As your firm grows, two things are guaranteed:
- The amount of content you need to produce will swell (website, pitchbooks, presentations, PPMs, email communications, drawdown notices, quarterly and annual reports...)
- The production of this content will become increasingly abstracted from the senior management of the firm.
Whilst the senior partners probably wrote the first website and pitchbooks, as a fund grows it will typically hire in (first) IR and (next) marketing professionals, trusting them to articulate the firm's proposition and get that message out to investors and others.
Managers know that "style drift" in the investment strategy is a problem for investors and other stakeholders. In an industry built on blind-pool promises, a manager that goes off-piste and unilaterally changes course form the agreed path, introduces an element of risk that is unacceptable – especially in the case of closed ended funds, where liquidity is (improving, but still) limited.
The same is true for "marketing drift". And let's not forget: marketing a fund is hardly nursery slope stuff. It's a black-diamond run.
So, what can be done to ensure that messaging (and the presentation of that messaging) is consistent? How can you keep between the gates?
You need a brand guidelines manual: a document that says what is and isn't allowed, when it comes to your logo, typography and imagery.
And here's what goes in it:
Your brand guidelines don't need to be complex or too detailed. They should be commensurate with the business they are for. I've seen detailed documents that run to 100 pages, outlining every conceivable usage of every conceivable element of the visual identity. I've also seen single pages that lay out the top-level elements for busy folks that just want to know the RGB code for the main colours in the logo.
Either could be right for you (but probably, you need something in the middle). We've just built one for a successful mid-market buyout house and this is what we included:
- Imagery and icons
I'll take you through each section, now, and also provide some ideas of what you might want to add, depending on your own organisation.
Show the logo in all of its forms: standard; reversed out on a colour or image; with and without a strap-line, if you have one. There may be more variations that are relevant.
It's also a good idea to identify the areas of empty space that you want preserved around the logo and, incredibly, it is important to identify what is not allowed. Unless you tell them not to, someone in your firm will stretch and distort the logo or unilaterally change the colour because it "looks nicer". Their daft idea, but your fault if it isn't specifically forbidden anywhere, official.
Show your brand colours (not just those that appear in the logo) in large blocks and add the colour values. You'll want to include RGB values (used in office products and other digital documents), HEX values (used on web pages and email systems) and CMYK values (which are used for print). There may be some gradients that you also want to include and don't forget to think about how you will treat charts...
3. Imagery and icons
Here is your opportunity to lay down the law on the subject and style of imagery used. Typically, this is one of the quickest things to go off the rails (if it was ever on rails, in the first place). Tired of stock images of puzzle pieces and light bulbs polluting your proposals and website? Make a stand. Agree the tone and topics for imagery and document them, with plenty of examples. Explain what is allowed and what is not.
In addition to photography, you may have preferred illustration styles and icons may feature in your materials and on your website. If you have hundreds, you are best advised to include them in a separate library, but present a few in your brand guidelines that are indicative of the style.
Typography goes beyond choosing a typeface, but you will certainly want to clearly identify which fonts are to be used. Typically, you will have one font for headings and another for body copy. Your more heavily structured documents will likely have a large number of different levels of headings in them. The brand guidelines manual needs to illustrate the specific size, colour, font and weight to be used for each and show this, in context.
Broader brand guidelines manuals may include entire new sections on tone of voice and writing style and often there will be some pages at the beginning dedicated to expressing the values and vision of the firm. You may find it easier to include these in a separate "vision, voice, and values" document, to keep the visual elements segregated from the written word. The right choice will likely be apparent to you as you think about your organisation and the way it works.
Whilst the brand guidelines manual is a useful reference, you will also probably want to create and roll out a Microsoft Office (or equivalent) theme to enforce the styles and colours you have chosen.
Anyway – good luck! And if you get stuck, remember that MJ Hudson can help you put this together, quickly and professionally.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.