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How to make brand compliance a daily part of the creative process

11 min read
Katie Oberthaler

Brand compliance is more than just brand consistency and ensuring the right color palette and messaging is applied to your creative assets.

Brand compliance involves staying in control of your entire brand image and the story you tell your audience. A brand represents your company values, and your brand messaging should be consistent across every channel and touchpoint. 

It’s also about managing your reputation and following all regulations both within creative work itself and the interna processes involved in creating those brand assets.

To create a seamless brand presence and to mitigate risk, you’ll need a process for maintaining brand compliance during every day creative work. In this post, we’ll dig into the key ingredients of a successful brand compliance strategy and how to apply it to your creative production process.

What we'll cover

What is brand compliance?

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

Brand compliance ensures that all branded assets:

  • Use consistent messaging.
  • Include the correct design elements: colors, fonts, logos, graphics, etc.
  • Match the brand’s voice, tone, and personality regardless of format or platform.
  • Support the brand’s core values.
  • Adhere to regulatory rules and industry standards for marketing, advertising, and creative asset management.

The importance of maintaining brand compliance

Here are a few reasons brand compliance is so important: 

It demonstrates a process of internal due diligence

While it’s true that creatives are responsible for the bulk of branding and content tasks, compliance is a company-wide effort. As such, marketing teams may be unable to enforce brand compliance or educate the entire company 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 the brand properly and adhere to regulations across all internal and external touchpoints. 

Ultimately, the CEO and the rest of the executive team must continuously monitor compliance efforts. That’s easier to do when you have a platform that tracks all asset comments, approvals, and uses. 

Leaders can course-correct as needed, using real-time data to make critical decisions about everything from new merchandise lines and blog posts to seasonal promotions. 

It improves brand recognition and brand trust

When you think of iconic brands like Nike or Coca-Cola, you can probably envision their logo or remember their tagline. That’s because these brands are experts at brand consistency. Behind every ad, every product debut, and every celebrity endorsement is a strategy that expands brand recognition while preserving that brand’s integrity.  

Brand consistency directly impacts a brand’s bottom line: 50% of companies say that their customers expect cross-platform consistency and great design from their brand. (G2) When delivering on that kind of consistent brand presentation, brands can increase revenue by 33%. (Marq).

Without a set of standards (and the right supporting tech), there’s no way brands and agencies can ensure that every client receives a consistent experience across all possible touch points. 

Poor organization can make agencies and brands look bad and alienate clients. With the right compliance strategy, creative teams can systematically deliver an engaging and predictable brand experience for clients and customers.

It protects against false claims and advertising 

It’s easy to point to flashy instances of fraud, financial misconduct, and false advertising as ways that brands are intentionally skirting the law and throwing due diligence out the window in order to deceive consumers or their shareholders.

False claims aren’t always malicious. More often than not, it’s unintentional, simple employee actions or an overall lack of formal internal oversight programs that lead to major marketing compliance headaches. A “false claim” could simply mean that your freelance blogger incorrectly described your feature suite, or that your Instagram bio is incorrect (because no one has updated it). Or maybe your sales reps are offering unauthorized discounts. 

It’s not ill intent: it’s simply ignorance of the interconnected controls that need to be in place. That is, until internal holes in compliance reach the public or press.

In highly-regulated spaces such as healthcare and financial services, the wrong information (like unproven medical treatments or poor investment advice) can have a negative impact on real lives. When you have a process in place for managing brand compliance, your entire team is less likely to output these types of errors.

It reduces costly legal risks

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

Brand compliance solutions enable legal/compliance teams to: 

  • Make sure that brand licensing agreements are up to date.
  • Monitor and enforce policies around intellectual property usage, content access, and editing permissions.
  • Ensure that social media policies and content distribution meet the latest requirements.

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 images, packaging, and disclaimers that match industry regulations.

In this case, brand compliance technology helps companies ensure that every package, price sheet, and piece of content aligns with the latest regulatory requirements—a task that’s 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.

3 key strategies to automate brand compliance

To maintain the integrity and compliance of your brand, you need proper controls in place throughout the asset creation and approval process. It’s not just about reviewing brand assets, but also demonstrating that such review occurred in the right sequence and format.

Create and enforce brand standards

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 and fonts
  • Guidelines for signage, uniforms, and official documents 

Establishing brand guidelines isn’t about controlling people or limiting their creativity. In fact, brand guidelines actually support the creative process. They 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.

It’s also a good idea to include compliance guidelines in your creative briefs, particularly if you’re handing them off to a freelancer that doesn’t work with your core team each day. The creative brief communicates project expectations and ensures all team members are working from the same creative and legal parameters. 

Ultimately, your goal is to create guidelines that are easy to find, understand, and follow–and make your brand instantly recognizable across all touchpoints.

Use technology to review and approve brand assets

Designers, creative managers, and other stakeholders may run into barriers as they attempt to gain control of a fragmented, distributed asset library. 

These barriers include:

  • Numerous versions of the same assets.
  • No process for reviews and approvals.
  • Designers/marketers that are too busy to respond to information requests.
  • Multiple storage locations for assets (in the cloud, on a local server, or on individual computers). 

These redundancies not only waste time in the creative production, but they dilute branded material without having a single source of truth for the proper brand assets. Creative content review team cooperation in Ziflow

Implementing a formal, predictable, and traceable review process for all branded assets is the most important building block of a solid brand compliance strategy. 

Set up a compliant and secure content repository

Creative production is a collaborative effort by nature. However, to adhere to regulatory standards, creative teams need to demonstrate a system of checks and balances when it comes to security and file access.

The first thing you’ll want to do is centralize all digital assets in one location, ensuring that only authorized team members have access to the latest materials that are approved for use. Look for a digital asset management solution that stores all of the feedback associated with those assets and allows you to collaborate from a single location. You should be able to pull up a full audit trail of what was created, how, and when, and who had access to those assets. 

Track changes, versions, and approval decisions on creative assets

Your brand compliance solution should serve as more than a content repository or a place for building workflows—it should also demonstrate a complete history of real-time feedback, changes, and approvals. Tracking changes and comments allow companies to demonstrate each what was changed during the creative production process and how those decisions were made.

Formal approvals provide an official log of who approved what, their comments, and why.

Marketing compliance and control - complete and thorough activity logs -1

Ideally, you should be able to see the approval status of all your branded deliverables. This creates an air-tight audit trail of decision-making.

Monitoring changes and comments within your brand management hub will help you reduce errors and rework, accelerate decision-making, and reduce email communication.

Tracking versions also plays a critical role in compliance and security for a few key reasons. For one, it allows admins to lock previous asset versions to prevent teams from commenting on, sharing, or working on them. It also enables users to verify that teams completed all requested changes and maintains a record of every version of every asset, which can be useful for review or auditing purposes. 

Creative workflows automation in Ziflow dashboard (1)

Apply electronic signatures at approval stages

Some regulatory bodies require creative teams to go a step further in their approval and recordkeeping processes.

Some regulations–such as the Food and Drug Administration’s CFR Part 11 standard–require companies to prove that their digital records (including marketing and brand assets) are just as trustworthy, reliable, and equivalent to paper records and physical handwritten signatures. 

Of course, handwritten signatures on creative work is a thing of the past. Fast-moving creative teams need a way to digitally trace all approvals and sign-offs without slowing down production work.

Electronic signatures enable teams to put a formal stamp of approval on digital assets directly within the creative production and creative review process. Stakeholders can not only mark assets as approved, but also apply their signature to the asset. Creative teams can then easily pull up a full list of signed assets for easy, automated auditing. 

Introducing electronic signatures Built-in compliance for FDA regulated marketing

Use creative workflow to “gate” content repositories and creative production steps

Even with audit trails, it’s not just enough to throw final assets into a controlled digital repository. Controlling who has access to brand assets and company files within each living step of the creative process–and proving those controls are always in place–is a key element of putting a content compliance process in practice.

Creative projects often require a long list of stakeholder sign-offs on critical milestones before teams can move forward with a project. For example, your compliance or legal officer may need to approve an asset in the final stages, or approve each element such as copy and design as it is being produced. The order in which your internal team members (and external stakeholders) access, review, and approval content matters when it comes to brand compliance.

Combining your secure content repository and creative review process with creative workflow can put those guardrails in place.

PDF Workflow settings in online proofing platform

Auto-routing allows creative teams to control the entire asset creation and distribution process from start to finish. You can bake in a list of stakeholder sign-offs on critical milestones before teams can move forward with a project, as well as control who can access different versions at different stages of the production process.

In short, creative workflows enable teams to apply specific rules for file access, security, and approval at each stage, ensuring that the creation of every single brand asset follows the exact right process every single time.

From a compliance standpoint, auto-routing gives teams a hands-off solution for enforcing and demonstrating that the right people are always involved in the decision-making process and that proper brand review has occurred.

Streamline the brand compliance process

Brand compliance is vital for managing your brand’s look, feel, and overall identity. To get it right, you’ll need a clearly-defined strategy, buy-in from top leadership, and the right technology to support your brand standards and brand creation process.

Creative workflow can help companies manage all of these “moving pieces” and enable all involved parties to be guardians of the brand. Ziflow makes it easy for brands to follow brand compliance guidelines, streamline the entire review and approval process, and avoid running into the bottlenecks and rework that can slow down creative projects.  

Learn more about how Ziflow improves brand compliance and creative workflows.

Katie Oberthaler