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Build Your Own Graphic Standards Manual for Your Small Business

By Snap Agency September 26, 2013

Why do you need a graphic standards manual (GSM)? They help keep your brand cohesive. One of my favorite books, Designing Brand Identity says that “People fall in love with brands, trust them, and believe in their superiority. How a brand is perceived affects its success, regardless of whether it’s a start-up, a nonprofit, or a product.” Furthermore, your web designer will thank you when he or she receives an in-depth manual on your brand identity!

If multiple people are working on your marketing materials (especially contractors) it’s a safe bet that your brand is not putting forth a cohesive message. The reality is, you can’t expect a contractor or new employees to understand your company the way you do. That’s why you need a Graphic Standards Manual.

I realize that “real” GSM’s are usually professionally designed and can take hundreds of hours, therefore—in all likelihood—thousands of dollars. Small business owners simply don’t have that kind of money in their marketing budget. However, don’t despair. If you can set aside a few minutes a day for a while to think critically about your business and collect your businesses’ collateral into one easy-to-access folder (digital or a real folder), you can have your very own GSM at the ready next time any of your employees or contractors set to the task of designing something for you.

Your GSM can be revisited and refined as your company grows. Extra bonus? If you were to ever get to the point where you could hire professional design services to build a GSM for you, you’ve built a great springboard to launch that project.

The hard part is actually committing to assembling your basic GSM.

Here’s a list that you can work on a little bit at a time. Bookmark this page and refer back to it from time to time when you have a few spare minutes.

Tangible Company Assets

First, we’ll start with the tangible assets, which is the easiest part. Assemble materials that have your company’s logo on it:

  • Your Company’s logo, preferably in .eps format. (If you don’t know what that is, just put whatever digital version you can find into a folder.)
  • Links to your website, and to any social media accounts
  • Email newsletters, printed newsletters, newspaper ad, sales collateral or direct mail pieces.
  • Business forms, such as job applications
  • Signage (Take a picture of your store front, billboards or vehicles)
  • Packaging
  • Exhibits (If you attend conventions, trade shows, etc.)
  • Apps
  • Letterheads
  • Business Cards
  • Employee Uniforms
  • Powerpoint Presentations
  • Commercials or television interviews
  • Pictures of anything company-related. Employees, events, products, action photos of people performing a service.
  • Logos or seals for any certifications or awards your company has

Intangible Company Assets:

Next, here are some things to ponder regarding your business that could be helpful information to give to your contractors and employees.


  • Write a message directly to your employees and contractors about your branding efforts. What are your motivations for doing so? What goal do you hope to achieve? How will you know when that goal has been successfully reached?
  • What are your company’s values and culture?
  • What is your vision for the company’s future? Where will you be in five years? Ten?

Company Basics:

  • When was your company founded? Why was this company created?
  • What is your business’s tagline?
  • How did you pick your company’s name? (Did you follow a thought process?) Why did you ultimately pick the name your company has now?
  • What kind of “voice” does your company have? Casual, Formal, Playful, Knowledgeable, and/or Friendly?
  • What is your preferred primary color for your logo? (We recommend giving very specific color values in CMYK, RGB, or Decimal Hex. Usually general statements like “red” do not fulfill the purpose of a GSM.)
  • Can your logo be in all white, grey or black if needed?
  • Can your logo be rendered in other brand-related colors?
  • If your logo has a pictorial element, can it be isolated as a graphical element? (For instance, Snap Agency’s logo has a pyramid shape for the “A”. It could be pulled out and used by itself as a design element.)

Client or customer information:

  • Who is your target market?
    • Percentage of male / female use?
    • Age grouping?
    • Income grouping?
  • What are your client’s needs, and how do they perceive your product or service?
  • How do you cater to your customer’s experience of your product or service? What do you want your brand to mean to people when they experience it? What do they feel? Relief, trust, happiness, accomplishment, encouragement, sense of community, etc.
  • What value does your product or service provide to your customer?

Writing about the competition:

  • Is there a competitor that you admire most? If so, why?
  • How is your product or service different from your competitor’s? How is it memorable?

Hope this short list helps you. At Snap, our  web designers and strategists are always excited to work with graphic standard manuals, even basic ones like the one above! We work with a vast number of industries, and we can ensure that your marketing efforts have better personality fit if our team members have a helping hand—direct from you, the company’s visionary.

If you want a in-depth study on developing your brand identity, I highly recommend you buy this book, “Designing Brand Identity” by Alina Wheeler.

If you would like to sit down with a strategist or web designer, give us a call! We love to see companies grow, and we know you love it too. Our phone number is 763-548-2297. Talk to you soon!