What’s the difference between a Huawei P30 and an iPhone 11? If you’re looking strictly at components and functions, the answer is a surprising “not much”.
The answer, my friends, is blowing in the ever-changing winds of branding.
In many ways, doesn’t it feel like Apple breezed onto the scene with their new technology and an exciting brand, won over consumers, and that was that?
You might be surprised to learn that’s not entirely the case. Even the biggest brands in the world have to go back to the drawing board time and time again to carry out probably one of their most important (and least favorite) tasks — a brand audit.
Indeed, every player in a competitive, price-elastic market should constantly be aware of how their brand is performing. Many companies set their brand goals, values, and positioning in stone during their formative phase. Lamentably few, however, revisit them to assess whether these brand components are measuring up to the lofty objectives they set in the early days or how they are faring in a dynamic landscape dotted with innovative competitors.
Reluctance to perform brand audits is understandable — a full-scale audit can indeed seem daunting. But it need not be.
We spoke to marketing and branding experts to uncover some guiding principles and steps you can follow to ensure your brand audit is thorough and, ultimately, a boon for your company’s bottom line.
So, what should your brand audit include?
1. Clearly define your brand archetype
It’s tough to audit current brand performance without a well-defined benchmark to measure against. Indeed, a preliminary step you should take before embarking on your brand audit journey is to articulate a brand archetype.
According to brand expert Roger Roeser from Eisen Agency:
“One of the most important steps is discovering what your brand archetype is (or, more importantly, what you want it to be). Once you have an understanding of the brand archetype, it's much easier to decide on such things as brand pillars (what do you stand for) and target audience messaging based on the brand because you have a direction and a framework.”
Your brand archetype serves as a lighthouse. To construct this shining brand beacon, you need to ask yourself some fundamental questions: what should your brand stand for? Who are your customers and competitors? Which message or perception are you trying to send with your current branding?
Pro tip: most companies can dust off their go-to-market strategies to find the answers to a majority of these questions. Ultimately, this exercise should leave you with a clear set of objectives you can assess your brand against, as Quo Leady’s Ivan Kriuchkov’s emphasized:
“One of the first things to consider is your objectives – what you want to achieve for your website design or brand. You have to be sure you know your niche and target market, as well as who your major competitors are.”
2. Look beyond the logo — think holistically!
To assess your brand’s performance, you’ll need a 360° view of everything that falls under the ethereal umbrella of “brand”. Don’t focus solely on visuals — a brand audit shouldn’t just be about tweaking your logo.
In the words of branding expert Nikki Hamilton from Seedling Digital:
“When auditing a brand, you're looking at how all of the aspects that make up a brand represent the company and connect with their dream client. This manifests through their logo suite, colors, fonts, tone of voice, and design treatments. It goes far beyond just the logo itself!”
It follows that before any brand analysis of performance can take place (and long before you decide whether it needs adjustment), you need to take inventory of all online and offline manifestations of your brand.
Brand consultant Matthew Crouch emphasizes that this should be a fundamental part of an audit:
“Compile a complete catalog of instances of brand use (as part of your asset library) –whether it is an email signature, a pull-up banner or set of PowerPoint slides – you need to consider the full picture.”
Ultimately, your brand inventory should include the tangible external and internal branding materials, but also less tangible elements like tone of voice, brand values, product positioning, and more.
The goal of an audit is to check for consistencies within this inventory across all assets, as well as consistency between the current inventory and your “ideal” brand archetype and objectives.
3. Reacquaint yourself with your target audience
Branding, in the words of Jungle Studios’ Steph Zahalka, ”is all about perception”. Getting familiar with the thinking, feeling people on the perceiving end of the branding equation is therefore essential.
A brand audit provides a unique opportunity to get back in touch with your target audience. In doing so, you should be checking whether your message is coming across as intended. This can save you a lot of time and effort in the long run, as Jane from Better Proposals explains:
“Dig deep and find out what your target audience is, how they perceive you, what you promise them, what your unique selling proposition is, and all of the relevant bits and pieces that comprise your brand. Once you analyze all of this, you may even realize that a full brand audit is completely unnecessary.”
For brick and mortar businesses, it’s easy enough to gauge customer sentiment since you can meet them in the flesh and simply have a conversation. For purveyors of virtual goods, on the other hand, Ivan from QuoLeady has some practical advice:
“I like to ask [our customers] for feedback about our brand. We do this by coming up with an online poll or an online survey among customers. This really helps us understand our customers better, which is important for proper brand auditing.”
Once you’ve got their attention, what should you aim to get out of the conversation? Try to keep it simple, according to Matthew Crouch:
“Ask your customers what they think of your brand – are they happy? Impressed? Loyal? If you can, you want to try and understand if your brand drives a connection that is deeper than merely a transaction.”
4. Diversify your sources of feedback
It’s difficult to stay objective when auditing your brand — especially if you’re the person who crafted it in the first place.
No one’s faulting you for trying to protect your baby, but it’s likely that this parental instinct will make you resistant to the changes your fledgling brand needs in order to take flight. A potential solution: involve stakeholders from outside the immediate brand or marketing family.
Matthew Crouch recommends starting with colleagues from inside your organization:
“Engage internal stakeholders – ask them all to complete a quick survey of what they like / don’t like about your brand, and most importantly how they think your customers see your brand.”
If you’ve got the budget, you can take this a step further by bringing in external branding experts, and combine their feedback with insights from colleagues and customers. This triumvirate of feedback is recommended by Nikki Hamilton too:
“I recommend brand audits to be a collaborative effort. To get the best result you need to bring in three types of experts; branding experts, expert voices from within the company itself, and, where possible, customers. In my experience, companies have great insights into their areas of expertise, clients have great insights into gaps the company can improve on, and branding experts can bring all of these aspects together to determine how well the brand messaging is being applied and perceived.”
A final tip on feedback sources: wherever possible, base your audit on hard data. Use brand tracking, check your website traffic, social media analytics, competitor data, and other sources that enable you to objectively gauge whether your branding is pulling in the customers you’re actually targeting.
Now start your brand audit!
It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the prospect of a brand audit. Ideally, this article has convinced you that investing time in assessing your brand is crucial to staying competitive and profitable in these turbulent times. Additionally, the tips shared by experts offer reassurance that if you stick to some basic principles and know where to start, you’ll be on sure footing.
Want more information? Check out our complete guide on creating a digital brand audit.