Crafting Your Brand Guidelines

By Taylor Smithfield

Last month we touched on the importance of choosing an archetype for your brand in order to give it a distinguishable personality from your competition. Using the example of different chocolate companies, we saw how nearly identical products can possess wildly different personalities (those naughty M&Ms stand in stark contrast to fun-loving Kit Kat bars). But because your own “product” doesn’t belong to a corporation, you may assume it doesn’t need the same level of branding. This misunderstanding might be due to the stigma attached to the word “brand.”

Some businesses may say, “brands belong to corporations,” or “a brand is expensive and unnecessary for small businesses, right?” or “my business isn’t a household name so it hasn’t become a ‘brand’ yet” — and while corporations certainly have larger budgets, teams and audiences, there is inherent value in establishing your own brand right now and it doesn’t have anything to do with how popular or successful you are. In fact, it’s the other way around: If you build a good brand, then it will bring you success.

Public Perception & Profits

Let’s see if this brings further clarity. Try swapping the word “brand” out for the word “reputation.” You’ve probably invested some portion of your time and money into building and maintaining your shop’s reputation because you understand the correlation between public perception and profits. If so, you’ve invested in your brand image. And I bet we can all agree your reputation is invaluable and relevant for you, right now. Jeff Bezos, founder of, best summarizes this idea: “Your brand is what other people say about you when you’re not in the room.”

However, we can easily throw the word “brand” around and equate it to your image and reputation, but that’s still a bit intangible, right? How do you even go about establishing a brand? Once you’ve created it, what do you do with it? Let’s get a little more specific. Your brand identity is not only your reputation but it’s also your core values, your personality, what sets you apart from the competition, the way you communicate with customers and the emotions you want them to feel. Essentially, it’s the experience you intentionally create for everyone who interacts with you.

Creating A Consensus

I once had the privilege of helping rebrand a large company that had been around for 20 years. They’d already been through one rebranding, but needed another overhaul because they decided to focus on a different target audience. During our research on this project, we discovered some inconsistencies among the members of their sales team. Depending on the individual you talked to there were different ideas about “who” the company was, how they should talk to customers and what made them different from the competition.

On the outside, it appeared to be a fairly cohesive brand, but on the inside, they were divided on many core topics. This is one way businesses dilute their brand without realizing it: there’s no consensus on who they are.

How would you feel if a sales associate was pitching one message to your customers while another was pitching a message slightly counter to that? Or what if your team was basically sharing the same message but each person had a slightly different version? This happens when there’s no established brand. It’s a common issue among small businesses because most of them (understandably) can’t afford contracts with marketing firms. But that doesn’t mean a brand identity is out of your reach. It will take some creativity and exploration on your part, but hopefully you can see the results are well worth it.


The best way to establish a brand is to put it in writing — that way there’s no confusion about who you are and who you aren’t. This document is what those in the industry often call “brand guidelines.” Some brand guidelines are impressive multi-chapter volumes, while others include just the basics. Either way, as long as it’s on paper and the people who matter are in agreement, you’ll surprisingly be farther along than a lot of businesses! Here are eight essentials for you to consider when drafting your store’s brand guidelines.

1. An Introduction: It’s important to open the document with an explanation of why you created brand guidelines. Your team needs to understand how to properly use the document as well as its ramifications for your reputation and bottom line.

2. Your Purpose & Mission: You may already have a mission statement but if you don’t, this gives you the perfect opportunity to craft one. This section doesn’t need to be lengthy, but it should include why you exist and what your main goal is.

3. Your Core Values: Likewise, you may already have a list of core values. These are the ideals you hold to and guide your decisions.

4. What Sets You Apart From The Competition: This may require some brainstorming. You’ll need to craft a list that identifies how your gun shop is different than the ones across town. A good rule of thumb is to pick at least three competitive differences and then create succinct and catchy phrases your team can easily repeat. It’s all about being cohesive!

5. Your Target Audiences (In Order of Priority): This is likely obvious, however, it’s a good exercise to identify and define each of your audiences. Some companies naturally have multiple target audiences and it can get confusing — especially when one audience takes precedence over the others. (The company I referenced earlier was split on which audience was more important.) One of your target audiences might be soldiers from a nearby Army post, law enforcement or maybe children, women or teens. It will definitely be unique to your area.

6. Your Perception (Including Your Personality or Archetype): How do you want your customers to perceive you or feel about you? This is where you define your personality or archetype (like we talked about last month). If your brand were a person, what would that person be like? Strong and dependable? Casual and relatable? Bold and witty? It’s also important your personality aligns with your mission and values.

7. Your Voice & Tone: Simply put, your voice is how you communicate your brand’s personality. It’s important to develop a standard voice for all marketing materials. Your brand voice should align to your brand’s personality. It’s how your personality would “speak” if it were a person.

8. Your Logo & Colors (And Other Stylistic Standards): This is where you provide an example of your logo. You may have established brand colors already. It’s helpful to provide swatches of your colors so you can hand your guidelines to any marketing team or graphic designer for reference. It doesn’t matter if it’s a design element or style destined for your website, print materials or interior design — it’s all applicable here.
Editor’s Note: To read the first article in this two-part series (“Breathe Life Into Your Brand”), click here.

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