How to do a brand audit without getting lost in the weeds

A brand audit is a checkup that evaluates how your brand presents itself in the marketplace, its strengths, weaknesses, and areas for improvement.

Optimally, a brand audit should cover three areas:

  • Internal branding – How you present to your employees and stakeholders. Culture, values, mission / vision, and policies.
  • External branding – Everything the outside world sees. Your logo, print / online ads, PR, website, social media, email and content marketing.
  • Customer experience – How your brand behaves in front of real people. Your sales process and customer support.

That’s all well and good. But it’s easy to get lost in the weeds. Look up some brand audits, and you’ll see a list of 150 questions to ask, and dozens of areas of your brand to investigate. All well and good for a larger corporation, but a lean entrepreneurial business might find some elements redundant.

Like a yearly physical, a brand audit doesn’t need to be exhaustive – a far simpler checklist and a bit of objective advice is all that’s needed.

Why do you need an audit? Because brands, like people, grow and change. An audit is simply you paying attention to ensure the evolution is in the right direction.

If you don’t pay attention, you may find your brand no longer reflects your vision, or answers your customers’ pain points. Even worse, you may find it outsmarted by competitors. Better a yearly checkup than a sharp pain in the wallet down the road.

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Perform your own brand audit

Planning

Yes, you can do a complete brand audit, turning over every rock, analyzing every bit of brand data. I don’t recommend this course of action – I’ve seen too many people get lost (and frustrated) in the weeds. Much better to start with a snapshot that analyzes the right bits of information. And that begins with a plan.

Define goals

First, you need to define your goals. These goals might include:

  • Testing your brand’s resonance with your key customers,
  • Seeing how your message differs from your competitors’ message,
  • Checking to see all the elements of your brand feel like they come from the same place, or
  • All of the above.

What are you measuring?

Next, you need to decide what you’re measuring. Here, less can be more. You probably don’t need to check every piece of communication you’ve put out in the past year. Instead, think of your primary modes of communication, and pick a random sample of your brand messaging in these areas. In my experience, if your twitter feed is out of line with the rest of your brand, looking at a few randomly selected tweets will be enough to set off alarm bells.

Plan according to goals

Finally, you need to plan according to your goals. If you don’t have the time, budget or bandwidth to fix the bits that don’t fit, don’t bother embarking on an audit. By the time you get around to the fix, new areas of your brand may have evolved in the wrong direction.

That said, even if you just want to fix your website, it pays to have a look at the communication tools that drive traffic to your site. What you discover may motivate you to line up fixes for each of these tools as budget and time allows.

Review

The fun begins when you give yourself a bit of time to actually look at the data and communication you’ve created. To me, this is where enlightenment happens.

Review your website

The first thing you want to review is your website, and the sites of your nearest competitors. That’s because, in most cases, your site is the motherlode of your brand.

Personally, I find it fascinating to see how others position their products to consumers, the services they offer, and just the general difference in tone between them and you.

Review your web analytics

Equally illuminating is a review of your web analytics. When you see 90% of your traffic going to one page, it makes you question why you’re spending so much time creating a smorgasbord of content or products.

Review your sales data

Ditto for sales data. Are people buying the products you’re most proud of, or are your darling products holding back your bottom line? All too often, we think people want the shiny and new, when purchase data tells us they actually want products you may no longer find sexy.

Review your social media data

Social media data is a bit of a unique animal. You can measure, among other things:

  • What social media platforms your customers gravitate to,
  • What content gets the greatest response from customers and, most nerve-wracking,
  • How people talk about you when the filters are off.

It’s definitely the most dynamic element of your brand to review.

Assess your external marketing materials

Finally, there are all your other marketing materials.

  • Sales sheets and brochures.
  • Posters.
  • Videos and commercials.
  • Trade show booths.
  • Business cards.

This is often where the discussion around graphic design, message tone and media choice begins.

  • Has your design evolved to keep up with your business, or does it look dated?
  • Does anybody want your paper brochures, or just the downloadables?
  • Is anyone even paying attention to your radio commercials?

Survey

At the top of this story, I mentioned a bit of objective advice as a key ingredient to a successful audit. You might find yourself wanting to outsource the job of asking customers for face-to-face critiques. Certainly, there’s merit in that. But don’t disconnect completely from the interviews. You’re likely the one leading the innovation charge at your company, and all innovation starts with solving pain points that customers express.

In some cases, however, doing the interviewing yourself may be counterproductive. When it comes to interviewing employees, they’ll probably be hesitant to tell you where your company is falling down. In some circles, that’s a career-limiting move.

So who should you interview?

Survey your customers

Customers have a wonderful way of innocently pointing out where your marketing is missing the mark. They’re also unconsciously great at brainstorming: they’ll stumble onto wonderful ideas and insights without realizing it. Finally, they’re great for inspiring you with thoughts on how to fix your product.

Survey your target demographic

If you can find prospects who are shopping, they’re invaluable for pointing out the difference in your positioning vs your competitors. They can also provide great feedback on your customer journey. If your website buttons don’t work, they’ll tell you.

Survey your employees

I love speaking with any employee who is customer-facing, because they’re the keepers of the brand feedback from hundreds of people. I also love speaking to sales teams, and folks on the shop floor. These are the people who will provide unvarnished truth, not sanitized safespeak.

Look at your competitors

If you want a real treat, seek out competitors to chat with. You may not find a conversation partner who currently works for the competition, but if there are former employees you can chat with, it’s definitely worth getting their ‘outside-in’ perspective of your brand.

Action and ongoing

By now, you can probably see why I recommend planning out the most strategically advantageous pieces of your brand to analyze. Done thoroughly, it’s a very, very big job. But done selectively, you can still get the big bang without getting lost in the weeds.

Organize and review the data

Once the data-gathering is done, the fun begins. It’s time to spread out your insights like Halloween candy on your bedspread, and pick out the really good stuff.

In this case, the really good stuff might include:

  • Glaring discrepancies in your communication – whether that’s in tone of voice, or even the focus of content. A brand is like a human; speaking in different characters is not a good thing.
  • Insights on what’s working – In my experience, brand communication adheres to the bell curve: 10% of it really works, 10% completely stinks, and 80%, meh. Cut out the communication that stinks, dramatically prune back the meh, and you’re left with a leaner, cleaner brand.
  • A roadmap of your evolution – You can’t always predict the future by what’s happened. But if you can see your brand evolving from a pure consumer play to a B2B / B2C split, you can make more intelligent decisions on your future direction.

Analyze results and brainstorm solutions

Ready to start fixing? Wait one moment longer. Make sure you develop a tight creative brief that encapsulates what you’ve learned before you start pulling apart your website or social channels. Having a well-thought through brief that everyone endorses means you’ve tapped the wisdom of the brand audit, and used that power for good.

Take action and monitor

Now start fixing.

Monitor progress

Marketing may be dressed up in big words and fancy clothes, but it’s not science.

Even the best brand audit has subjective elements. The only way you’ll know you did the right thing is by keeping tabs on what you actually did, and how it’s landing in the market.

Want to talk about a brand audit?

I will certainly help you with a full-fledged audit. But perhaps the place to start would be my free brand audit snapshot. Interested? Click here.

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