Brand management is a little bit like dental hygiene: Those who ignore it are going to end up with big problems that easily could’ve been avoided. Yet marketers who fail to comply with brand standards and legal safeguards risk losing more than just a tooth.
These failures often cost content marketers their credibility and, in some cases, their jobs. Just ask the people who sexualized IHOP’s pancakes, told Bloomingdale’s shoppers to roofie their friends for the holiday season, and put the male symbol on the cover of The Washington Post’s magazine for a story about the 2017 Women’s March. Perhaps the most painful part of these marketing blunders is that it wouldn’t have taken much effort to prevent them.
Without an efficient governance system of necessary checks and balances, two things can happen to a brand: Benign mistakes can turn into PR nightmares, or approval processes can become begrudgingly slow. To ensure your brand doesn’t run into a crisis—or stall production with unnecessary steps—we’ve put together a brand management checklist to help you keep your content marketing on the right track.
1. Is your language on brand?
Upholding a voice comes down to more than just perfect grammar. In order for audiences to identify your brand, the language needs to reflect a certain style that separates you from competitors.
Chances are a B2B pharmaceutical company will shy away from first-person narratives to maintain a level of industry authority. However, a B2C brand can use the first-person to communicate with an audience in a smart but colloquial way.
Narrowing in on language specifics requires thinking about SEO keywords that should be associated with your brand as well as the words or phrases you want to avoid. At Contently, our managing editor used our Brand Assist tool to blacklist the word “authentic” for reasons you can read about here.
2. Is the grammar tight?
While checking grammar may seem like a small task, it’s easy for writers and editors to neglect the technical rules of publishing. But minor mistakes can damage a publication’s reputation. At Contently, our Brand Assist tool alerts us when an article falls back on passive voice or mistakenly includes double words.
3. Is the tone consistent?
Content strategist and writer Melissa Lafsky describes voice as “the soul of your brand, articulated onto and within your content.” Just think of the difference between Tinder and Genpact. While both companies confront societal problems through technology, audiences would be confused if Tinder’s witticisms appeared in Genpact’s authoritative materials.
The challenge for brands is not only to determine what that voice should sound like, but also how to maintain it across all branded materials. This issue compounds as companies open global branches and add more contributors. As you expand your content operation, ask if you have a system in place to ensure that regardless of who writes the whitepaper, blog post, or tweet, your brand’s tone remains consistent.
4. Have you checked for plagiarism?
Fourteen years ago, Jayson Blair, a staff writer for the New York Times, nearly decimated the reputation of the flagship publication after editors found out he’d plagiarized nearly half of his stories. (It took nearly 10 years for the Times to regain credibility.)
If we learned anything from Melania’s Republican Convention speech, it’s that plagiarism is ubiquitous. To guard against creative borrowing, brands today need technology that scans individual pieces of content to detect duplications.
At Contently, we don’t take any risks. Our plagiarism technology detects even the smallest of similarities in content then sends an email to (real-life) reviewers who assess the documents in question. The combination of the sensitive technology and thorough review guarantees brands never run into a Jayson Blair situation.
5. Is your article optimized for search?
In 2017, search engine optimization should be an integral (and intuitive) part of your content strategy. If you want the right audience to find your content, each story needs a focus keyword, an optimized headline, relevant links from your site, alt text on images, and a clear meta description. SEO is not the sexiest part of content marketing, but it is definitely one of the most important.
6. Have images been approved?
Even though content marketing is still a relatively new space, most companies expect to vet their text. But images require their own oversight. And for brands used to a campaign mindset, it’s easy to overlook the sheer number of visuals you’ll run through if you publish every day. After editors approve article copy, make sure a designer can select and approve images so they adhere to brand standards and copyright regulations.
7. Did your piece go through the right workflow?
Brands need a reliable process to run an efficient marketing program and prevent bureaucratic stalls. An established workflow lets everyone know their role in the production process, who they report to, and the overall trajectory of the story. It sets clear timelines and expectations for the contributors and, ultimately, helps a brand produce high-quality content faster. (Click here to read about how we structure our workflow for The Content Strategist.)
8. Can you update downloadable content?
Most marketers know the feeling of working for hours on an e-book, whitepaper, or slide deck only to find an error after it already went live. Version control technology is a way to turn downloadable assets into URLs that remain consistent no matter how many new versions of the assets you upload.
This is an important part of brand management since assets may need to change. You could find a typo or want to optimize various sections of the assets after collecting engagement data. If you have a rogue employee or misguided campaign release, version control will let you clean up that mess. Keeping assets tied to a single link, as they evolve, makes sure that only one version exists, which should alleviate major headaches for marketers trying to track down dated content.
9. Have you paid your contributors?
We’ve talked a lot about how brands should make sure contributors don’t plagiarize or slow the editorial flow. It’s also important to make sure they’re paid for their work, in a reasonable amount of time. To avoid the hassle of monitoring a never-ending flow of invoices, it’s best to have a technology in place to certify this process and do the grunt work for you.
10. Are you monitoring your team?
Even when you assemble the perfect team of writers, editors, and industry experts, it’s important to pay attention to their progress over time. Our platform has a new feature called the Command Center, which showcases contributor analytics. The dashboard reveals which writers turn their work in on time, how long it takes your company to publish the average piece of content, and where stalls frequently occur in your workflow.
Every item on this checklist is designed to improve your organization efficiency, maintain the quality of your work, and avoid controversy. Whether marketers are covering mortgages or pancakes, they need to do their due diligence to avoid publishing anything that violates brand standards, comes across as culturally insensitive, or is downright illegal. If you’re still unsure, just ask IHOP, Bloomingdale’s, and The Washington Post.