Brand safety is a hot topic right now. It started with the YouTube controversy earlier this year when AT&T and Verizon pulled all their ads from the video platform after advertisers found their ads showing up alongside offensive content.

In the aftermath of the fiasco, marketers lost no time taking steps to ensure that they wouldn't be caught in a similar scenario. But are marketers putting the same effort into preserving brand integrity with their organic campaigns?

Consumers don't seem to think so.

Unfortunately, the content creation machine doesn't sleep. Marketers are feeling the pressure to keep up – but at the cost of high-quality, relevant content.

Here are four steps you can take to ensure your content hits the mark with your intended audience.

1. Revisit your content creation budget

In a recent MarketingProfs study, 85% of marketers cited "doing a better job with content creation" as the reason for their success.

But quality content doesn't come cheap.

A study by content creation platform ClearVoice found that with content creation, like many things, you get what you pay for.

The company rated samples by content creators at three different pricing tiers – $0.10 per word, $0.25 per word, and $0.75 per word – and found that higher prices correlated with higher-quality content and more reliable freelance writers. On the other hand, cheaper content lacked flow and originality.

Rather than buying cheap content in bulk, you can get more bang for your buck by creating high-quality "pillar" content and then strategically repurposing it.

For instance, one evergreen blog post can be made into an infographic, content upgrade, video, or multiple social media posts, and distributed across multiple channels.

2. Stick to the style guide

A style guide fosters consistency in every aspect of content development and promotion – don't let yours collect dust. Instead, make sure everyone on the team has access to it and keep your team regularly informed of any changes.

Your style guide should be influenced by your brand's attributes, core values, and target customer personas. It should include guidelines for the following:

  • Tone – for example, professional, playful, irreverent, helpful, funny, etc.
  • Style – rules for punctuation, grammar, capitalization, word usage, and numbers (for example, AP Style)
  • Formatting – fonts, colors, bulleted lists, image sourcing, etc.
  • Any other dos and don'ts – for instance, subjects or words to avoid
For a real-life example of a style guide, check out MailChimp's.

3. Play the long game

Somewhere along the line, the myth evolved that churning out mass amounts of blog posts on a weekly basis was essential to staying competitive.

Top SEO and content marketing experts like Brian Dean have successfully debunked this myth.

By creating fewer (but higher quality) blog posts, you'll have more resources to invest into creating amazing content, as well as updating, repurposing, and amplifying that content over the long term.

So how can you create content that stands out from all the noise?

You could try to tackle a subject that hasn't been done before. (Easier said than done!) Fortunately, there's a better way: Choose a topic that's already proven to be popular with your target market, and create your own, more comprehensive resource. Check out sources like BuzzSumo, Feedly, and Reddit to generate hot topics for your pillar content.

4. Keep it relevant

Today's search engines are comprised of sophisticated algorithms that specialize in serving up exactly the right content at exactly the right time. Since the early days of the internet, search engines and marketers alike have understood this overarching principle of relevancy and how important it is to creating a good user experience.

Yet many brands are still missing the mark when it comes to giving audiences what they want. In a recent study, media agency Havas found that 60% of all content created by brands is poor, irrelevant or fails to deliver.

Achieving relevancy is a matter of revisiting the fundamentals of good content marketing and being strategic about the content you deliver. Here are three practical ways to do this:

Understand your audience. When creating a new piece of content, ask the following questions:

  • What is my customer's typical journey when choosing a product or service?
  • How will this content guide my prospect to the next step in the buyer journey? (Is there a call to action?)
  • Is this content format useful to my target prospects? Is the theme relevant?
  • What is the probable intent of the reader when they click on this article? Does the content match the intent?
Stick to a unified theme. When choosing topics to blog about, start smaller in scope – you can always branch out into additional themes later as your products and services evolve.

Your editorial calendar is your most valuable tool for content planning. If you're struggling to come up with ideas, consider creating content around a specific theme each month. For instance, you could address a common problem or highlight an industry trend.

Focus on delivering value first. Avoid self-serving, overtly promotional content. Put your customers' needs first so that you'll be well-received when you go in for the ask.

Monitor analytics and social data to find successful content themes proven to work with your target audience, and serve them more of that – and less of topics that don't interest them.

By being strategic about creating content that's high-quality, on-brand, and relevant, you can protect your brand's online reputation while maximizing returns from your digital campaigns.