CPA Growth Trends, Marketing

Why Should Your Firm Build a Brand Manual?

Why Should Your Firm Build a Brand Manual?

At the end of the year, it’s important to take stock of the things you’ve accomplished, as well as what may have slipped through the cracks. Did you try to do too much, only to wind up doing nothing? Do you find yourself going back to the drawing board time and again? If so, it might be time for a brand manual.

When it’s time for a brand manual

If you have a hand in strategy at your firm, chances are, you started out with the best of intentions. Maybe at the beginning of the year, or your beginning with the firm, you suggested focusing on a couple key initiatives or service ideas, only to find that over time, you’ve started talking about everything. Perhaps you’ve also found yourself recreating the wheel without documented processes or easy-to-grab template links. Scope creep is natural. That doesn’t mean it’s not frustrating. What do you do?

If the above scenario sounds familiar to you, you’re probably a great fit for a brand manual.

What is a brand manual?

A brand manual serves as your all-in-one guide to your brand that can be used both internally and externally. This guide can be useful for vendors, referral networks, and contracted employees. It’s the repository of knowledge for all things branding.

What can be included in a brand manual?

While this blog will include examples from a real-life brand manual, the way it works and what it includes is up to you. The most important thing is to think about what would be most useful to your firm. Here are some sections you may want to consider:

  • Brand strategy
  • Voice & personality
  • Template links
  • Content calendar
  • Target personas
  • Process documentation
  • Unique selling proposition
  • SMART goals

How can a brand manual help you with marketing at your firm?

Serves as a repository of brand knowledge

Whether you have a large team, or you’re a small and mighty team of one, creating a brand manual gives you a single source of truth for your brand – a main document that can help you coordinate across the firm. You can use a brand manual to plan with partners and department heads, choose priorities as a marketing team, or communicate the current plan to the rest of the firm during all-team meetings.

Helps you say no to projects that fall outside current objectives

If you find yourself feeling forced to say “yes” to every idea that comes across your desk, a brand manual can help with that, too. Using established strategy and SMART goals, you can evaluate project requests against your documentation, giving you the ability to reject, or set on the backburner, projects that don’t align with current objectives, while also having an effective way to communicate why you can’t take on another new initiative at the moment.

Provides planning necessary to justify budget items

A solid brand manual can also justify parts of a proposed budget. By including SMART goals, you can lay out what you want to accomplish in a given period of time, what you will use to measure success, and when you’d plan to “pull the ripcord” if you don’t see certain performance metrics. This kind of planning can speak to the often risk-averse partners and members of leadership you need to convince.

Solidifies roles of marketers versus other employees

We know that responsibilities can slowly infiltrate our roles as marketers, especially in sales, HR, business development, and administrative duties. Documenting processes, including roles and responsibilities, can keep lines clear between marketing’s role and other functions at the firm.

Makes planning easier

You can use a brand manual to plan out your upcoming year, or you can start with tackling the next three months. Either way, after you create the first plan, every other plan after that becomes easier to take on.

Prevents wheel re-creation

Stop the game of hide and seek of “where did I put that?” Include links to important templates right in your brand manual. This could look like uploading files to a tool like HubSpot or linking to files on a server – whatever works best for your firm. Remove complications that come with iterative file editing and create a unified resource for brand templates. This will both help you control your branding and save you time.

How do you get started with building a brand manual?

If you don’t have anything like a brand manual yet at your firm, that’s not surprising. It takes a lot of time and effort to create something like this. Here are a few steps to get you started. Remember, you don’t have to do everything at once:

  • Document everything: The next time you go through any process – ordering promotional merchandise, posting on a social media channel, sending out a client survey – document the process with as much detail as you can. Over time, you will have documented everything.
  • Build a template: Your first version of a brand manual doesn’t have to look fancy. Start with what you have. This might look like building something in Microsoft Word or Google Docs and moving it to something more interactive, like Notion.
  • Interview key stakeholders: Schedule meetings with partners and department heads to get their perspective on firm objectives, target personas, brand voice, and more. The more perspectives you get, the easier it’ll be to identify patterns and turn interviews into a workable plan.
  • Treat it as a living, breathing document: This is definitely an example of done being better than perfect. Put as much as you can in your documentation, but also know that you’ve inevitably forgotten things.
  • Reference and revisit frequently: Like any tool, a brand manual only works if you use it. The more work you put into it, the more useful it will be.

Have you created a brand manual for your firm? If not, would you consider building one?

About Sammi Dittloff


Sammi is a Marketing Consultant for Needs More Fiber (needsmorefiber.com) and is dedicated to adding substance to marketing for mission-driven companies. She's had over 15 years of marketing, advertising, copywriting, and analytics experience. She was the Marketing Director at Chortek LLP for 3 years and is currently the AAM Blog Committee Chair.

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