What is a Brand Audit?
A brand audit, also known as a brand assessment, analyzes your brand’s performance and market position relative to its objectives. It helps businesses to answer the question: Are our branding strategies achieving our marketing objectives? If not, why not, and what can we do about it?
Brand audits study how consumers interact with a brand and how those interactions shape perceptions and feelings. They allow marketers to discover weaknesses, strengths, and opportunities for innovation.
Brand audits differ according to the company’s current objectives, but audits typically result in:
- An assessment of the brand’s objectives. Which experiences, perceptions, and feelings does the brand desire to create?
- A statement of the brand’s target consumers? Who is the brand strategy intended to appeal to?
- An inventory of consumer touchpoints to discover when, where, and how consumers engage with the brand.
- An analysis of how effectively brand values and objectives are expressed via consumer touchpoints. For example, do internal and external brand assets express our values and create the desired experiences?
- A plan to close gaps between the brand’s objectives and touchpoint experiences, creating a consistent brand image and experience.
Why You Should Audit Your Brand
Branding aims to generate positive feelings, perceptions, associations, and beliefs about a company in the minds of consumers. It achieves this by crafting a culture, products, brand assets, and touchpoints that express and embody certain values and experiences.
But there are several ways brand strategies can fail:
- The brand’s values fail to connect with the target demographic.
- The company targets the wrong demographic or fails to target a valuable one.
- Implementation is inconsistent across touchpoints, leading to a brand gap between the company’s intentions and the consumer’s perceptions.
Brand gaps are a useful way to conceptualize the problem. Brand gaps happen when customer experiences fail to align with brand values. The brand wants to express values and create experiences in the belief that they will elicit positive feelings, thoughts, and behavioral responses in their target consumers.
A brand gap indicates a mismatch between what the company communicates and what consumers perceive. When that happens, the brand is unlikely to benefit from the behavioral responses that motivate branding in the first place.
For many brands, inconsistency is the root cause of brand gaps. Brands interact with consumers through touchpoints, and inconsistent touchpoints send mixed messages, leading to misunderstandings and confusion.
For example, consider a potential customer who sees a video ad for your product on YouTube. The cinematography, messaging, and overall feeling communicate an impression of contemporary, high-energy innovation.
But when they click on the ad, they are taken to a landing page with design and copy that communicates traditionalism, stability, and steadiness. Both sets of values are effective in the right place, but mixing them is confusing, and the brand is likely to repel consumers attracted by either set.
The above example is fairly extreme, but even minor inconsistencies create a negative perception. Mismatched color schemes, typography variation, divergent communication styles—these give the impression that a brand hasn’t quite got it together.
A brand audit helps brands identify gaps and other shortcomings, giving marketers the information they need to build consistent and effective branding strategies.
8 Essential Brand Audit Elements
No two brands are the same, and brand audits should be tailored to meet each company’s unique needs. However, every brand audit should include the following essential elements.
Devise a Brand Auditing Framework
Before embarking on a brand audit, you need a plan. Essentially, you need to know the questions you are asking and why they are important. Some brand auditors use a formal framework—such as a SWOT analysis—to guide the auditing process. But however you choose to organize the audit, this phase establishes the parameters that will guide you through the process.
First, consider the values and messages your brand strategy is supposed to communicate. Can you articulate your brand values and explain what the organization stands for and is trying to achieve? What do you want consumer perception of your brand to be?
If you can’t answer these questions, you may have discovered the problem already. Establishing a consistent brand is impossible when you are unsure what the brand is supposed to be.
Typically, a well-organized brand has these assets:
- A brand voice that determines tone, language, and personality.
- A brand image that elucidates the brand’s visual identity: color schemes, logos, and imagery.
- A positioning statement that concisely expresses the brand’s value proposition, values, and purpose.
- Primary messaging that uses the brand voice and positioning statement to derive consistent high-level messaging.
- Brand guidelines that help employees consistently implement the brand’s message, image, and voice.
If your brand has these assets, you know what you’re looking for during the brand audit. Are they consistently implemented across all touchpoints? Do consumer perceptions match the intended messaging and values? Other questions you might ask include:
- How are our products positioned relative to our competitors?
- How do our brand values, voice, and image compare to competitors’?
- Does our desired customer experience match customer perceptions?
- How are we communicating our brand message and image?
- How aware are consumers of our brand?
- Are our employees aligned with the brand?
- Do we have up-to-date brand guidelines for our employees and partner organizations?
Once you have established a framework to guide the brand audit, you can begin interrogating your brand strategy and implementation.
Identify and Evaluate Brand Touchpoints
A touchpoint is any point of contact between a consumer and your brand. Touchpoints play a critical role in branding: they are how brands exert an influence over consumer perceptions. Consumers form ideas and feelings about the brand whenever they connect with a touchpoint. Branding is the art and science of shaping touchpoint interactions to create perceptions that motivate behaviors.
Touchpoint is a very broad term. It’s impossible to give a complete list here, but many businesses interact with consumers through the following touchpoints.
- Products and services
- Website interactions
- Search and display advertising
- Print advertising
- Sales and support professionals
- Physical locations
- Social media
Each of these touchpoints embodies a set of values and messages about your brand. Ideally, they are the values and messages you want to convey. If they aren’t, you fail to create the experiences that support your brand strategy.
For example, a business may invest in creating products tailored to a niche but fail to invest in packaging that appeals to that niche. The consequence will be a weakened brand and a missed opportunity. There’s a reason Apple invests so much in expensive, high-end packaging; it provides sensory experiences that strengthen the company’s brand perception.
Identify and Evaluate Brand Assets
Brand assets are items and processes that establish a brand identity. They are the elements that allow a brand to create consistent touchpoints. Basic brand assets include names, logos, slogans, color schemes, typography, design patterns, imagery, content management and language guidelines, and other features that embody and communicate your brand.
These basic assets are combined to create other assets, such as webpage layouts and designs, web copy, white papers, print brochures, packaging design, physical location decor, and so on—these are typically referred to as external brand assets.
Internal brand assets, in contrast, include the elements we discussed in the ‘Framework’ section: brand and messaging guidelines, values, positioning statements, and so on. They can also include assets that impact touchpoints but that are not seen outside the business, including sales enablement content and training programs for sales and support staff.
Your brand audit should assess all brand assets and brand asset management software to verify that they conform to the brand’s values, image, and messaging.
Survey Your Customers
Branding aims to shape consumer perceptions and experiences. The consumer’s experience is where the rubber hits the road. It doesn’t matter how carefully and consistently your brand strategy is implemented if consumer perception diverges from desired brand perception. Surveying customers will help you to identify branding gaps and discover opportunities for improvement.
Customer and consumer research can provide insights that include:
- Brand perceptions
- Brand positioning in the market
- Competitor brand performance and perceptions
- Feedback about products, services, and support
- Potential customers the current brand strategy fails to reach
- Demographic information about buyers
- Details that can be used to refine buyer personas
Analyze The Competition and the Market
Every brand competes against other brands for mindshare and business. You need to understand how your brand is positioned relative to the competition. What are they doing that you’re not? Is it working for them? How is your brand differentiated from competitors?
To analyze the competition, you can use the same touchpoints, assets, and surveys procedure outlined above. Look at competitors’ touchpoints and see how they embody values and messages. Survey external assets for the same indicators. Conduct consumer research—or hire a consumer research firm—to find out how consumers perceive their brand relative to yours.
Some of the questions you should consider are:
- What is our marketplace position? Is there an opportunity to, for example, position ourselves as a higher-quality, more convenient, or more innovative alternative?
- What is our main point of branding difference? How do we stand out from the competition?
- What brand strategy changes can we make to compete more successfully?
Target Demographics: Are You Reaching The Right Audience?
We have already covered surveying customers and researching customer perceptions, but what about consumers who aren’t customers? They’re a growth opportunity, but first, you must understand who they are, how you can appeal to them, and why they aren’t buying from you already.
Conduct consumer surveys within the target market to find out:
- Are non-customers familiar with your brand?
- How do they perceive your brand, and how does it make them feel?
- Have they ever been a customer?
- If they were a customer, why did they stop buying?
- Are they buying from a competitor, and if so, which one?
- How are competitors’ brands perceived?
Scrutinize Web Analytics and Social Media Data
Most consumers will find your brand via a Google search, visiting your site from search advertising or organic results. That makes your website both a crucial branding tool and a bellwether for the effectiveness of your branding strategy.
We wrote in-depth about useful web analytics metrics in 10 Brand Metrics To Evaluate Your Brand Marketing Strategy, so we’ll highlight just the most important to your digital brand audit:
- Traffic levels and page visits: The most basic measure of website health, these metrics tell you how many people are visiting your site and which pages they visit. Tools like Google Analytics can also track where visitors are coming from and their journey on your site.
- Conversion rates: The rate at which people who visit your site carry out an action that benefits your brand, such as buying something or subscribing to a service. Low conversion rates can indicate that your brand marketing attracts the wrong audience.
- Bounce rates: The rate at which visitors immediately leave your site without performing other actions. High bounce rates indicate visitors didn’t find what they expected or hoped for on the page.
- Inbound links: Links to your web pages from other sites. Inbound links play an important role in Search Engine Optimization (SEO). They also indicate the level of engagement and sharing your web pages receive.
- Keyword performance: If you want to attract the right consumers via search, your content should reflect their search queries. Tools like Moz and Ahrefs can help you to analyze and improve keyword performance.
Plan Post-Audit Actions
Once you’ve gathered information and analyzed it, it’s time to consider your next move. A brand audit is only useful if you act on it. One way to tackle planning is to identify the changes you need to make and prioritize them. You’ll likely have discovered some major brand strategy shortcomings alongside potentially dozens of smaller issues. It pays to tackle the big problems first.
When prioritizing and planning, think about the following:
- Which touchpoints and assets generate the most engagement and value?
- Are there tools and services that could help you to maintain a consistent brand identity?
- Do your core branding documents need to be updated?
- Does your brand need work, or does it need a complete overhaul?
- Does your business have the people and the talent it needs to implement a consistently effective brand strategy?
Achieving a Consistent Brand Identity
Throughout this article, we’ve emphasized the importance of consistency in branding. Consistency across brand assets and touchpoints is vital but also challenging. Marq can help. Our brand templating platform empowers brands to deploy consistent brand assets and content across many online and offline touchpoints. Request a demo to see how Marq will transform your branding implementation.