brand style guide development

Questions We’re Asked Most Often by Our Clients : Part 1

Over the course of the past year, many of our most avid BOLT! readers who are our clients in the licensing industry have asked us if we would address some very specific topics related to style guide and packaging program development in future issues. It’s great to receive this kind of feedback from our readership as it adds value to the information we provide here. We are always interested in hearing about the challenges you’re facing as you introduce new licensing programs to the marketplace. This kind of insight helps us serve you better in the context of our newsletter. However, rather than dedicate an issue to each of these topics individually, we thought it would be a good idea to treat it as a 2-part series framed as an interview… with me. Part 1 will address topics related to style guide development. So, let’s jump right in!

Which assets should be included in a brand’s style guide?

This question is the one I hear most often. Almost daily, in fact. The answer to this one truly depends upon a number of factors related to your brand, specifically. For example, the contents of a core style guide will differ slightly from that of a trend-based guide. And the quantity and type of assets we would recommend will vary depending upon whether the licensed brand is new to the marketplace or is already well-established with a loyal fan base, and which consumer product categories the brand will be pursuing.

With that said, a core style guide for a licensing program would typically include:

  • Introduction – an overview of the licensed brand written in a tone that will generate excitement among potential licensee partners
  • Brand Elements – the property logo and standardization, color palette, font families, character bios, character size chart and editorial phrases
  • Editorial – catch phrases associated with the brand, its overarching storyline and its characters to give the brand a unique voice on consumer products
  • Character Artwork – both rendered and vector interpretations of key characters in a variety of versatile poses
  • Design Elements – a broad range of ready-made yet modifiable assets such as composed graphics, badges, patterns, borders, frames, type treatments and iconography
  • Product Applications – a selection of product concepts that represent the brand’s categories and leverage the design elements, character artwork and color palette in their design
  • Packaging Program – design assets and templates that address the typical packaging formats found within the brand’s categories, along with standardization guidelines
  • Submissions & Approvals – an outline of the process licensees will need to follow to obtain product development and packaging approvals

An even more comprehensive style guide may also address point of sale materials and in-store displays as well as print and web advertising, while a trend-based guide will typically organize design elements by trend, with each having their own color palette, font families and perhaps even their own dedicated character art.

Is it really necessary to include a packaging program as part of our brand’s style guide?

If a separate, stand-alone licensed product packaging program has been developed for the brand, there would be no need to represent packaging within its licensing program style guide. However, if one doesn’t exist, we would strongly advise including at the very least a rudimentary approach to package design within the brand’s licensing program style guide. Otherwise, licensee partners will be left to develop their own packaging on an individual basis, which will result in completely different looks from each, with no visual consistency. And an opportunity to control the visual presence of the brand at retail will be lost.

How important is it to include product applications in our brand’s style guide?

Although it’s not absolutely imperative to include product applications, it’s rare to see a style guide without them in today’s licensing environment. Product applications serve two critical roles in a licensing program style guide. Firstly, they’re used by licensees as inspiration while illustrating the proper visual aesthetic to adhere to as consumer products are developed. Secondly, they serve as a sales tool to attract potential licensee partners. Some potential partners don’t have the ability to envision how their products may look with the program’s design assets applied. There isn’t a more powerful incentive to encourage a partnership than to bring the brand to life on popular products within the licensee’s categories.

Our new brand is primed for licensing. Should its style guide leverage emerging marketplace trends?

We are of the mindset that it’s never a good idea to introduce a new licensed brand to the consumer product landscape with a trend-based licensing program. Consumers aren’t familiar enough yet with a new brand for the trend to be understood as applied to the brand. Instead, it may be perceived as part of the brand’s own aesthetic.

We believe that a core style guide should be created for a new licensed brand’s initial licensing program. And it should be void of anything trend-related. The focus, instead, should be placed on establishing a unique and ownable visual hook for the brand based on its core attributes. The visual hook should be leveraged as a common thread that ties all of the licensing program’s design assets together. Over time, the visual hook will build equity in the minds of consumers and become associated with the brand as one of its primary visual assets. One that will transcend any trend that may be applied to the brand in the future. Once consumers become familiar with how the new licensed brand’s core look is visually represented on consumer products, trend-based licensed programs can be considered.

Can we appeal to more than one target audience within a single licensing program?

Yes. A licensing program can certainly be developed to appeal to multiple target audiences, as long as common visual assets are infused into the design elements for each target. Doing so will allow consumer products to coexist at retail while maintaining an overarching visual brand presence. For example, a licensing program designed to appeal to both kids and adults may share the property logo, character artwork and editorial phrases, while the color palette, font families and overall design aesthetic change to appeal to each target audience. A brand’s style guide may even be segmented by category, with dedicated design elements and editorial phrases established for each. In this case, the property logo and brand color palette may remain the same to maintain visual consistency at retail.

Why are our licensee partners always asking for fresh, new design elements?

We hear this quite often and we’ve determined that there are two reasons why licensees would be begging for fresh, new design elements to work with as they develop their consumer products. The first reason would be that the brand’s style guide doesn’t provide enough design elements or that there’s not nearly enough diversity among those that it does provide. This is problematic because every product in the marketplace will ultimately look too similar if every licensee is working with the same few design elements. If character poses or composed graphics are limited, licensees will gravitate toward using only one or two. To address this issue, brand owners will simply need to step up their game and invest in more design elements to flesh out the licensing program. Even with a limited number of character poses, the artwork can be treated in a diversity of ways and a broad range of design elements can be developed, giving licensees more choices.

The other reason would be that licensees aren’t taking enough creative liberties with the design elements provided in the style guide. They’re using them “as is” instead of manipulating them to work with their products in a unique manner. If this is the case, brand owners should encourage licensees to dissect the design elements and reconfigure them to make unique designs that fall within the same visual aesthetic. This can be challenging because many licensee partners either don’t have the design savvy to rework existing designs successfully, or they don’t know that they are allowed to do so. We typically recommend including a page within a brand’s style guide showing how a single design element can be reconfigured to work in a particular product application scenario.

In part 2 of this newsletter series, I address topics related to packaging program development. We would love to hear from you with comments or additional questions that you’d like us to answer in future issues of BOLT!.

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