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What Is a Brand Audit?

Hundreds of Painted Squares

We’re living through a period of great uncertainty where you’re likely paying close attention to the performance of your business. But what about your brand: how is it being perceived by your customers, your employees, and the world at large?

Your brand is your company’s most valuable asset. Brands contribute on average 19.5%—and in some cases more than 50% —of enterprise value, according to Forbes research based on analysis by the Marketing Accountability Standards Board. Brands are not created equal. In fact, a whopping 77% of brands could disappear and no one would care, according to Havas’ global Meaningful Brands® 2019.

Neuroscience research proves that consumers buy based on emotion, and then justify their purchases with the rational part of their minds. This explains why iconic brands like Apple enjoy such a major strategic advantage. And why your brand can gain an advantage of its own when people truly identify with it.

Over the years, I’ve observed that marketers and business leaders can sometimes be dead wrong in how they perceive their company’s brand.

This can be due to:

  • False assumptions based on a lack of research
  • Relying on messaging that’s stale, undifferentiated, or misaligned
  • Marketplace confusion caused by a neglected brand architecture
  • A fixation on a competitor

So, how do you take stock of where your brand is today? With a brand audit.

Join me for an in-depth look at the research framework that we use here at Element Three to help our clients gain a better understanding of their brands—and how to strengthen them.

Keep in mind that every brand project is tailored for a particular client, so don’t think of this as a plug-and-play template. Rather, think of it as a thoughtful approach to brand research that’s designed to help you understand where your brand is today—and where it can go tomorrow.

Understand your starting point

Whether you’re revamping an established brand or rebranding after a wave of acquisitions, you need to understand your starting point. Industries are in constant motion, and as an agency marketer it’s important for me to understand a client’s current business environment and uncover the main trends that are going on, along with new trends that are starting to emerge. That means starting out by researching the current situation in your industry to ensure you’re starting out from the right point, and moving in the correct direction.

Gather internal perspectives

Another important aspect of a brand project is understanding the perspectives of your employees and key stakeholders. A marketing agency can serve as an objective third party in developing an employee survey or interviewing executives and other key internal stakeholders.

One critical aspect of this effort is transparency. You’ve got to allow employees to answer questions honestly, even if they’re saying something you don’t want to hear. That’s why a third party can prove invaluable in conducting the interviews and aggregating the themes that emerge from the responses without divulging the specific answers of individual employees.

These internal interviews can provide you with fresh insights from areas of your company such as marketing/PR, sales, customer service, R&D, and product development. You never know where a big idea can come from.

Know your audience—and its segments

Customer research can take a number of different forms: online surveys, phone interviews, or in-person observations. Interviews can be a powerful tool for gathering information because the interviewer can ask follow-up questions to glean insights from intriguing or unexpected responses. Each of these types of brand research has their own pros and cons, and depending on the situation one or another might be the right pick.

Here are some of the main things to ask about:

  • Perceptions of your brand and competing brands
  • What affects their purchase decision
  • What they do and don’t like about your products
  • What communications channels they use
  • Their experiences with your products, services, and support
  • Unmet expectations or desire for new products
  • Anything else they’d like to add

In this research, it’s critical to distinguish between your audience segments. Lego, for instance, learned from observing kids playing with Legos that boys were more interested in the battle of good versus evil, while girls wanted figures with greater detail and realism. That’s how the Danish company was able to break into the girls’ market with Lego Friends, a different type of product that appealed to what girls want.

Know yourself—and your adversaries

You’ve got strong feelings about how you stack up against certain competitors. However, your branding agency may perform digital research that shows the companies you compete with online are different than the companies you compete with offline. While this may give you pause, it’s important to be aware of this.

When we perform a competitive audit at E3, we research how the client compares to key competitors in terms of:

  • Clarity of message
  • Design and user experience
  • Channel efficacy
  • Reputation
  • Differentiators

We examine a range of the client’s marketing materials—their website, brochures, sales collateral, digital advertisements, and more—to evaluate how the client compares to its peers. This analysis becomes a key part of our research presentation.

Synthesize the findings

After all the brand research is done, you have to synthesize your findings. You’ll need to assess what your customers said they care about, what your key stakeholders think you should be communicating, and what you’re actually communicating to the marketplace. How well do these three things line up?

You’ll also want to consider the main themes that emerged in your research, how you're positioned, and what aspects require the most work. Ask yourself questions like:

  • What surprised me the most?
  • What keeps coming up over and over again?
  • Where is there opportunity for us?
  • Where are the threats?
  • How do emerging trends factor in?
  • How are we positioned?
  • How are we (or can we be) differentiated?
  • What false assumptions have we uncovered?
  • What’s working, and what’s not?
  • What strengths should we play to?
  • Where are we weak, and what should we do about it?
  • How can we eliminate any confusion about our brand?
  • How can we communicate more clearly?
  • Are we communicating on the right channels? If not, what needs to change?
  • How can we zig when others zag?

Find your story. And practice telling it.

Your brand story is what pulls people in, what makes you part of the 23% of brands that people actually care about. It explains your why; it’s authentic and relatable.

Wherever this story takes you, get your key stakeholders on board with your visual and verbal direction early on. Give them a glimpse of where your brand can go. Get them excited and use the internal launch as a rallying cry that helps you maximize lift-off when it’s time to launch your brand to the outside world.

Derek Smith Team Photo at Element Three

Derek Smith's skills as a reporter serve him well as a senior writer here at Element Three—and if you need a coach for your soccer team, he's got you covered. He's worked as a content strategist as well as a copywriter, so he's always thinking about the why behind every word and every piece of every campaign.