch of materials. Now, if you’re sending materials to a freelancer or you’re onboarding staff, or you’re even just working internally with your communications team, it’s as simple as just sending a link and then that way everyone’s on the same page. And it’s just a much more efficient way to work.

Sarah: You’ve reduced the barriers to entry, ’cause it’s a lot easier to just click on a link than all that other stuff.

Claire: Exactly.

Sarah: You in your research uncovered a couple of examples of this that are out there. We’ll mention them now but we’ll also link to them in the show notes so people can click through to them. There are also some companies that you serviced that are specifically producing digital brand guides. What companies did you find? And do you have any examples you can call out that people can check out online?

Claire: Yeah, so I’d say the first generation of this are people just uploading their old fashioned standard PDF’s online to online PDF viewers. A lot of companies are doing that, the YMCA, a lot of non-profits are doing that. If you Google brand guide or style guide, you’ll probably find a few of these online on websites like They’re just PDF viewers. Another way that people are handling this is as pages in their website. Companies like Kickstarter or Ben & Jerry’s, they’re creating whole custom pages to their website where their staff can access all of their materials. Or for Kickstarter, where they’re trying to empower the end-user to use their brand, they’re actually designing it for people like you and me to grab assets.

Then the third method that is becoming more and more popular are as I mentioned before these kind of startup companies, which is really exciting space where it’s more designed for internal use and it’s a company that is creating a platform for you to upload your assets and upload your brand guide specifically for internal communications. That’s the version we’re the most excited about exploring further. There are a few companies that are working in this space and we’ll put them in our show notes. (The company we use is Frontify).

Sarah: Yeah, so the paid brand guide companies are charging for use, so that’s the downside of those. They’re on, I think in most cases what we found is it’s a monthly model. Your organization’s gonna pay, how much money a month?

Claire: $25-$45 a month. It’s sort of like an operational cost like you could think of Drop Box, or hosting your website. The advantage of that is just it’s a low monthly fee. You can always get off it whenever you want versus the upfront costs of coding a custom site.

Sarah: Right, so I think the digital brand guide paid solution makes a lot of sense if you’re a national organization with chapters, or affiliates, and you’ve got a lot of employees or volunteers across remote locations. Because paying for that ease of use, that link, makes a lot of sense. Probably does not make a lot of sense to spend money if you’ve got a team of a dozen or so, or a few dozen people working in one office where when you update your brand guide you can say, “Hey everybody, we just updated the brand guide,” and everybody’s got the message.

Claire: Absolutely. Another great use for this new tool in technology is if you are trying to empower your audience to actively participate with your brand. If you’re in a social activist space, or in a religious space where you have lots of different synagogues or churches that are hopefully gonna take up your brand and run with it, or make materials in collaboration with you-

Sarah: Organize a bake sale.

Claire: Absolutely. It’s a great way to collaborate with your identity.

Yeah, that’s great. All right, well keep us posted on your adventures in digital brand guides and thanks for joining me today, Claire.

Claire: Thanks for having me.