Why Brand Safety Matters & How to Make Sure Your Brand is Protected

7 minute read

Why Brand Safety Matters & How to Make Sure Your Brand is Protected

Today’s businesses attract and retain customers in many ways. A business might add internal linking to their web pages to boost site traffic and conversions or use targeted advertising on social media.  

One strategy for attracting customers is having a brand that clearly conveys a business’ values. Customers need to have a clear sense of what the companies they’re buying from stand for. Conversely, if brand values become distorted or obscured, this can lead to customers being reluctant to do business.

This is where brand safety comes into play - protecting your brand from being seen in the wrong place at the wrong time. This guide outlines brand safety, risks, and strategies for protecting it.

What is brand safety?

Brand safety is the practice of actively maintaining your reputation. It involves keeping advertising and other brand materials away from things that clash with your values. As such, brand safety looks a little different for each brand that pursues it.

Brand safety has obvious overlaps with things like digital PR. Both seek to shape the conversation surrounding your brand. Brand safety as an activity typically applies to actions taken online, whether on websites or social media channels. 

However, unlike digital PR, this isn’t brand safety’s only area of concern. Physical adverts can affect brand identity too if their messaging or location hasn’t been thought through.

Why is brand safety something I should worry about?

If you don’t take steps to control how people see your brand, this can have several negative impacts. The most obvious is customer engagement. If customers perceive you as untrustworthy, hypocritical, or unsavory, this can discourage them from doing business, either as a new or returning customer. This can lead to an increase in your exit rate.

Ignoring brand safety affects income in other, more indirect ways as well. If you’re careless with where your ads appear - i.e. if you advertise to people who aren’t receptive to this  - you’re not going to get a good return on your investment. 

Conversely, if you work to maintain your brand’s reputation, you can establish credibility and stay competitive with rival businesses. This ensures you remain prosperous going forward. 

Just as competitive benchmarking helps you compare your activity with competitors, maintaining brand safety ensures you’re competing with other businesses on the right terms.

What threats should I be most concerned about?

Many threats to brand identity revolve around people’s perceptions. One of the most obvious is ad placement. A misplaced ad can lead people to draw unwanted conclusions about your business.

Imagine you’re a food brand, and your advertising appears above a story on food poisoning. Even if there’s no connection between the two, their proximity can inspire subconscious ideas in potential customers. They might come to associate your products with sickness or low food standards. This could lead to reduced sales or diminished trust in your safety practices. 

Alternatively, a misplaced ad could make you seem hypocritical. If your brand pitches itself as eco-friendly but appears on a blog supportive of fossil fuels, you could be seen as insincere or purely profit-focussed. This could have a serious impact on your reputation and green credentials, which is concerning when trust is so important to today’s customers.

Fake news and conspiracy theories - patently untrue claims, in other words - create similar problems for your brand. Adverts that appear close to this content are seen, rightly or wrongly, to be promoting or funding it. While this usually isn’t a deliberate choice on a business’ part, it still does damage to your reputation. 

In extreme situations, brands have inadvertently raised funds for terrorist organizations and extremist groups. While this isn’t a threat you’re likely to face, it’s evidence enough that brand safety is worth considering.

How do I protect my brand?

There are several ways to shape the conversation around your brand, but bear in mind no mix of actions is foolproof. Anyone trying to understand the nature of reputation will quickly realize it depends on people’s perceptions, and no one can completely control this. 

However, these actions can help to mitigate the greatest threats to your brand.

1. Define your brand values

The first step toward effective brand protection is having a clear idea of what you stand for. While some traits will be shared across brands, consider what makes you unique, as well as what or who you represent. 

This helps clarify where you should market your brand and who to. This information should be used alongside a keyword research guide and other digital marketing resources to refine your online strategy. 

For instance, if your brand sells menswear, you don’t want to advertise on a website aimed at women. It’s not that the latter is objectionable; it simply isn’t relevant to what you do. Similarly, a luxury chocolate brand won’t want to advertise on a blog promoting healthy eating. Neither the brand nor blog are immoral, but their values are incompatible and their proximity risks souring each brand’s reputation. 

By ensuring your values or business goals align with (or don’t actively contradict) the place they appear, you’re more likely to inspire positive feelings from potential customers. 

2. Use negative targeting

By necessity, defining what you do stand for (by pinpointing your values and via methods like SEO competitor analysis reports) helps you establish what you don’t stand for too. It’s a good idea to formalize the latter using a process called negative targeting.

Negative targeting is a list of keywords, topics, and publications you explicitly don’t want to associate with. You might wish to avoid these based on irrelevance, a mismatch in the target audience, or a bad reputation on the publication’s part. 

Certain websites allow you to run negative targeting from within ad campaigns. Even if they don’t, it’s a good idea to have a separate list of things you don’t want your brand to be associated with. 

Share this widely among colleagues who need to see it. In the same way process automation through robotics offers a more streamlined, accurate workflow, consensus on ad targeting makes your team’s job more straightforward.

3. Choose the right platforms

Most popular social networks worldwide (1)

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Negative targeting is a key consideration when deciding where ads appear. This is particularly true when it comes to choosing an advertising platform. 

Today’s internet offers many different platforms for business. While it’s tempting to cast as wide a net as possible, ubiquity doesn’t make advertising successful; targeting the right audience does.

When you’re picking an advertising platform, look at how much control it gives you. Can you hone in on a particular audience? Do you know where your ads will appear or what they’ll be associated with? Can you ensure your advertising appears above specific types of content?

While you might not get everything you want from a specific platform, asking these kinds of questions helps you make a more informed decision. It also gives you a more complete toolkit to protect your brand identity. 

If you’re torn between two or more advertising platforms, using them as the basis for A/B testing cases can help narrow things down. 

4. Keep an eye on user-generated content

User-generated content is a gift to many businesses. It’s an easy way to create content for Twitter feeds and other channels, as well as a way to build trust in your brand among customers. This is particularly useful if you’re still working to establish yourself.

By its nature, however, user-generated content is unpredictable, and that unpredictability is a double-edged sword. It can result in you losing some control over the conversation surrounding your brand, as it becomes more explicitly tied to content you can’t manage.

You can address this problem by thinking about how you’re inspiring content from your customers. If you’re prompting content creation, what do these prompts look like? Is there room for unsavory interpretation in them? If someone is trying to use this content to damage your brand, what procedures (if any) do you have to address that?

These kinds of questions also apply to influencer marketing. Influencers typically benefit from a low level of oversight from the businesses they work with. However, you still need to have some discussion about the overall direction of their marketing messages to ensure they’re not misrepresenting what you do.  

It might be you consider user-generated content too much of a risk to your brand perception and take steps to reduce your dependence on it. However, if user-generated content is a good fit for your brand, and you feel you can balance the risks with the rewards, it’s worth pursuing. 

Measures like sentiment analysis can help you get a sense of how people feel about you and help you respond accordingly.

Final thoughts

Brand identity is easy to overlook, but factoring it into your overall business plan is a must for today’s connected world. Without taking some time to consider what your brand is associated with, it’s easy for the conversation surrounding it to go in unwanted directions.

Fortunately, by taking the right steps as soon as possible (including clarifying your brand values and specific content types to avoid), a strong, safe brand identity is within your reach.