Posted by Kate Phizackerley on 23:40

Big businesses are heavily invested in their brand or brands, and the visual images people associated with the brand.  Few consumers would fail to recognise the Apple Inc. logo.  Within the UK Easyjet push that further and the airline is intimately associated with its somewhat garish orange.  Garish maybe, but recognisably Easyjet.  It is a colour which suggests young and energetic - ideal branding.  Most companies rely on a somewhat larger colour palette.

Companies invest small fortunes in getting their brand image right.  I do wonder how successful some branding consultants are though.  I have worked in organisations which paid consultants for what turned our to be a clashing colour combination that was almost impossible to use in marketing documents.  Not surprisingly it was quickly dropped.  Often it goes further to specify font face and size, how large margins should be, how lists are punctuated.  It often seems that the more detailed a style manual becomes that the more fanatically some within the company will promote it so that slavish compliance to a long list of rules is expected with near religious fervour.  Effort which could go into improving customer service or greater efficiency is side-tracked into ensuring detailed visual compliance.  Mishandled a corporate style can become a cost millstone.

Mishandled because customers, prospects and most especially the public are unlikely to make any connection with the company and minutiae of a corporate style guide.  It is forgotten that consistency is not a particularly valuable goal in itself, what matters is that customers and contacts immediately associate material with the company.  That is why the Apple Inc logo is such an asset.  Easyjet can brand anything simply by using the orange and remembering the brand image it evokes.  So the use of an antique font face would immediately be wrong, but in all honesty whether Verdana or Trebuchet or any other modern font was used would probably be irrelevant, so long as any publication or document was consistent within itself, although using a consistent font for the company name is commonplace.  In fact the Easy Group does have preferred fonts.  They use Copper Black for the company name, and Futura for general text.  This is what they say about their choice of Copper Black:

Its bold, confident and distinct appearance has made it recognisable and associated with ’easy’. Its soft friendly curves have given a warm personality to the ’easy’ businesses.
Notice how the font has been chosen to fit the image.

We took these principles to heart when designing Egyptological, our new Ancient Egypt Magazine and Journal.  We picked stars from an astronomical ceiling.  The web site used a modern Photoshop essence because that gives a compact image for use online, but in some of our paper material we use a photographic image instead of an actual ancient tomb ceiling.  It is an image that is immediately associated with Ancient Egypt by any Egyptologist.  That gave us the start of a colour palette.  For the web site we then added a gold for the richness of tombs like that of Tutankhamun.  Minor colours were added on practical, aesthetic grounds.  The lavender we use as no counterpart in Ancient Egyptian art.  Nonetheless, we have incorporated Ancient Egypt into our brand.

We looked at things like font and found that it didn't really make much difference.  We also intended to have a logo but in the end have found we don't need one.  Where a logo might be needed, a clip from the astronomical ceiling serves us instead.  That has the huge advantage that it can be whatever size and shape we need.  We don't even always use exactly the same blue - any colour which fits the concept of midnight blue works. 

The result is a very simple and flexible style palette which is immediately recognisable but which really only has to components:
  • midnight blue
  • astronomical ceiling
They are used within the overall concept of the brand as a publication which spans both a magazine and academic journal so nothing too modern, nor anything too stuffy.  Stylish (and relatively minimalist) conservatism.

If you are building a business, there is no need to pay style consultants a fortune.  The process isn't much different to decorating a house or assembling a wardrobe (for a woman).  It is about trying a range of ideas and seeing which feel comfortable and what don't.  It can take time but my advice would be to keep it simple because a simple scheme is much cheaper and more flexible in day to day use and the visual brand the public will remember is likely to be only the bare essentials.  If you need a formal style guide you can circulate to staff, then draft it within the style.

There are a couple of style guides to take a look at, Easy Group and Heineken International.  Easy Group is a much simpler, compact style and my preference on those grounds alone.  Both though demonstrate how different sub-brands can be created, or the detail allowed to evolve overtime, if the key constituents have been identified.


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