Brand compliance: How to ensure branding consistency on your website

Two golden arches against a bright red background. A sleek swoosh with the words “Just Do It” below it. An apple with a bite taken out of it.

Odds are that when you picture these images in your mind, you can automatically envision the iconic brands behind them. You know what to expect when you click on their websites, open their emails, or check out their latest products. This is the power of branding: to deliver a cohesive, trustworthy brand experience.

But digital content that strays too far from an organization’s image, reputation, and values can damage its brand identity and confuse or even disappoint its target audience. Large, sprawling websites with multiple content creators across dispersed departments and locations are the most frequent culprits of inconsistent branding, subpar content, and off-brand messaging, but any organization lacking comprehensive brand guidelines or plagued by rogue operators can face this problem.

It’s crucial to develop robust brand guidelines and carefully monitor brand compliance to prevent these mistakes creeping in and safeguard your brand’s integrity online.

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Read on to find out: 

  • What is brand compliance
  • Why it is so important
  • How to define your brand standards
  • How to create effective brand guidelines
  • Brand compliance best practices
  • How to monitor brand compliance on your website

What is brand compliance?

Brand compliance is the process of ensuring that the brand elements present on your website strictly adhere to your brand guidelines. When applied correctly, it ensures your content, messaging, and look and feel doesn’t stray from your fundamental brand identity.

The key elements of brand compliance are:

  • Ensuring your brand looks and feels visually consistent across all your digital channels.
  • Applying the correct tone of voice across platforms to maintain your distinct brand personality.
  • Communicating with consistent messaging across different locations and mediums.
  • Using the correct logo, colors, fonts, and imagery style across all marketing and sales assets.

Why is brand compliance so important?

Data from Stanford University reveals that three quarters of consumers judge an organization’s credibility and trustworthiness on its website’s look, tone, and feel. It’s evident that appearances matter – a lot. That means creating content that’s consistently on-brand is vitally important.

Brand compliance benefits your organization in the following ways:

Ensuring consistent, high-quality content

Even small irregularities in branding can dilute your brand integrity. Disjointed, off-brand content is typically ineffective content. It can even damage your brand reputation. Think about it, if your branded content is regularly inconsistent and sloppy, what’s to say your quality, service, and products will be of a consistently high quality?

Building brand recognition

Just as a fingerprint forms a part of your unique identity, your branding is a core part of your organization’s identity. Ensuring brand consistency across your website makes it easier for people to recognize your content and messaging and feel confident that they are really interacting with you.

Increasing sales

On the surface, brand compliance and sales aren’t closely connected. In practice however, brand compliance has a direct link to your bottom line. Diverging brand messaging peddled by different departments or on different mediums can lead to a poor brand experience – and that’s a turn-off for consumers. In fact, a Salesforce’s research study into customer expectations found that 75% of consumers expect consistent experiences across multiple channels – and that requires brand compliance.

For highly-regulated industries, it’s even more vital that your brand messaging tightly aligns with your brand’s core values and beliefs. Brand compliance standards introduce a higher degree of centralized control over your external communications – which can prevent costly or even litigious errors caused by rogue messaging.

Protecting institutional know-how

Staff turnover and the disruption it produces is a reality for all organizations. Having a set of recorded brand guidelines ensures consistency in your marketing messages across current and future generations of your workforce, as well as freelancers, agencies, partners, and other contractors that assist with content creation for your site. 

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The first step to brand compliance: defining your brand standards

Brand standards are a set of concrete, written guidelines that specify the colors, imagery, graphic elements, logo, fonts, and messaging that defines your brand. Think of them as the glue that unifies your brand and gives it a structured digital identity.

These guidelines must be upheld by your employees and any external content creators to maintain a consistent brand story and avoid the risks of ambiguous or conflicting messaging.

Here is a step-by-step guide to defining your own set of brand guidelines.

Step 1: Decide upon a format

The most straightforward format for your brand guidelines is a PDF, Word doc, or a shared online document. Whichever format you choose, it’s crucial that your brand guidelines are easy to find and read digitally. Remember, your guidelines need to be accessible to external parties who participate in content creation for your brand – meaning physical copies may not be the most versatile format.

Next, think about where your brand guidelines should live within your organization. They should be saved somewhere that all employees can access with ease, such as the company intranet or server. If people don’t know where to find them, they won’t be able to follow them!

Tip: Establish a process to ensure all new joiners know where the brand guidelines are saved and who they should approach if they have questions or feedback about them.

Step 2: Define the scope of your guidelines

To ensure that all pertinent brand information is included in your guidelines, it is worth spending some time defining the scope before you begin creating them – it’s probably more extensive than you’d first think. Some elements to consider include:

  • Brand purpose: vision, mission, and core values
  • Brand history: company milestones, brand story
  • Messaging: voice, tone, personality, and messaging pillars
  • Key value proposition: service descriptions, unique selling points, competitive strengths
  • Visual identity: colors, logos, fonts, imagery, iconography, video, web design, typography.

Step 3: Draft your brand guidelines

Once you have defined the scope of your brand guidelines, it’s time to get writing! Include actionable information on how to incorporate the various elements of your brand across your digital assets and into marketing collateral. You might consider using visual aids to help with clarification. Some aspects to cover are:

  • Logo placement
  • Typography
  • Color palettes
  • Visual hierarchy
  • Imagery guidelines

Ensure that commonly-used brand assets and information are saved in your chosen location. This includes on-brand templates, images, logos, fonts, and boilerplates, with clear instructions on how and where they should be used. It’s important to update these assets if you adopt a new logo, or overhaul your iconography, for example. This will help people from going rogue with their own or outdated assets.

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How to create effective brand guidelines

For your brand guidelines to be effective, they need to follow certain rules, which are:

Keep it simple

Confusing brand guidelines increase the likelihood of them being ignored or misconstrued. The more complex your brand guidelines are, the more likely it is that people will make mistakes, so keep them as simple as possible, use plain English, and avoid jargon (especially internal company jargon!). Remember, not all the people reading your guidelines will be familiar with these terms. 

Use visual aids

The best way to tell people is by showing them, so make liberal use of visual aids and compelling design in your brand guidelines to get your points across. Some creative examples include:

  • Checklists
  • Toolboxes
  • Recap summaries to help people digest the information

Don’t forget to include visual examples of brand misuse, so that the person reading them knows how not to depict your brand.

Consider all scenarios

Brand guidelines should be comprehensive. The more details you provide for each scenario your content creators are likely to come across, the more prepared they will be. Think – do your guidelines cover all marketing disciplines? Are they applicable to social media? Press releases? Email marketing? Product pages? If you’re not sure, it’s a good idea to get input from the employees who head up those departments in your organization.

Brand compliance best practices

Defining your brand standards is just the beginning of ensuring brand compliance. Now that you have a written set of guidelines, you need to ensure that your employees stick to them. Fortunately, there are several brand compliance best practices you can follow to make this a smooth process.

The first of these is disseminating your brand guidelines to all your key content-producing stakeholders. Rather than just directing them to read the guidelines, familiarizing them with your brand’s history, messaging, and core values is more likely to resonate and be successful. You could consider hosting an interactive workshop, quiz, or presentation that educates them on the importance of brand integrity, consistency, and compliance online.

Next, it’s essential to monitor brand compliance on an ongoing basis. Start by establishing a regular frequency for auditing your website content and marketing materials. This helps to ensure consistency in your messaging. Remember, brand compliance is not a one-time activity; standards can slip over time or with the introduction of a new content creator. Instead, regular brand compliance policing should be integrated into your regular system of content checks and processes.

Finally, every new piece of content should be checked to ensure that it meets your brand’s quality standards before it’s published. In practice, this means assigning an employee or team (often the marketing department) as a compliance gatekeeper for web-based content, such as corporate videos, social media posts, or new product pages. However, this approach towards ensuring brand compliance can be slow, resource-heavy, and prone to human error. 

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How to monitor brand compliance on your website

While it’s true that manually auditing your website’s content for brand consistency involves a lot of time, expertise, and resources, using an automated brand compliance tool helps you monitor brand compliance much more efficiently, especially on a large-scale. Alternatively, for a smaller organization with limited resources and branding expertise, investing in an automated tool can prove faster and more cost-effective than outsourcing these checks to an agency or struggling to do it all in-house.

Useful features offered by digital brand compliance systems include:

  • Asset libraries where teams can download brand-compliant templates to use.
  • Templating tools that allow marketers to build creative and dynamic on-brand templates for emails, social media posts, presentations, and other brand assets.
  • Automated workflows that ensure content is reviewed by the required approvers before being pushed live.
  • Customizable reporting to help brand managers track the usage of brand assets and glean performance insights.

Automated brand compliance management with Siteimprove

Siteimprove Quality Assurance is an automated tool that makes enforcing brand consistency and compliance across your website fast and easy. Siteimprove Quality Assurance’s specialist brand compliance features include:

Content audit: Get deep insights into the quality and performance of your digital content. Check your website for spelling errors, broken links, and readability problems that contribute to a poor brand experience.

Content inventory: See a comprehensive overview of every page, link, and media file that lives on your website so you can quickly spot and replace outdated or incorrect assets.

Custom brand compliance guidelines and policies: Set up your own brand guidelines and content policies, including page title, URL structure, page text, and logo usage.

Brand dictionary: Create a custom, brand-specific dictionary filled with all your corporate and global language to speed up spell checks and reduce false positives for misspellings.