Are Your Brand Guidelines a Hot Mess?

It goes without saying that a brand is a driver of commercial success, especially for hedge funds and private equity funds looking to make a name for themselves. What makes a brand great, and alternatively what keeps you looking average? The brand guidelines are the foundation. Here is what you should be paying attention to.

Establish a Set of Concrete Guidelines

This concept is best served by an example.

Often when I begin to work with an emerging hedge fund or private equity firm, one of the first things they need is a pitch book. At first most hedge funds do not see the point of paying money to someone to create a branded pitch book. They are rather “DIY”, alluding to how they used to “do the PowerPoints all the time” when they were investment bankers at Morgan Stanley or other bulge bracket firms.

My response is always, “Exactly. That is the entire point of the brand guidelines. You are not working with a PowerPoint template that the marketing team sent you. You are not Morgan Stanley anymore.”

The truth is sometimes hard to hear but this is what is important for any emerging firm to understand. When you were a Vice President at Morgan Stanley, the pitch book’s brand guidelines were set up already. Now you are a new firm with three employees. A junior person will be keeping this PowerPoint up to date, and he or she needs a template to start with or else the presentation will become more and more disorganized as time goes on.

As I have said before, branding is a delicate thing and you have got to “look the part” when you are a hedge fund or private equity firm asking HNW individuals or institutions for millions or billions of dollars. There are a multitude of things to worry about, such as:

  • This is the logo type and these are the two precise typefaces I need to use in the deck that will compliment it.
  • The sizing and placement of the logo should be consistent across all firm-wide marketing materials.
  • Exclusion zone grid: The recommended amount of white space around the logo so to not interfere with the brand.
  • Firm colors are the main colors of the brand and the right complimentary colors should be chosen for benchmark charts.
  • We use the RBG colors for anything that appears on a screen, but then when we move to print we need to use the exact CMYK colors. Sticking with Pantone colors works best.
  • Is your visual style consistent throughout? This includes introductory sentences, titles & shading of boxes, connector lines & bullets, and page numbers. Lastly, your logo needs to look good in black and white – even if it is color. That way, in case it gets printed in black and white it still looks presentable.

These guidelines should be written down and referred back to every time you update or create a document.

Or, have your presentation custom designed and ask the designer for a written set of brand guidelines so that you do not have to rely on yourself or your team to make decisions that can badly alter the document. This way, when edits are made you can feel confident that the pitch book will have the same look and feel that was intended.

Enforce the Guidelines with the Team

What do strong enforceable guidelines do for a firm? Again, because I like examples I will speak in concrete terms.

Everyone in the firm needs to have the same email signature. This applies to emails sent from a phone, from a desktop, sent as an initial message or a reply.  It looks really sloppy when you have multiple people from the same company replying to the same email chain with different signatures. You have seen this, right?  And when you did, did that company seem organized or like they were all over the place?

Think about the market you are selling into. Investors expect absolute consistency, uniformity, and clarity in the way things are presented. If they do not get that, even subconsciously without realizing that they feel this way, it creates a sense of distrust. That is how hypersensitive the world of alternative investments is. Anything even slightly off kilter from the norm and is viewed as a potential liability for an investor in your fund.

When you are a hedge fund or private equity firm selling to HNW individuals or institutions, it is essential to protect the brand as an asset. Have a set of written brand guidelines and educate your team about them. Make these standards readily available, and inform all team members of any updates.

Make The Brand Guidelines Comprehensive

The World Bank does a great job of informing its employees about how to use the branding elements. Check out the brand guide (World Bank, 2016). What makes it so useful is that it is comprehensive; it covers every single scenario where attention must be paid. They explain very clearly how each element is applied.

For example, aside from going into detail about the branding standards for logos (which logo to use and when; pages 9-10), business cards (pages 46-47), and e-signatures (pages 48-49), World Bank also explains the rationale behind why things must be presented as they are, for example, in the partnerships section (page 33). (World Bank, 2016) This takes the guidelines from being a set of arbitrary rules that mean nothing to an inspirational source of visual identity, hence the term “brand identity.” By explaining to people what the origin of the company’s logo is, it fills them in on a valuable part of the company’s history. This is a way of strengthening the company culture.

Look at the corporate colors section on pages 16 through 18. The level of detail is astounding. By getting down into such a granular level of detail, World Bank really is bringing something unique to the presentation.

What I also like about the World Bank’s branding document is that they specifically address usage violations on page 61. This helps people avoid mistakes that you are likely to incur as a result of assumptions or gaps in knowledge that many employees are likely to have.

A Recap on Brand Guidelines

Having a set of guidelines that uniquely define your brand is not something that should be taken lightly. To protect the company’s brand asset, companies should define and clarify any standards, write them down and make this information known to employees, and be certain not to neglect any important aspects of the visual identity including usage violations and how the brand ties in to the mission of the company.

When was the last time you updated your firm’s brand guidelines? Email for a checkup.


World Bank Group. (2016, February). Branding and Visual Identity Guidelines.
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