Capture Brand Character with Creative Guidelines

i’ll Answer

  1. How are brand creative guidelines different than my brand style guide?
  2. Why are creative guidelines for my brand important?
  3. How do I come up with my guidelines?

Before we start the lesson, let’s do a quick, fun exercise. Imagine a new coworker has joined your team. He always wears his hair long and has quirky glasses.

The team gets to know his fun, easy-going personality. Eventually, he becomes friends with everyone. You always get good vibes from him, and you start associating warm summer days with barbecues in his backyard.

You want your brand to be that type of friend to your target audience: a memorable, distinct personality that people associate with positive emotions and sensations. That’s where brand creative guidelines can help.

While a brand style guide specifies how your branding looks (“My coworker always wears quirky glasses and long hair”), creative guidelines define how your brand taps into people’s sensory perceptions (“Warm summer days remind me of his barbecues”).

Let’s explore this more

Brand creative guidelines set up rules as to how your brand identity should be expressed creatively, no matter what scenario it’s in.

This keeps your brand identity powerful and true no matter where it appears, whether you’re doing online ads, in-store displays, social ads, or other public-facing initiatives.

Creative guidelines also keep your brand consistent, yet relevant as culture changes. Let’s say your brand is known for being “masculine.” If society’s idea of masculinity evolves, you’d evolve with it while still maintaining your identity.

On top of that, creative guidelines help people who produce your marketing materials (like ad agencies, vendors, or internal teams) get immersed in your brand’s identity and understand how to portray it.

That’s important because the better these teams understand your brand, the better work they’ll do for you.

Creative guidelines helped Axe, the global grooming brand for men, evolve its identity and strategy.

Ten years ago, Axe’s creative strategy centred on giving males the edge in the dating game. The brand’s famous ads featured attractive women and “manly men.”

Over time, society’s views on masculinity changed and became more multifaceted. And men began to embrace grooming products as a way to express themselves. Axe knew it also needed to change – but still, maintain its iconic brand identity.

Axe’s creative guidelines were the key to this evolution. They helped Axe stay true to its masculine brand identity while exploring modern interpretations of it.

In 2016, Axe embraced the notion that a definitive, single-minded idea of masculinity doesn’t exist. They updated their creative guidelines to reflect this thinking.

This resulted in a creative campaign featuring images of confident men from all walks of life. The ads’ tagline “Find Your Magic” asked men to discover what makes them unique, and touted Axe’s products as a way to express this individuality.

So how do you start setting up brand creative guidelines? You’ve probably already guessed that building your brand identity is the first step.

That means defining your vision and mission statements, as well as your target audience. It also includes describing your brand’s character in a series of adjectives like caring, generous, youthful, spontaneous, etc.

These adjectives are your brand personality traits. They give your brand human characteristics, aspirations, and values – all of which make it easier for people to relate to and engage with your brand.

Once you have your brand personality traits, think of some synonyms for them. For example, let’s say one of your traits is “powerful.” You might look at these synonyms: competent, convincing, authoritative, commanding, and dynamic.

Your creative guidelines can use these synonyms to define what’s on and off-brand. Competent and convincing might be too weak, while authoritative and commanding are too forceful. Dynamic, meanwhile, works perfectly.

It’s a good idea to create this range of synonyms via an internal brainstorm that involves everyone responsible for designing your brand’s identity, like designers, marketers, PR leads, and so forth.

After you have your synonyms, continue to personify your brand by aligning it with the 5 human senses.

Humans experience the world using every sense. So if your target audience can experience your brand in the same way, it will be more memorable and meaningful to them.

But what if your product isn’t a fragrance or food or something people can touch? It still works, because all the senses come with connotations that can match your brand identity.

You just need to be able to think hypothetically about your brand. “If my sports car brand had a flavour, it would be spicy. If it had a signature aroma, it would be a delightful new car smell.”

To align your brand with the 5 senses, go through each one (sight, touch, smell, sound, taste) and ask yourself how your brand uniquely embodies them.

For sight, list colour schemes, photos, and illustrations that represent your brand. You’re setting up visual guardrails to show what’s on-brand like Casual, unposed photos are on brand, but staged stock photography is not.

For touch, describe your brand’s shape and texture. How should product packaging feel? If you built a pop-up store, what tactile materials would you use? Hypothetically, is your brand heavy, light, smooth, or abrasive?

Describing your brand’s signature smell is hugely important because it’s the most subconscious sense and the one most tied to memory. Would your brand have a musky, flowery, or sweet scent?

Creating a signature sound for your brand can help your writers craft copy that’s in the right tone of voice. Ask yourself, if I used a voiceover actor, what type of voice would she or he have? What music complements my brand?

Lastly, explore the sense of taste. If your brand was food, how would it taste? Would it be sour, sweet, or spicy? Are there certain foods you’d associate with your brand? What kind of food would you cater to your brand event?


Now that you’ve learned about brand creative guidelines, we’ll help you do a quick self-evaluation to see whether you’re ready to set them up.

Let’s do it