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3 ways to ensure brand compliance in 2021

16 min read
Katie Oberthaler

Your brand represents who you are as a company, what you stand for and the story you tell customers.

Consistency matters a lot to your customers—and, as evidenced by the following stats, matters a lot to your bottom line as well. 

  • Consistent brand presentation has been shown to increase revenue by 33%, but over 60% of organizations report that they create digital assets that don’t conform to brand guidelines. (Lucidpress)
  • 50% of companies say that their customers expect cross-platform consistency and great design from their brand. (G2 Crowd)

Brand compliance ensures that your message remains consistent, regardless of how many channels and partners enter the mix. 

Though it’s worth noting that compliance is about much more than consistency and predictability. 

It’s about staying in control of your brand’s identity, image, and the story you tell your audience. It’s also about preventing your brand—that you’ve worked so hard to build—from being diluted, or worse yet, put in jeopardy.

In this article, we’ll define brand compliance and why it’s important for any brand, then we’ll dig into the key ingredients of a successful brand compliance strategy.

What is Brand Compliance?

Brand compliance is a set of strategies that ensure all elements of a brand are aligned with a company’s identity, values, and quality standards. 

Done right, brand compliance ensures that all branded assets:

  • Use consistent messaging 
  • Include the correct design elements: colors, fonts, logos, and graphics, etc.
  • Match the brand’s voice, tone, & personality regardless of format or platform
  • Adhere to regulatory rules and that elements like disclosures, claims, packaging, and more are compliant with industry standards.

On the surface, you might assume that this strategy is primarily focused on consistency. However, it’s important to understand that while being consistent is part of it, brand compliance is about so much more than that. 

It’s about control: control over your brand’s identity, narrative, and public perception by preventing the mistakes or misuse that could potentially undermine your entire business. 

The Importance of Maintaining Brand Compliance

Brand compliance allows organizations to create and distribute digital assets that reflect the company’s voice, values, and aesthetic sensibilities. 

The word “compliance” is often only associated with legal & regulatory requirements, as well as the hefty fines that come from non-compliance. Industry regulations and consumer privacy laws are critical to maintaining a strong brand. However, brand compliance is also about ensuring that all communications, assets, and processes adhere to an internal set of standards. 

Brands that fail to develop an effective brand compliance strategy face reputational damage, missed opportunities, and a lack of consumer trust (and yes, often, regulatory fines.) 

Here are a few critical areas where a sound compliance strategy and the right tech stack can save brands from a lot of grief. 

Protects against false claims and advertising 

False claims aren’t always as malicious as they sound. It could simply mean that your freelance blogger misunderstood your feature suite, that your messaging on Instagram and Twitter feeds contradict one another, or that a product image does.

Maybe your sales reps are offering unauthorized discounts or still pushing last year’s model on prospects. 

For example, in highly-regulated spaces such as healthcare and financial services, the wrong information can have a negative impact on real lives (think--unproven medical treatments or bad investment advice). 

In another post, we talked about Elon Musk’s battle with the SEC following a series of misleading Tweets. In that instance, Musk suggested he’d be taking the company private,  which had a massive impact on stock prices and angered investors. 

Tools like digital asset managers (DAMs) and online proofing software give brands an easy way to keep multi-location businesses on the same page, while at the same time, allowing external teams to customize assets based on region, audience, and geographic location. 

They can even help CEOs like Musk avoid future blunders, as marketers can pre-approve campaigns and set custom controls that “lock” certain elements in place.

Demonstrates a process of internal due diligence

Brand compliance efforts are traditionally led by the marketing department, as this group is responsible for creating the digital assets that need to be protected and organized. 

While it’s true that marketers are responsible for the bulk of branding and content tasks, compliance is a company-wide effort, and as such, it may not be enough for marketing to enforce and educate the entire team on the merits of brand compliance.  

It’s up to the C-suite or compliance team to communicate that brand compliance is a top priority and that it’s everyone’s job to represent it properly across all internal and external touchpoints, both online and off. 

That said, leadership teams often lack visibility into how compliance efforts play out “on the front lines.” Ultimately, the CEO and the rest of the executive team must continuously monitor compliance efforts, tracking their impact on the overall brand strategy.  

As such, finding a solution that provides a complete record of comments, approvals, usage, and other key metrics is essential for protecting (and optimizing) your brand assets. This way, decision-makers and those managing distributed teams can track compliance review and asset performance against strategic goals. 

Leaders can course-correct as needed and refine the big-picture plan, using real-time data to make critical decisions about everything from new product lines and blog posts to seasonal promotions. 

Those using Ziflow can track decisions around content pieces and brand communication based on custom decision-labels. Each stakeholder can provide a clear decision for how to move forward, while also using unstructured comments and markup tools to explain the “why” behind their recommendation.

Proof decision stage Approved, Approved with changes, Changes required, not relevant, descition pending

Maintains copyrights and trademark infringement

Brand compliance helps organizations avoid several legal risks that could potentially take down an entire enterprise: trademark infringement, non-compliant disclaimers, operating with outdated licensing or unapproved assets, and more. 

Brand compliance solutions enable legal/compliance teams to: 

  • Make sure that brand licensing agreements are met
  • Monitor & enforce policies around intellectual property usage, content access, & editing permissions
  • Ensure that social media policies & asset distribution meet the latest requirements and are enforced throughout the entire organization

For example, consider the challenges facing the consumer packaged goods (CPG) industry. Teams manage massive catalogs, containing thousands, if not millions of SKUs—all requiring on-brand product shots, packaging, and product disclaimers that match industry regulations.

In this case, brand compliance tools help companies ensure that every package, price sheet, and piece of content aligns with the latest regulatory requirements-- a task that is impossible for humans to perform manually at such a scale. 

What’s more, tech-powered compliance makes it easy for marketers to create content across a wide range of media formats and channels, while meeting regulatory requirements for ads, messaging, and distribution.

Ensures transparency for consumers

Without brand compliance, organizations will likely face some challenges when it comes to delivering a consistent experience for the end-consumer--be it the products, service, or the overall look & feel of the brand.

As an example, consider how transparency (or lack thereof) might impact the clients of a creative agency. 

Commenting and markup tool of Ziflow dashboard

Agencies juggle a variety of clients, each with their own workflows and brand guidelines.  As a result, creative agencies must manage their internal processes/protocol, while adhering to clients’ quality standards & guidelines.

Without a set of standards (and the right supporting tech) in place, there’s no way to ensure that every client receives a consistent experience across all possible touchpoints, no matter who they’re working with. 

That lack of organization makes agencies look bad and may cause clients to leave for good. With the right compliance strategy, professional services firms can systematically deliver great service to clients through consistent onboarding, reporting, communication flows, hand-offs, reviews, etc. 

Core Areas of Brand Compliance

Brands that fail to develop an effective brand compliance strategy face reputational damage, missed opportunities, and a lack of consumer trust. 

Here are a few key areas that companies need to consider as they evaluate their brand compliance strategy and potential solutions. 

Maintaining Product Disclaimers

Every industry has its own set of requirements regarding what information it needs to provide customers about its products or services--be it privacy policies, safety warnings,  ingredient labels, or some other critical document. 

Each disclaimer also has its own format, language, and level of detail as required by law.

Product designers, marketers, and brand managers use disclaimers to: 

  • Reduce brand liability 
  • Increase transparency for consumers so they know what is inside the product they are purchasing
  • Ensure that the right information appears consistent not just on products themselves, but across all product advertising such as websites, emails, ads, social posts, and so on. 

A brand compliance strategy--along with the technology that supports it--allows organizations to ensure that every asset that needs a disclaimer has one. 

And not only that, all assets are automatically updated when changes are made. 

This means, external partners, sales reps, and field service teams never risk sending a customer a document with outdated language--a mistake that in many cases, can lead to fines and loss of trust.

Reviewing Packaging Assets

Product packaging is a design-heavy process that requires rapid innovation and multiple review steps. 

Compliance around product packaging means:

  • Multiple teams are involved with checking labels for accuracy and quality.
  • Graphics teams need iterative review tied to one project 
  • Need to quickly reference back to past packaging info and quickly make updates when products/consumer requirements change
  • Record of decisions for audits/regulatory review

Conducting Brand Partnerships

When partnering with a brand, influencer, or licensing partner, creative teams need to demonstrate that:

  • Brand designs and assets are unique to that campaign
  • A clear history of approvals/sign-offs from all brand partners
  • Any terms and conditions (giveaways, sponsorships, etc.) are appropriately and directly communicated to consumers in the campaign assets.

3 Key Strategies to Ensure Brand Compliance

Create and enforce brand compliance guidelines

The first step toward improving your brand compliance efforts is creating a set of formal brand guidelines. 

Here, you’ll define the look, feel, design, and voice of your brand and provide clear instructions for managing those standards. 

While guidelines vary between brands, they typically cover the following:

  • Messaging and tone of voice
  • Logo variations and dimensions
  • Colors & fonts
  • Internal & external communications
  • Signage, uniforms, & official documents 

It’s worth mentioning that establishing brand guidelines isn’t about controlling people or limiting their creativity.  In fact, brand guidelines actually represent an opportunity to empower your team by helping them become successful on their own. 

Ultimately, your goal is to create a set of guidelines that are easy to find, understand, and follow--removing the challenges and barriers that may otherwise prevent them from moving the needle on big-picture goals.

Done right, brand guidelines give teams a set of parameters that can point them in the right direction, eliminating the potential for uncertainty or misinterpretation, which can lead to quality issues and frustrating rounds of rework.

“Ziflow has saved us a TON of time and aggravation versus our old method of just circulating a PDF for everyone to mark up and review (ugh). Having the ability to keep ONE central version that everyone can access, and the power to submit subsequent revisions all tied to one project, has absolutely been a lifesaver.” - Susan S., Susan S. Graphics Production Coordinator, Electrical/Electronic Manufacturing

Set up a compliant content repository

The next thing you’ll want to do is centralize all digital assets in one location, ensuring that your team only has access to the latest materials that have been approved for use.

Beyond centralizing the assets themselves, you’ll want to look for a solution that allows you to centralize all of the feedback associated with those assets and collaborate from a single location. 

For example, if you look at a platform like Ziflow, all authorized reviewers can access and markup content in native formats, allowing them to avoid potential miscommunication and get their questions resolved quickly.

 Commenting and markup on a proof by Ziflow user in app view


They can also look through the history of changes and approvals and easily navigate to the most recent, correct version of a content or campaign piece. 

“We were looking for a tool to centralize packaging proofs and Ziflow has been a wonderful solution. As the person who uploads all the proofs, it's easy –for me to keep track of the status of various projects, send reminders to team members when they are later getting back to me, and add new versions after corrections have been made. The transition was seamless for our team as the software is very intuitive. We now also have a record of decisions in one place in case of issues or audits.” - Skylar F. Project & Packaging Lead, Food & Beverages

Use technology to review and approve assets

For a lot of companies, maintaining brand compliance is no easy task. 

Marketers, product managers, and other stakeholders run into a long list of barriers as they attempt to gain control over a fragmented, distributed asset library and the teams that depend on those assets to do their jobs. 

These barriers include:

  • Ad-hoc content that doesn’t match brand guidelines
  • Designers/marketers overwhelmed with requests
  • Slow workflows/bottlenecks—particularly during the compliance review and approval process
  • No way to enforce brand guidelines
  • Outdated assets/lack of access to the right materials
  • Unused content/assets

Luckily, there are several solutions that have made it a lot easier for companies to manage all of these “moving pieces” that make up a brand and enable all involved parties to be “guardians” of the brand. 

While a strong brand compliance program begins with a clear business strategy and a process & system in place for moving teams toward critical milestones, you’ll need technology to scale the review and approval process.  

Product team avatars decision stages of proof

An online proofing tool like Ziflow allows users to easily share feedback, organize assets, and collaborate from a single, shared location.

“Ziflow is a top-notch, robust tool that really adds so much value to the Project managers to be successful in managing the day to day projects effectively and timely. Helps me to really keep track of approvals, reviewers, with notification features that help remind team members.” - Nadine B. Compliance, Sr. Project Manager

Automating Oversight into Brand Compliance

To maintain the fidelity of your brand, proper controls need to be put in place throughout the asset creation and approval process.  It’s not just about reviewing brand assets, but also demonstrating that that review occurred. 

As you evaluate potential solutions, you’ll want to look for platforms that can automate the following activities. That way, you can spend less time managing assets and more time focused on creating value for the brand--and the business. 

Standardized intake process from partners & clients

Intake forms are web-based forms that can be shared with collaborators (similar to how you might share a Google Doc) that allows them to directly submit information to your team for review. 

Intake form of Ziflow - artwork for review upload file


Creative briefs are short summaries that outline a project’s requirements, goals, target audience, and provide relevant background information so that your team can execute the vision you had in mind. 

Creative briefs typically include the main objective, potential challenges, the message you’re trying to convey, as well as a general overview of the competitive landscape. 

Beyond those core elements, it’s also a good idea to include compliance guidelines in your creative briefs, particularly if you’re handing them off to an agency or freelancer that doesn’t work with your core team each day.

The benefit here is, it communicates expectations before the project is underway and gives external service providers an opportunity to discuss project goals and requirements in the context of the big-picture plan. 

This allows them to explain what will or won’t work, as well as present other potential solutions that work within the parameters of your brand’s style guide.

Tracked Changes/Comments

Tracked changes & commenting features allow users to share actionable feedback with the right people from one central hub. Your brand compliance solution should serve as more than a content repository or a place for building workflows--it should function as a tool for collecting real-time feedback. 

Tracking changes and comments will help you reduce errors and rework, accelerate decision-making, and spend less time in the inbox. With Ziflow, approvers can use a variety of markup tools to give partners/teams more specific directions for how to improve a specific asset. 

Commenting section in Ziflow app by the proof


Additionally, the platform maintains a secure audit trail that tracks all comments, approvals, and usage, allowing managers to ensure compliance at every stage in the creative workflow.

Version Control

Version control makes it easy to update existing assets and logs all changes and feedback linked to each version of an asset. 

This feature plays a critical role in compliance for a few key reasons. For one, it allows users to lock previous versions to prevent your team from commenting on old versions and prevents customer-facing stakeholders from sending the wrong materials to consumers.

It also enables users to verify that requested changes were made and maintains a record of every version of every asset which can be used for review or auditing purposes. 

Authorized reviewers can view all old versions of a specific proof, while admins can “lock” changes into place so that no one uses the wrong version. 

And what’s more, version control enables faster editing--allowing users to run side-by-side comparisons on assets to ensure no errors are introduced and that no detail slips through the cracks. 

Version comparision of Ziflow reviewing tool


Automated Routing

The next item you’ll want to look for in a brand compliance solution is automated routing

Auto-routing allows users to automate the asset creation and distribution process--including the review and approval process. Users can create custom workflows, applying specific rules at each stage, ensuring that nothing slips through the cracks. 

From a compliance standpoint, auto-routing gives teams a hands-off solution for making sure that the right people are always involved and that they always follow the rules as defined in the brand guidelines.

Multi-channel campaigns and  large-scale creative projects often require a long list of stakeholders to sign-off on critical milestones before teams can move forward with a project. 

While the review and approval process is central to any compliance effort, it’s also a major source of bottlenecks and can cause costly project delays. With that in mind, you’ll want to make sure that your brand compliance stack includes a solution that can streamline this process--ensuring that everyone who needs to gets a chance to weigh in, sign off, and keep things moving forward.

For example, Ziflow allows you to automate the steps of your approval process using sequential and parallel stages, as well as flexible triggers that can be customized based on how you work. 

Product team notifications management feature in proof settings

Tracked Approvals

Tracked approvals provide an official log of who approved what, what comments they left, and who still needs to weigh in.  The benefit here is, approval tracking allows users to track the progress of each asset as it moves through the approval flow. 

If you’re using Ziflow, you can track the status of your branded deliverables from a single dashboard view and apply filters to see which versions are on track--or require a follow-up. The platform’s built-in features also make it easy to track assets by individual reviewer, group, or stage, and even set automated reminders to remind reviewers when a deadline has passed.

Additionally, users can create and save workflow templates that automate the proof creation and delivery process, with custom business rules that can be applied at each stage in the creation process. 

You might create templates for different groups, based on role, location, or some other filtering criteria--allowing marketers to eliminate time-consuming admin tasks and unnecessary conversations, while ensuring that the right people are involved.

Submitting decision on a Ziflow proof - Design team, Marketing Europe, Management

Streamline the Brand Compliance Process

Brand compliance is vital for managing your brand’s look, feel, and overall identity by allowing you to control how it’s represented across every interaction and touchpoint. 

However, to get it right, you’ll need a clearly-defined strategy, buy-in from top leadership, and the right set of tools to support your efforts.

Ziflow’s online proofing software makes it easy for brands to follow brand compliance guidelines, streamline the entire review & approval process, and avoid running into the bottlenecks and rework that can slow down creative projects.  

Book a demo today to see those benefits up close.

Katie Oberthaler