Audits are a bit of a nasty business. It’s a scary sounding word that conjures up images of accountants in plain black suits shining flashlights into every little dark corner and crevice of your financial life to see exactly how big of a fine they can slap you with. This is not how a brand audit works.
A brand audit is nothing to be afraid of and can be one of the most useful things that you ever do for your business. Whether you hire a professional, or choose to go the DIY route, conducting a brand audit can help set the course towards greater success and longevity.
Brands vs. Businesses
Talking about brands and businesses can get confusing. The line between the two isn’t always clear and everyone has a different opinion on what a brand actually is. To some, you can have a business without a brand and even a brand without a concrete business (think social media and reality t.v. stars). That’s not where we stand.
Industrie operates from the belief that a brand is something like a personality—every business has one, they just vary in type and strength. In order to truly understand a business, you need to dig deep into their brand ethos—which is where the brand audit comes in.
Starting from the perspective that every business has a brand, we expanded the notion of branding, just a little bit. We look at businesses as their own ecosystems, that exist not only unto themselves, but as a part of larger ecosystems as well—their industry and community.
This is why when we perform a brand audit—either for ourselves or a client—we examine all aspects of a brand, not only its inner-workings, offerings, and processes, but its relationships and reputation as well.
What is A Brand Audit
Essentially, a brand audit is a status report on the health and wellbeing of a brand. It is a way to comprehensively assess how a brand is doing, based on how closely it is aligned with its original goals.
Every business has a mission and values—how clearly those are defined are a little subjective, but they are there if you look hard enough. A brand audit analyzes how closely aligned a brand’s actions and messaging are to those values and mission.
There are a few different ways to conduct a brand audit, and with a little research, it’s possible to get an idea on some of the standard insights that an audit seeks to deliver. Things like: USP, target markets, competitive analysis and of course, the all important SWOT.These things are all very useful bits of knowledge to keep track of and consider, but we tend to be a bit more thorough. Our process may be a little more than what most businesses need to examine, and that is perfectly fine. The bottom line is that the topics explored in a brand audit should fit the brand.
How Can a Brand Audit Help?
Brands have enormous power. They connect customers, inspire loyalty, empower employees and if managed well, can even provide positive examples to other businesses in and outside of their industry (just look at what Chipotle did to the fast food landscape).
A brand audit is simply a tool that allows you to take a closer look at your brand. Committing to a regular schedule of audits allows you to identify and track areas of strength and weakness as you go, in order to create and refine more effective plans and processes.
Over time, you will be building a history of your brand, with a library of usable data as to what has worked well for you, your employees, your clients and your industry at large—and what hasn’t.
When Should A Brand Audit be Conducted?
If your business is undergoing any major changes, like restructuring, rebranding or even refreshing, it’s a good time to conduct a brand audit.
Additionally, we recommend performing brand audits on a yearly basis, in order to be able to see changes as they occur and keep in touch with the main objectives of the brand.
Whether an audit is conducted internally, or contracted out to a professional, it’s of the utmost importance that the person conducting it can remain absolutely objective. There’s a reason IRS agents get a bad rep—they have to remain completely impartial in order to do their job effectively.
A brand audit requires the same level of detachment. There are hard questions to be asked and answered and not all of it is based on hard data. Any emotional “coloring” of the facts could distort results and create a bad place to start creating solutions from.
First, The Brand Review
A brand is its own ecosystem, consisting of two main parts: the internal and the external. Before an examination of these parts can begin, it’s important to take a good amount of time to revisit the original pillars of the brand:
- USP (Unique Selling Proposition)
Everything measured in the brand audit will be weighed against these statements, so if there are any changes to be made to them, it’s best to do so before the audit begins.
The Internal Brand Audit
Your internal brand is the ecosystem that your business creates. Meaning, it is everything that makes up the brand as it is from the inside—founders, employees, structure, culture, processes, etc.
It is an important step to examine your brand’s inner workings, to ensure that you are not only presenting an accurate portrayal to the outside world, but that your brand ecosystem is operating from the best possible position to make a larger impact.The most important part of having a successful brand is being authentic, and the only way to ensure authenticity is to truly know the brand from the inside out. Auditing a brand internally is an important step to maintaining that level of honesty and transparency.
Here are some things that we examine:
Company culture: Describe your company culture.
Systems & processes: What systems and processes do you currently have in place? How do they support your mission? Are they aligned with your values/overall vision?
Consistency: Do all of the people in your company have a similar view?
Structure: Does your business structure support your company culture in a way that supports your values? Does it streamline your processes?
The External Brand Audit
This stage of the brand audit is the most intensive, and examines how a brand interacts within its larger ecosystems: community and industry.
We can draw our information about these interactions by examining the brand’s outward facing assets:
Here is what we are looking for, when we examine these elements. Again, the exact questions used depend a lot on the individual brand that we are examining, but for the purposes of this article, we are using the audit that we conducted on our own brand, for reference.
Describe your brand
What do you do? (Products/ Services)
Who do you do it for? (Market/Industry)
What is your USP?
What is your Mission?
What are your Values?
What is your Vision?
Does your company culture advance your mission and/or support your values?
What is your 7 second pitch?
Who do you consider to be your top 3 competitors?
Describe their brands:
Would everyone in your company describe it the same way*?
How about your customers?
*We recommend not “theorizing” what those answers are, and actually asking the question to a random sample of respondents.
Describe your brand’s voice
Does this voice reflect your culture and values?
Review 5 Blogs Posts
Review Site Copy
Review a random sampling of Social Media postsVisual Identity
Do you have a logo?
Does that logo reflect your brand’s culture and support it’s mission and values?
Is your logo used consistently on all materials?
Do you have a brand color or palette?
How does that support the brand message?
Do you use illustrations or photos?
Describe the style of the elements that you use:
Does this style support your brand ethos and voice?
What marketing strategies do you currently use?
Gather examples of each: do they support your brand ethos/USP?
Are the voice and visuals consistent?
Review content marketing collateral: (blog posts, videos, podcasts, infographics, ebooks, magazines, etc.) are your topics and formats in line with your brand ethos?
How does each example support your values or advance your mission?*
*At this point, we would pull a content report, to look at what was most successful in the past year and ask the same questions from that sample.
Are your channels in lines with your brand values?
Is your channel art consistent?
Are you sharing content that supports your brand ethos?
*Here we would pull reports for each social media channel and analyze the patterns in engagement, reach and growth for each.
Is your SEO up to date and effective? (Do you turn up in searches for your company name/services?)
How do your search results differ from other brands in your industry? Do they reflect your brand ethos?
Does your site reflect your visual identity/voice?
Does your site support the actions that you would like visitors to take?
*Here, we would pull a full analytics report to track traffic patterns and visitor behavior.
A comprehensive brand audit is no small task. There are not only a lot of questions to be answered, but data to be pulled and analyzed and discussions to be had with peers and coworkers.
However, this exercise is one of the most important steps in establishing a truly effective and successful brand. By knowing where we are and have been, we can figure out exactly how to get to where we would like to be.
If you have questions about conducting a brand audit, let us know in the comments below!