When’s the last time you took a really honest look at all of the elements that make up your visual brand?
My guess is that it has probably been a while, and that it’s also possible you’ve never taken the time to gather all of the elements that make up your visual brand, spread them out on the table, and evaluate their cohesiveness or lack thereof.
In fact, you’d probably be surprised at the number of companies similar to yours and your competitors, who have never considered how all of their marketing and branding assets compliment one another and what purpose each serves. Performing a brand audit can be the answer to not only identifying just how polished your look, feel and voice are but how you can improve your branding in comparison to other brands in your niche.
The Benefits of Performing a Brand Audit
A brand audit is a detailed and documented process for reviewing the current state of a brand. This is comprised of visual elements, like printed materials, website, ads, etc., along with messaging and editorial voice and tone. Upon gathering a complete inventory of your current brand components, these materials are then analyzed to form experience-based opinions on the state of the brand. This includes analysis of the brand’s characteristics, from color to tone to missing pieces, as well as gathering others’ insights regarding how they perceive the branding and messaging, both inside and outside of your own company. Once the brand audit has been completed, an accurate diagnosis can be made about the state of the brand, paving the way for a proper prescription for what the brand needs to be healthy and further strengthened.
There are a number of advantages to performing a comprehensive brand audit of your company or product, and really no downsides to getting it done. The worst thing that can come out of an audit is the possible realization that your brand is inconsistent and needs work, but identifying this and making the proper adjustments isn’t a bad thing — it’ll only help you be more successful. After all, if you’re going down the path of performing a brand audit, you should be prepared to do the hard work the results of the audit may require!
Here are a few of the advantages that come with performing a brand audit:
- Honest, expert opinions uncover how your brand functions as a holistic unit.
- You’ll learn how those outside of your company perceive your brand and where you might have trouble spots.
- The process demands a (likely much needed) collateral audit, which shows you how your marketing materials fit together.
- You’ll be able to decide where your brand stands, and what you need to do to improve it.
Who Should Perform the Brand Audit?
A brand audit should be performed and led by a qualified third-party. The benefit of hiring someone from outside of your business is that you’ll get expert, unbiased feedback about the current state of your brand and marketing materials. In addition, an outside professional has likely performed a number of audits and has a seamless process to walk you through in the most beneficial and streamlined way.
Expert Step-By-Step Guide to Performing a Brand Audit
If you’re considering hiring an agency partner to evaluate your brand, it’s important to understand the process and what should be included in a comprehensive brand audit. And while every agency will have their own approach, the following should be included to know that no stone has been left unturned!
Step 1. Gather All of Your Branded Materials into a Single Place
In order to properly evaluate your visual brand, you’ll be asked to gather all of the branding, marketing and identity assets that are currently in use. This would include both digital and print materials and can range from your logo to your website to social posts. In addition, you may be asked to collect the same materials that may no longer be in use but have been in circulation in the last 1-2 years. A typical list of items to include would likely include the following:
- Business plan & background
- Brand/style guides
- Vector versions of logos
- Printed collateral including brochures, rack cards, ads, identity package etc
- All website domains and live online properties
- Inventory of all social channels
- Access to website analytics
- Keywords associated with your website
- Online advertising campaigns
At first the assignment of gathering these materials together may seem like a daunting task, but keep in mind the importance of having ALL of your branding elements in one place. Without doing so, it wouldn’t be possible to evaluate each on their individual merits along with how well they work as cohesive package.
While the visual brand is often the key focus of a brand audit, you should also expect to be asked to gather content examples including, video, articles, ad copy, etc. Along with understanding the visuals that make up your brand, understanding your voice, tone and language are also key to the process.
Step 2. Provide List of Employees, Vendors and Customers to be Interviewed
You mean you’re actually going to call our customers? Yes, that should be part of the process. And while it might not actually mean calling your vendors and customers, it is important to understand how others, outside of your marketing team or organization, perceive your brand. After all, those outside of your company walls are the ones that matter most when selling a product!
Having the agency performing the audit spend a bit of time, even if for just a day, at your company will provide great insight to your culture, the passion you have for your products and industry, and the quality of products under your brand. Being given access to speak with a handful of employees, from different departments within your company, often provides invaluable feedback and uncovers recurring insights that can inspire some of the most beneficial change within an organization. When employees trust that they can speak freely, not be identified and have no fear of repercussions, some of the most helpful and honest discussions are often had.
Providing a short list of vendors and customers, who would likely approve of being interviewed, to the agency performing the audit will provide unbiased, constructive criticism and observations about your brand that you just can’t get within your own walls. Typically just a few willing vendors/partners and a handful of diverse customers are enough to provide the type of feedback needed. And by agreeing to a 15-20 minute conversation, these folks often provide some of the most valuable feedback of the entire process.
Step 3. A Professional Review of All Compiled Information
Once you have provided your agency with all of your print, digital and content assets, and the agency has had the opportunity to spend some time at your business and perform interviews – it’s time for all of those assets to be reviewed and analyzed. Typically, in preparation for a presentation to you, your agency will take time to review everything on their own. Everything from the visuals to the information gathered during the interview process will be revisited, discussed and assessed for effectiveness, cohesion and value.
One of the simplest yet most effective tasks your agency will perform is evaluating all of your materials together (whether tacked to the wall, spread across the conference table or otherwise) in order to understand how it all works together. It’s often surprising how much can be learned about a brand’s identity by simply looking at it all in one place. You quickly identify the pieces that aren’t communicating the same brand values during this exercise.
During the review, this is the time when all of your materials, from your website to your logo, are judged on how successfully they work together to create the message and vision you have for your brand and company. Each piece should be scored/evaluated by your agency based on their experience of what’s effective and what’s not effective in reaching your goals. This is where it pays to have an agency on your side that understands your industry, products and customers.
Step 4. Competitive Analysis and Where Your Brand Fits In
While we don’t always advocate “keeping up with the Joneses,” a competitive analysis should be part of a brand audit as without this it’s difficult to set a baseline for performance. Not only is it helpful to understand how elements like design, photography and content stack up to the competition, but bench-marking social media reach provides a direct window into how you stack up to your competitors in the eyes of your prospects.
Thus, your agency should be making direct comparisons between your brand assets and digital properties as compared with 2-3 of your top competitors. Not only can this part of the process help you uncover areas where you’re weak in comparison to your top competitors, but you’ll often identify areas where you’re much stronger.
Step 5. Agency Presentation of the Brand Audit to You
Once your agency has had the opportunity to spend the agreed upon amount of time with your assets and interview results, an in-person presentation/discussion should be scheduled to go through the results of the audit. Likely you’ll be presented with a hard or digital copy of a “brand audit document or report,” which will be the key deliverable of the process.
The discussion should begin with the most high-level brand elements you possess (logo, identity package and style guides) and move through your assets in a uniform and logical sequence. The order in which items are reported on and discussed should build upon the foundation of your brand and form a logical picture of the health and cohesiveness of the brand.
In our opinion, the highlights of the competitive analysis and interview process should be saved for last as this phase of the presentation often spurs the most discussion. In addition to having an open discussion of the key takeaways of the interviews, we always provide accurate transcripts of each interview (anonymously) at their full length to our clients.
Step 6. Begin to Diagnose and Prescribe Next Steps
It’s important to understand from the outset that the process of performing a brand audit is to gain an understanding for how effectively your visual brand is working as a cohesive and effective unit. Once a brand audit is complete, you will have a solid foundation for understanding how your brand stacks up, not just visually but also in the eyes of others and to your competitors’ brands.
However, performing a brand audit is more diagnostic than prescriptive. In other words, during the brand audit strengths and weaknesses are identified, but it’s the role of a marketing plan to fully prescribe how to move the brand and its products forward. So we use the performance of a brand audit to get a detailed and complete understanding of where a company and brand is at the beginning of an engagement and once done we begin to prescribe and execute the path forward.
The brand audit process provides us insight that inevitably creates action steps for moving your business forward. Next time you begin to wonder if consumers are seeing your brand through the same lens as you are, consider that it may be time to partner with an expert for a brand audit.