Building Brand and Design Guardrails For Your Bank

By Alina McGinty

So, you’ve built a shiny new brand or refreshed an established one. Now what? How do you effectively convey your brand message and story across all channels, so your customers know who you are and what you are all about? Your brand is more than your logo. It is the experience people have every time they interact with your bank. That experience should be positive and consistent.

Imagine a neighbor whose house is in tiptop shape, inside and out. The grass is always green and freshly cut, their flowerbeds are neat, bushes are evenly trimmed, and their car looks as if it was just driven off the lot. Now imagine you leave your house one day to find the same house with overgrown grass, garden covered in weeds, and an unwashed car in the driveway. You’d probably be concerned and want to go knock on the door and see if everything is ok.

This same logic applies to brands. Inconsistency makes customers feel uncomfortable and will make your customers question your authenticity. That’s where the guardrails are necessary to keep your brand consistent across all channels and internal/external teams. Delivering consistent messages and visuals aligned with your core values will create brand recognition in the marketplace.

But it isn’t all just about the visuals and messaging either. Consistency in customer and employee experiences are just as important, ensuring that your brand and its promise are reliable, trustworthy and driving customer loyalty.

One of the best ways to build and maintain overall brand consistency is to create a reference guide or roadmap that includes everything about your brand from soup to nuts. This roadmap may be referred to as “brand guidelines” or “brand standards” and can be presented in many ways, such as on a shareable document, internal web page or a printed version that is given to employees. Whatever form it takes, it will be an essential reference for both internal employees and external vendors such as designers, copywriters and other marketing experts who may need to convey the brand or leverage its various elements. That way, people don’t go making things up on their own, which could affect the integrity of the brand.

There are six key elements that should go into every brand guide. These elements, detailed below, will be the key to keeping things consistent, so that customers are met with a familiar happiness when they see your advertisements and not the uncomfortable awkwardness that comes from checking on a neighbor’s un-trimmed lawn.

Brand story / mission statement

Let’s get real. The best brands reflect what both the employees and customers already know to be true about the bank. Your brand story should be a succinct message that tells people who you are. It should be compelling, show your personality and be something that people can understand and connect with. It’s important to include it in the guidelines as it informs employees and outside vendors about the foundation on which your brand is built and influences all visual and non-visual strategies for communication.

Logo

Variations of the logo with and without the tagline, stacked and horizontal versions and when it’s appropriate to use them should be clear in the brand guidelines. Always include samples of colored versions, black, grayscale (if applicable) and white, and defining clear space around the logo. Describe the minimum size it should be used. Include examples of unacceptable uses of the logo or what NOT to do, as well

Typography

List and show samples of the primary brand typeface(s) that have been chosen. Designations on how to use these typefaces—which one should always be for headlines, body copy, websites versus print rules etc. Include recommendations of typefaces that should be used if the preferred ones are not available and if typefaces need to be purchased, include hyperlinks to where vendors may download them.

Colors

Colors used in the logo and any primary and secondary color palettes used in print and digital branding should always be included in the brand guidelines. Include rules (if any) around when to use certain colors, for example if a certain product is represented by a specific color. To ensure the colors will look good across all mediums, identify each color’s make-up for print (CMYK and pantone color values) and web (hex and RGB color values).

Voice

Brand messaging should be clear and consistent across all marketing and advertising materials. Clarify the brand voice in messaging, meaning any terminology that should be used or avoided. This helps to keep everyone in-sync with how the bank should “speak” to be perceived the way it wishes to by intended audiences. If your brand speaks about and sells certain products to a specific target audience across different markets, include customer personas for each market that depicts the correct messaging and tone-of-voice. Include specific writing style preferences (abbreviations, sentence and paragraph styling) and samples pointing people to where to find them (like your website) is always a good idea.

Voice is one of the more important pieces of the guide for employees, since it tells them how to talk about the bank and your brand. If employees are at a community event and someone unfamiliar with the bank stops and asks them what you’re all about, you want them to answer in a way that reflects the brand. That’s not to say they should have a memorized “elevator pitch,” but that they should be able to accurately communicate the brand in their quick overview.

Imagery

Showing samples of the type of imagery that is consistent with the branding helps vendors know what to look for when selecting images on their own, whether it be photographs, illustrations and/or icons. Some examples of imagery guidelines are: Preferred use of custom photos vs. stock imagery; showing diversity when using photos of people; rules around using stock photos with people facing the camera directly or not; acceptable illustration styles (flat color, outline, etc.); and samples of textures and/or patterns.

Brand work samples

Including visual samples of print ads, digital ads, landing pages, email marketing and your website to call out key elements is helpful in a brand guide. While providing a visual guide to those who work with the brand is important and needs to be clearly defined, leave room for flexibility and evolution to ensure things will turn out successful and consistent. Your brand shouldn’t box you in and eliminate the opportunity for creativity, but it should be clearly defined enough to create consistency.

Take it to the bank

The possibilities are almost endless when it comes to a brand guide, as each bank has unique goals and specifications when it comes to brand consistency. Some guides can be very robust including signature styles for branch locations, telephone number treatment, and bank-specific compliance requirements. Others are more streamlined, pertaining to your bank’s messaging and voice, color palettes and logo treatments. It does not need to be set in stone and will surely evolve over time as your bank grows and changes.

Just having a brand guide will help define your brand and how it should live in the world. It’s the cheat-sheet for all marketing teams, internal and external, and easily accessible for reference. Most important, a brand guide helps maintain the consistency that your brand needs so your audience knows you have your house in order.

Alina McGinty is the senior graphic designer at Pannos Marketing, based in Manchester, New Hampshire, an award-winning, full-service communications firm specializing in strategic marketing, public relations, social media, e-commerce and website solutions for financial institutions. Email: amcginty@pannosmarketing.com.

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