Brand books and style guidelines are curious beasts. In a way, they hark back to a time where brands operated in a strange ether – halfway between the world of business and consumer. They told us what the business wanted the brand to be.

Skittles Brand Book

Of course, they were often a great way to get up to speed for new people brought into the marketing team – or the agency. A good brand book (if one was to actually read and absorb it) was, in this way, invaluable.

But things have changed a great deal since I first saw my first brand book (funnily enough I think it was for IBM). If a brand really is in the hands, minds and conversations of your customers (or other stakeholders), what is the role of the brand book? Should it go beyond design and aspiration? Should it help to set the tone for brand engagement and conversation? And should it even be a “book”?

I’m not asking because I have the answers. I just have the questions. And I think that there’s much we need to revisit from a branding perspective. It seems that social media provided some new opportunities for brands and for branding, but we’ve only really scraped the surface. And in some cases, we coming full circle – using social media as broadcast rather than as a competitive differentiator.

Maybe we need to start with the brand book itself. Otherwise it’s just a curiosity – a remnant from a bygone era rather than an indispensible guide for maintaining relevance with our customers.