Why and How to Use Branding in User Guides

brand your user guide

Photo credit: Clydehurst (flickr)

You brand your website and Facebook page. You brand your product and packaging. You probably even brand your office space. But do you brand your user guide? If not, you’re missing an opportunity and sending an unintentional message to your customers.

Your customers see the user guide as an extension of the product and of your company, so it’s important that you give it the same attention everything else receives. Branding tells your customers they can trust the user guide (and by extension, your company) because you’ve invested your name and reputation into it. It shows that you pay attention to every aspect of the product, and that bolsters your customers’ trust in the product itself. And, because a branded user guide is attractive and looks appealing, your customers will be more interested in reading the user guide—which helps them immediately and cuts down on your support costs.

You should be branding your user guide, whether it’s a printed manual, online help, or an FAQ page.

Here are five simple ways to brand your user guide:

1. Use your brand colors as an accent. Repeat your brand colors in section headings, headers and footers, callout arrows, and other accent pieces to perpetuate your brand in your readers’ minds. Target does a wonderful job of this in everything they publish—their bold red and white colors are on every page of everything they produce. Be careful, though, not to oversaturate your user guide with brand colors. They should act as an accent; otherwise, it can be visually overwhelming or distracting, and that will undermine the effectiveness of your user guide.

2. Use your branding typeface. This is probably best used sparingly, in headings (and possibly headers/footers, if your typeface looks good small). Don’t overuse it, though, unless your typeface is Helvetica or something simple like that. You need to keep your text easy to read, and many brand typefaces aren’t suitable for the body of your content.

3. Use a layout that fits your brand. This is a little trickier because it’s more subjective, but think of it this way: Apple is known for its clean and minimalistic designs. Likewise, their documentation is laid out with clean lines and a good use of white space to complement that aspect of their branding. Often their text is gray, not black, which gives it an airy feel to emphasize the idea of clean design. Even the physical layout of their text and images contributes to that motif.

When you design the layout of your content, consider whether it supports the personality of your brand or clashes with it.

4. Match your writing tone with your brand’s personality. This is also a little tricky, but think about words that describe your brand: Are you geeky? Reliable? Fun-loving? Formal? Slick? Are your customers scientists? IT personnel? Factory workers? Video game artists? Physicians? Write with a tone that matches your brand’s personality and appeals to your target audience.

5. Include your logo! This should be obvious, but I’d be negligent not to mention it. Your logo should be proudly displayed on the cover of your user guide (if you’re using a PDF/printed manual). For online help or videos, use the logo in an inconspicuous but visible way so that it doesn’t get in the way of the content. You also don’t want to be obnoxious with it. A watermark in the corner of the window is a tasteful way to brand your video.