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Marketing Brand Strategy Build A Brand

What designers want from brand guidelines


By Hannah Bowler | Senior Reporter

November 3, 2023 | 7 min read

Brand codes are essential for creatives to do their job, but their importance is often underplayed. We asked lead designers what they need from marketers in order to create the best possible advertising.

How to create the best brand codes

How to create the best brand codes

Brand guidelines aren’t often talked about by marketers in interviews, but the creative rules that sit there in the background have a vital role to play in their creative work. Deliveroo’s global director of brand and creative, Emily Somers, recently told The Drum that a set of good brand guidelines is “marketing 101”.

Deliveroo decided to update its guidelines, having neglected them since 2016, leading to inconsistencies in its marketing. The creative and brand team went back to basics and brought its code up to date. The impact has been stronger agency relationships, more alignment with global teams and a stronger brand identity.

Deliveroo decided to go in-house for its guideline overhaul, but traditionally, design principles are developed by external consultants.

So how should marketers go about creating or updating brand guidelines? We asked a group of design leads to share what they need from brands.

Louise Ormerod, head of design at BBD Perfect Storm: “It’s important to understand when it’s time for a brand ‘refresh.’ Sometimes, brands can misunderstand what they actually need, automatically thinking a brand overhaul is required to remedy a drop in sales.

“A rebrand is only necessary when who they are is not being communicated. Firstly, with a brand refresh, looking at how their assets are being communicated is the right way to go. A brand must first identify the creative assets that effectively communicate its purpose and then what is missing that’s muddying the waters.

“Strip out what’s dead, then build up from that. New brand guidelines should create a stronger, more focused visual identity. One that the consumers immediately resonate with and even get excited by. It’s also one that all the stakeholders can use and are happy with. A brand refresh aims to create a path for the visual identity to live for a decade plus. To create longevity for both the brand itself and the consumers themselves.”

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Dave Roberts, creative partner at Design Bridge and Partners: “Brand guidelines should always be about what can be done, not what can’t be done. We need to read brand guidelines and be inspired, understand the idea at the heart, where the idea could take you, how the brand can be pushed, see the difference it can make and, above all, make you want to work with that brand.

“They should be allowed to evolve. Brands can evolve rapidly; the next thing you know, they need to span new cultures and geographies overnight. Talk and gain insight from as many people as possible who use or will use the guidelines, whether internal teams or agencies, so you can find some real nuggets of information to make work more relevant and usable for as many people as possible.

“They are more than just a brand book to sit on someone’s computer; they are the vehicle to drive a brand into the real world, so give people access to the driver’s seat.”

Andy Breese, head of design at Collective Studios: “Agencies often give themselves the impunity to brush aside pesky guidelines or throw them away altogether. They were perhaps justifying this brash behavior in favor of the notion that sticking to the rules will get in the way of a ‘big creative idea.’

“It is part of the responsibility of any ad agency to question and challenge. The most successful restlessly do just that daily. Half the ads that we know and love wouldn’t have made it out of a creative’s head without this rebellious spirit firmly in place. That said, it can no doubt strain the agency’s relationship with its clients. If they have paid for a shiny new visual identity, it’s unlikely that they are going to want to discard it at the drop of a hat.

“The best creative work always embraces the branding head-on, choosing not to shy away from it. It’s the foundations that great campaigns are built upon. Acknowledging this builds a base level of trust with the client, facilitating some of the more challenging ideas coming out of the creative department.

“Really, it’s about shifting the mindset. Rather than seeing visual rules as a restraint to creativity, we should regard them as an all-important springboard. The first step on the creative journey to bigger and better.”

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