What is brand compliance? Why is it important, and how can you improve it?

What is brand compliance? Why is it important, and how can you improve it?

Brand compliance is essential for building a recognizable brand. Here’s how to create a team culture that’s focused on your brand (and tools that’ll help).

If you’re playing football, the rules are clear: don’t touch the ball with your hands. But players do. Sometimes deliberately, others unintentionally, but it still happens.

Which is why the referee is so important. All the rules don’t mean much in isolation. You need to enforce them, so everyone follows the same guidelines.

And much like a football team, getting everyone in your company to follow your brand guidelines and align creatively is no easy task. You can have detailed brand guidelines and a meticulously-organized folder of assets that all gather digital dust while teams put their own twist on the brand.

That’s where brand compliance comes in.

Brand compliance is essential for building a strong, trusted, and recognizable brand. To create a team culture committed to consistency and brand growth, you first need to understand why it’s important and how to improve it.

What is brand compliance?

Brand compliance is the strategies and processes that ensure all your brand’s elements, assets, and content align with the company’s identity and values.

It helps to improve brand consistency by ensuring everything the brand produces is visually consistent. This includes:

  • Using the correct brand elements, including logos, fonts, and colors
  • Using approved brand visuals, for example, stock images or graphics in a consistent visual style
  • Using visual elements in line with regulations such as copyright and trademark laws

Additionally, brand compliance improves messaging consistency by documenting the brand’s core messages, providing tone of voice guidelines, and ensuring all messages align with the brand’s values.

Brand teams improve brand compliance by providing detailed guidelines for the rest of the company, so everyone is consistent when representing the brand. They also put together processes for measuring compliance across the business, as well as steps to improve it.

Why brand compliance is important

Brand compliance offers several long-term benefits that help you attract and retain customers.

It improves brand trust

Brand compliance improves consistency across your content and products. Nebojsa Savicic, co-founder of Plainly, explained, “If you lack brand consistency, you can leave an impression of being a ‘wannabe’ company that doesn’t know what it’s doing.” He added, “That’s the biggest benefit of brand compliance for an organization — it reflects how well the company positions itself in the market.”

High levels of brand compliance help create a consistent experience for your customers. If you can create a consistent customer experience, people trust they’ll get the same high-quality service every time they interact with your company. In other words, they start to trust your brand.

Brand trust is essential for attracting and retaining customers. If people trust your brand, they’re more likely to buy from you, recommend you to friends, and become repeat purchasers. A study by Morning Consult found that value and trust “power brand reputation, which underpins brand growth, and in turn business growth.”

Unfortunately, the opposite is also true — if they don’t trust your brand or you lose their trust, they’re unlikely to buy from you again. The same study found that only 11% of global consumers would keep using a brand’s products the same as they always had if the brand had done something to break their trust.

It strengthens your brand identity

Brand compliance helps you develop a stronger, more recognizable brand identity by ensuring everything your company produces uses consistent messaging and brand elements. It gives everyone in the organization access to guidelines, resources, and assets so they can use the correct elements without needing access from the marketing team.

Your brand identity is important because it increases brand recognition and, in turn, awareness of your company. But on the other hand, an inconsistent or confusing visual identity can damage your brand, making it less recognizable to potential customers.

Learn more - Brand Equity Examples

Ashley R. Cummings is a freelance writer for companies including Shopify, Clearscope, and Salesforce. She believes brand compliance needs to be a top priority for marketers and e-commerce brands. She explained, “Customers no longer shop across one channel — they shop across several touchpoints at different phases of the customer journey. As such, it's essential for customers to be able to recognize your brand, no matter where they find you.”

Brand compliance helps you develop and implement a consistent brand identity. This helps improve your brand’s reputation and ensure it’s instantly recognizable to customers and fans.

It strengthens internal processes and engagement

Brand compliance helps you develop internal processes that improve cross-department collaboration and engagement.

Internal brand engagement is crucial because everyone in the business contributes to building your brand. You need a high level of employee engagement to ensure consistent design and messaging across each department, project, and product. But companies often struggle to get every department engaged.

Our research found that 80% of respondents believe the company brand would be stronger if responsibilities and ownership were more clearly defined.

For example, the same study found that sales teams are often one of the least engaged with your brand. This causes challenges as they’re one of the first points of contact a potential customer has with your company. But if you can improve their compliance with the brand, they’ll be better aligned with your marketing team’s campaigns and messaging, as well as your company’s core values.

It protects your brand and reduces legal risks

Brand compliance also helps to protect your brand. Creating content online is easier than ever, so anyone on your team can do it. But only some have a good understanding of copyright, trademark, and fair usage policies around images and other content. Without guidelines and education about how to use materials properly, employees could inadvertently create risks for the company.

Brand compliance helps protect against these risks by providing guidelines around creating assets and representing the brand. If employees use brand-approved materials or create their own from existing templates, they’re less likely to run into challenges from using copyrighted materials, or trademark infringement.

You can reduce these risks further by using a brand governance solution or brand management platform. Many platforms offer flexible options for controlling content access and editing permissions. This enables you to retain control over your brand content even if everyone in the organization has access to it.

How to improve brand compliance in your organization

Brand compliance needs to be a whole-company effort. While it may be led (or championed) by the leadership team, everyone in the organization needs to recognize its importance and understand how their roles contribute to the brand’s reputation. These steps will help improve brand compliance and engagement within your company.

Review your existing branded content and assets

You need to understand the current state of brand compliance within your organization so you know how to improve it. Reviewing your existing content will help you identify areas where your teams are particularly strong or weak at complying with your brand.

There are several ways to review your branded content and assets:

  • Review all your existing content. This is the most comprehensive approach but isn’t feasible in large organizations as it would take too long. But if you’re a startup with a small amount of published content and branded materials, you may want to do this.
  • Do spot reviews of content from every team. Instead of reviewing all your existing content, review samples from each department or employee. This will help you see how each team understands and uses the brand without spending too much time combing through every file.
  • Review all content produced within a set timeframe. Instead of reviewing all your historical content, check everything your team creates within a set, recent timeframe — for example, one month. This will help you understand the current state of brand compliance across each department without worrying about your older assets.

Assess brand engagement levels across departments

Internal brand engagement is also important for ensuring brand compliance. If people are disengaged with your brand, they’re less likely to worry about complying with brand guidelines and creative standards.

Work out how engaged each department is with your brand:

  • Monitor which teams are accessing your brand assets most frequently
  • Track which teams view your brand guidelines most often
  • Track the percentage of people across each department with access to your brand guidelines and materials.

These metrics will help you spot teams with low levels of brand engagement, so you can focus on educating them about the importance of your brand as a starting point. Tracking these will be easiest if you have a centralized brand management platform. Your IT team may be able to provide you with usage or access data manually if you don’t have one.

Create practical, centralized brand guidelines

You’ll struggle to improve brand compliance if your guidelines or style guides aren’t up-to-date or employees can’t access them.

Your brand guidelines should cover your visual brand assets (like your logo or fonts), brand messaging, and tone of voice. It’s also helpful to include practical examples so employees can see how your brand should look.

Many companies still use static PDF documents for their brand guidelines. These are hard to keep up to date, as you need to share them with everyone once you’ve changed them.

Centralized, cloud-based brand guidelines are more accessible and always up-to-date. The easiest way to create centralized brand guidelines is to use a brand management platform. It enables you to develop cloud-based brand guidelines that anyone can access and will automatically sync any changes for all users.

Centralize your brand assets and materials

One of the biggest blockers to brand compliance is when employees can’t access the brand materials they need. For example, if files are saved on someone’s computer or in a folder they need to request access to every time.

Logan Mallory, VP of marketing at Motivosity, said, “The easier it is for someone to find the brand collateral they need, the more likely it is that they’ll use it.” He added, “Make it easy for internal teams and partners to find the collateral they need. Keep everything centralized via cloud storage so that it’s easily accessible, even on the go. Label each folder clearly so that it’s easy for someone to find what they’re looking for.”

Encourage your teams to follow file storage and management best practices. They should create and save branded assets in a centralized location. For startups, a Google Drive may work. But a digital asset management system will be more effective as your brand matures and you have more files to keep track of.

Implement a feedback system

It will be easier to encourage brand compliance across the business if your brand is an authentic representation of the company and its values.

Compliance issues can come from people feeling like aspects of the brand are out-of-date or inauthentic. In response, they create off-brand assets that feel closer to their idea of the brand.

You can avoid this by ensuring everyone knows how to provide feedback on the brand and why they might want to. For example, if the company’s values don’t resonate with customers, assets use out-of-date branding, or they want to request help from the design team.

There are lots of different ways your team can provide feedback on your brand, such as:

  • A dedicated #brand slack channel
  • A Trello board owned by the brand team, where everyone can add cards with ideas and suggestions
  • An email address for the brand team
  • Monthly office hours with someone on the brand team so other departments have a dedicated time and place to provide feedback.

Will Yang, head of growth at Instrumentl, believes it’s essential that everyone can contribute ideas and feedback on the brand. He said, “We want people from all over the company involved in our projects because they bring unique perspectives and experiences that might not always come up when someone on our team thinks about something internally.”

Communicate and document changes to the brand

Your brand will naturally evolve and develop over time. You’ll only ensure continued brand consistency and compliance if you can keep everyone informed when you make changes.

Create internal processes to follow when you make changes to your brand. Start by updating your brand guidelines to document the changes. This should include updating examples and links to brand elements if needed.

Then, you need to share those changes across the business. If you use PDF brand guidelines, save a new version and send them to the whole team. Everyone will need to replace their old version of the PDF guidelines with the current version, but it will be hard to confirm whether people have done that. Alternatively, if you have cloud-based brand guidelines, any changes will sync for everyone in real-time. So you don’t need to worry about people referencing outdated versions.

Additionally, you should communicate those changes to the team. Send an email or other internal communications (like a Slack message) to announce the brand updates and share who it’s most relevant to. This helps keep everyone in the loop so they know how your brand’s evolving over time.

Share positive examples of brand compliance

Marketing teams often get a reputation of being the “brand police” as they only point out when people don’t comply with the brand. But you can encourage brand compliance by sharing examples of the employees and departments that get it right.

Celebrating and acknowledging their hard work will help employees feel appreciated and recognized, and encourage them to keep putting in the effort to maintain brand consistency.

Look for opportunities to share your team’s hard work. For example, you could include a celebratory spotlight in your regular brand newsletter or give shout-outs in whole-company Slack channels. You could also recognize team members as “brand champions” each month or quarter if they achieve consistently high levels of brand compliance.

Tools to help you improve brand compliance

Technology won’t automatically solve brand compliance for you. But the right set of tools can empower your team by giving them access to all the information and resources they need to improve compliance in their work.

Some companies prefer to use separate tools for each item below. Alternatively, a brand management platform like Frontify combines all these tools into one comprehensive platform. Nebojsa explains, “Depending on where your company’s at in terms of growth trajectory, you might get away with a shared workspace like Google Drive, but you may also want to invest in brand management software to have full control over your digital assets.”

Brand guidelines

Brand guidelines document each element of your brand, from logos and colors to tone of voice and brand messaging. Traditionally, guidelines are saved as a static PDF document that you circulate to everyone in the company. But a centralized, cloud-based brand guidelines platform is more effective than PDF guidelines for improving brand compliance.

Online brand guidelines help you improve compliance in three core areas:

  • Access: cloud-based brand guidelines are centralized, so anyone can access them at any time if they have the link. That includes all your internal team members and external partners such as freelancers and agencies.
  • Up-to-date: your brand guidelines are saved in the cloud, so when you make any changes, they automatically sync for other users. That means people can’t view or use out-of-date brand assets because they stop being visible once you make changes.
  • Practical: as well as providing instructions and guidance on using different brand elements, brand guidelines can connect to other parts of your brand platform so that people can download logos, color palettes, or fonts directly from the guidelines.

Brand guidelines are essential for improving brand compliance, as they’re where you explain and show what is (and isn’t) on-brand for your company.

Digital asset management system

A digital asset management system (DAM) is a centralized system for storing and managing all your company’s digital assets, from individual brand elements to completed campaign files for the marketing department. You can organize them into asset libraries to make it easy to find and use the correct brand assets.

A DAM helps to improve brand compliance by giving everyone access to your brand assets instead of turning the marketing department into gatekeepers for your brand. But you still retain control over your brand assets. For example, you can control access and sharing permissions, so most team members can only view finalized, approved brand assets. And for assets still in the approval process, you can keep them hidden, only visible to the team members working on or reviewing them.

Creative templates

Creative templates are editable templates used to make common brand assets, such as social media visuals, product packaging, or email newsletter headers. They help team members easily create visually consistent brand assets without spending lots of time in meetings agreeing on things like style, typography, or color palette.

Templates help improve brand compliance and enable people from all departments to create their own brand assets. Your designers can make a template, then set controls for what people can edit and what stays the same. As a result, you maintain control over how the brand is presented, ensuring you have a consistent and recognizable brand style. But at the same time, you empower your team to create branded materials and give them the confidence to get creative without going off-brand.

Brand newsletter

A brand newsletter is an internal newsletter where you share updates about your brand. This could include significant changes like a complete rebrand or smaller, incremental updates like the launch of new assets or changes to your core messaging.

Internal communications like a newsletter help improve brand compliance because they keep your team informed about changes to the brand. This is especially useful in remote teams where your brand is less visible, and they may have regional variations on your core brand.

A brand newsletter also helps to improve internal brand engagement. The more people hear about the brand, the more it feels like something they should consider. It feels relevant to their work, and they feel involved with it.

Brand compliance should scale as you grow — even for global companies

Brand compliance becomes more complex as you scale up and your company grows. As you expand into new markets, you need to manage global and regional brand variations and keep more stakeholders aligned.

Learn how global brands, including Nestlé, Heineken, and Ogilvy, manage their brands, including adapting to new markets. Download our brand governance report to explore these case studies and find strategies to anticipate and overcome compliance challenges.

Oskar Duberg
Oskar Duberg
Senior Brand Content Specialist