Brand Standards: You Need Them!
When we think of equine brands we usually think of products used in the riding and care of horses: companies such as Rambo, Ariat, or Samshield. Whether it's intentional or not, every kind of business has a brand, even boarding barns, professional riders, and trainers with small weekend lesson programs. Today more than ever, the visual aspect of your equine business is incredibly important –both in person and online. High quality images and consistent branding elements lead to increased recognition, elevate the perceived value of what you offer, and help you attract the kind of clients or customers who are most compatible with your business.
Your brand guidelines or style guide should include the following:
1) Your brand identity (mission, core values, personality). This is one of the most important pieces of your brand, but often hard to define and frequently overlooked by the horse industry. This is a direct result of your strategic plan (which yes, you NEED, even if you’re a horse trainer working out of someone else’s barn).
Is your barn a fun place for weekend trail riding adults or do you specialize in selling $100K+ European imports for the A-circuit? Both of these can be successful business models, but the branding for each of these programs needs to be very different! Each of the components that follow brand identity will reflect your brand’s mission and values.
2) Color Palette. These are the colors that make up your brand. It can be wise to not use too many color options, but more than one is always a good choice.
Bright and bold can help you be more recognizable, but may be overwhelming or difficult implement, especially if you chose a unique palette such as pink and orange. Your color choices should reflect your brand identity (see #1). Primary colors might work well for a games focused lesson program, where neutrals and metals (gold/silver/copper) might be more appropriate for a barn selling PSG dressage horses.
Brand guidelines should include RGB and CMYK color codes for consistency.
Once you have established your palette, use it on everything from your logoed clothing, to signage, to your website.
3) Typography. Brand guidelines will include typefaces and families, font sizes, and the hierarchy of the fonts your brand uses. These need to reflect your brand and mission. Think about how different a message appears when it’s written in comic sans vs times new roman.
4) Logo Design. How your logo should be displayed in different formats is an important part of your guidelines. This could include size restrictions, which colors to use, and how your logo should be displayed on different backgrounds. Sometimes it can be beneficial to show how logos should NOT be displayed–seeing your logo stretched in odd ways or put on difficult-to-read backgrounds is not ideal.
5) Imagery. Imagery could include the style of photographs, wordmarks, or icons your company uses on your website or marketing materials. Photography style is becoming increasingly important due to the influence of social media and online marketing. Black/white, soft heavily filtered, bright and bold action shots, all of these are examples of stylistic elements that are a part of your brand. A sales barn I know always takes pictures of their horses in front of a brick house with white columns; it’s classy, recognizable, and a part of their brand.
6) Tone. Define your brand’s voice and writing style. Brand tone refers to the words that your company chooses to use in order show your brand’s values and personality.
The language you use to describe your business or product needs to reflect your brand identity. Who is doing the speaking is very important. If your brand is closely associated with one person (for example, Sally the famous rider), you need to decide if Sally is going to be the one speaking about what she is doing (first person), or if the brand will be about Sally (third person). So many farms and training programs go wrong with this last one, and it ends up looking like the individual is either a narcissist or someone with schizophrenia.
Consistency is important in making your brand recognizable and reliable. It ultimately communicates that your brand takes pride in the details, and that’s something that is important for any equine business.