Online Video and Brand Guideline Challenges and Tips

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From my experience with clients I work with on video projects, knowing about a company’s brand guidelines, or “brand standards,” is becoming of increasing importance, “after the fact.” Meaning, not only do video marketers often fail to be aware of them and even ask for them, but even the clients themselves (and their corporate offices) fail to mention them until after all of the video has been completed.  Getting  anything in writing to begin with due to the newness of the medium is also difficult which makes it fall to the subjectivity of the corporate brand manager, who is often themselves ignorant about web video. After doing a search online for a number of well known large companies who have their brand standards guidelines available online, not a single of them had anything publicly available about video.

This void I’ve found can create lots of problems between parties involved in a video project – the video marketer, the client, and their corporate office. I learned this the hard way from a recent client experience:

While I certainly am not the first person to run in this situation with a client and their corporate office, being that I couldn’t find anything else available elsewhere online, I’ll be glad to be the first to public share my experience. You see, I have a client that is an independent franchise owner of many retail stores under the brand of a major national retail company. I was commissioned by them to shoot a good quantity of videos for their website and web marketing.

Well, that takes us right into our podcast show. Now because it runs for 15 minutes, I’ve included an outline of the show in text format below.

What are brand guidelines?

First we answer the question of, what is a brand? According to Wikipedia, a brand is a name or trademark connected with a product or producer.

Why do we have brand guidelines?

Brand guidelines (also referred to as “brand identity guidelines”) are set up by a company to insure that their brand is used consistently and to protect their trademarks. They can be used for a lot of applications, especially marketing and promotional materials for the public, media and client prospects; and they can also be used for training materials and other in-house business activities.

Brand guidelines are created to show uniformity of a company’s message to all of these groups.

Without brand guidelines, a company can be sending mixed messages to different audiences. The negative result for a company is that the brand gets diluted, standards become difficult to enforce; and in extreme situations, they can even be at risk for lawsuits by its own business partners or customers.

How do brand guidelines apply to online video?

If you’re publishing and promoting online video, you need to pay attention to whatever existing brand guidelines there are, and figure out how they might possibly apply to online video. A good area to pay attention to is whatever guidelines there are for television ads and radio copy, casting of people, logo and graphic usage.

What happens if you don’t follow brand guidelines in your online video?

  • You’ll be told to remove either the offending parts of a video or even all of the video you produced.
  • You could end up having wasted all of your work.
  • You could end up being sued!

Wrong assumptions with brand guidelines

  • What you see at their office if what they want to feature to the public. (E.g., Purple hair.)
  • It’s the videographer’s responsibility – wrong!
  • Your client knows what they’re talking about – wrong!
  • Brand guidelines always make sense – wrong!
  • Independent franchises don’t have to follow the corporate offices brand guidelines – wrong!
  • If I don’t follow brand guidelines nothing bad will happen to me – wrong! Corporate offices have the ability to go after you if you violate their brand guidelines. At the very least they can have all of the video taken down and never see the light of day. And in serious cases, if they find that you were aware of the brand guidelines and acted with disregard for them, you can even charged with violating their own trademarks.

Challenges with brand guidelines and online video

  • Brand standards aren’t necessarily in-house corporate standards
  • Many companies haven’t included guidelines for video. This includes some very large nationally-known companies I’ve worked with.
  • Many of their affiliates never know to ask!
  • Many of their affiliates avoid asking. (They wait until after the fact – when the video is already completed, and its too late to make any changes.)

Potential criteria (what to follow)

  • Casting – guidelines for looks, demographics, expressions (Eg. – “Our models should be attractive but also have a genuine quality and a warmth about them.”)
  • Copy/Theme – do they have guidelines for humor and tone? Sometimes doing a video in a silly format won’t fly. (E.g. – “not medical enough.”)
  • Language – how are you referring to the company? How are you using their name? Their products? Their slogans? Even the dialogue may need to be reviewed.
  • Colors – colors many need to show some similarity to the color palette in by the company, especially for solid colors featuring graphic text or blocks inserted in post production.
  • Logo usage – how you feature the logo is a BIG deal. Even something as simple as an extra word or a graphic near the logo can be a violation of a company’s brand guidelines.
  • Typography – typeface selections (serif or sans-serif), even right down to the font, for headlines or subheader or body text, may also be regulated by brand guidelines.
  • Promotions – some offers may not apply to beyond the client’s regional area. If you’re making a video available online for everyone, then that needs to be either specified or thrown out entirely. You also need to remember that offers are time-sensitive, so videos may need to be taken down at a certain point.

Tips for video marketers with client’s brand guidelines


  • Get a feel for the corporate culture. Are they conservative? Active?
  • Research videos online. What commercials or other public videos do they have available?

Client Dealings

  • Contact whoever is in charge of the company’s brand marketing.
  • Get a copy of a company’s brand guidelines in advance.
  • Explain to that person what it is exactly you plan on doing for video content, publishing and marketing. Provide them with a script, and even a storyboard. Tell them where you plan to publish it. If you’re going to be optimizing the video for search results (or doing PPC marketing), tell them for what keywords. They may have PPC or SEO guidelines for affiliates.
  • Have your client a sign a basic work agreement or waiver said all of the videos have been reviewed by them and approved for publication, and clear language saying that they indemnify you from liability. (That’s because client may want to run the videos regardless of what their corporate office tells them. Believe me, it happens!)
  • Sometimes the client needs to establish their own brand guidelines, so take the initiative and offer to write them FOR them! Encourage the client’s corporate office to set up these standards for online video, based on your own marketing expertise.

So remember: practice “video brand standards” awareness up front

While companies may take a while to include brand standards and guidelines for video, it’s no less important for video marketers to avoid unforeseen problems with them. The best way to start is just by requesting brand guidelines in advance. That way, you protect both yourself and your client’s interests. Learn a company’s brand guidelines, apply them as best you can to your video content, and get the client to sign off on them before making it go public. Make it your own guideline for how you do video marketing for clients, and your own brand for exercising responsibility with video projects will be in solid standing.


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