The Foundational Elements of a Brand Audit

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  • 8/13/2020
    So you want to make sure your brand is performing at its best, huh? Maybe you’re looking to rebrand or create a brand new website, or maybe you’re just checking in to make sure your brand is in tip top shape.
     
    Whatever the case, it’s a good idea for organizations to conduct some version of a brand audit on a regular schedule. Today we’re covering the key brand elements every audit should include as well as the ideal end deliverables your audit should provide and how you can use them to your advantage. Let’s go!
     

    What is a brand audit?

    A brand audit is like an annual physical at your doctor’s office. It’s a checkup to make sure your brand is healthy and performing at its peak. It helps you identify and remedy problem areas, play off your brand strengths and determine brand health relative to the competition.
     
    Many brands undergo a brand audit when they’re interested in making a change within their organization, but there’s nothing wrong with taking a closer look at a brand that’s already performing well. After all, there’s always room for improvement.
     

    The purpose of a brand audit

    A brand audit should have two main goals: identifying your brand’s strengths and weaknesses and positioning it effectively within the market. As a bonus, it also gives you the tools you need to make your brand strengths extra powerful.
     
    There is also an order to these goals. You will need to know your brand’s strengths and weaknesses before you can start positioning or bulking up those strengths.
     
     
    Because your brand encompasses so many moving parts, some of which you don’t even think about on a monthly basis let alone daily, brand auditing can be overwhelming. If you’re putting the time and effort into examining your brand, you need to come out on the other side with helpful information that translates into actionable goals. 
     

    Key elements of a brand audit

    It helps to break the full audit down into categories, or elements. Your brand is made up of a bunch of different elements working together. Examining each one gives you a better view of holistic health, the same way a doctor takes a good, separate look at your eyes, ears, reflexes and heart beat rather than looking at your body as a whole and pronouncing you good to go.
     
    The following are basic brand elements that should be considered. Notes and findings surrounding each element should be documented in a place that the whole team can access as you move through the full brand audit. 
     
     

    Messaging

    Your brand messaging is the perfect place to start. It’s the foundation for the rest of your brand elements and it’s something you have complete control over. Take a look at the following pieces within your brand messaging: 
     
    • Reason to believe copy - this brief description outlines the core values and differences in the company. It articulates the goals and/or purpose of the brand in a concise and uplifting statement.
    • Mission statement - a mission statement is an outward-facing summary of the brand's core purpose and focus.
    • Vision statement - a vision statement is an outward-facing summary of the brand's aspirations and/or long-term goals.
    • Brand attributes - the brand attributes (or guiding principles/brand pillars/etc.) are a collection of adjectives or short sentences that express the elements that the brand is founded on and/or holds up as the most important guiding elements for the brand.
     
    If you have never documented these items, now is the perfect time to gather your team and think through them. If you have already established them previously, take another look and spruce them up a bit. Has your brand changed in a way that should be reflected in your message?
     
    Once you have a good idea of your messaging as a whole, keep it top of mind as you move through the rest of your brand audit. Your messaging should come across in every touch point, leading the charge for how you want the audience to experience your brand.
     

    Website

    Next, move on to auditing your website with messaging in mind. Do you have a consistent message throughout the site, communicated with a consistent tone and voice? 
     
    Then, take a look at your site map. Does it make clear sense and cover every topic you want mentioned on your site? Is it easy to navigate to every page on the site map, or are there pages not easily accessible that require a clearer path for the audience? 
     
    The most helpful tool you have in this audit is common sense. If a page seems difficult to find, it probably is. If the site map and paths seem disorganized, they probably are. For example, if you have a product page in your menu navigation, it should take you to more product details, whether that’s a page of individual products, product subcategories or relevant product information.
     
    Test your website paths by asking someone who rarely visits your site to navigate to a specific page that should be easy to find, like product listings. If they’re lost, that’s a red flag to document in your audit.
     
    When auditing your website, you should also look at content and SEO.
     
    Content: This one is simple: Is there a content strategy in place on your site? Is it being followed and driving results? If there is no strategy or content at all, note this as a potential brand weakness.
     
    SEO: Analyze the technical elements of your website as well. Is each page optimized correctly? Are page titles, H1s and alt texts updated to reflect a relevant keyword? For example, is your products page just called “products” or is it specific to your site, like “apartment decor products?”
     
    An SEO audit also includes a checkup for your online profile in terms of backlinks, citations and directors. Use tools like SEMRush to determine how many backlinks lead back to your site. The more the better! If you have very few backlinks, consider implementing a strategy to build your backlinks via high-quality domains.
     

    Social media

    Okay, now take a breather, because a full website audit is no joke! Now that you’ve got the big brand audit element out of the way, you can consider yourself a seasoned pro as you navigate the rest. 
     
    Next, take a look at your social media profiles. Look at each channel and take note of the following:
     
    • Overall channel health. How many followers does each channel have? What is the engagement rate on each one and how does the audience usually interact with the brand?
    • Are logos, usernames, bios, locations, etc. consistent from channel to channel?
    • Does your username make sense for your brand? If someone took the username you wanted, can you reach out and negotiate to get the handle you want? Or should you change your handle across all other channels for consistency?
    • Does each channel have at least a slightly different message, or are you copying and pasting text across multiple channels?
    • Is your message reflected in your social media posts? 
    • Do you conduct specific campaigns on each channel or is the information generic, potentially repetitive?
     
    Your social media manager is the best source for information on these topics. Ask them these questions and take a minute to ask them one important question: If time, money and labor hours were not a factor, what does a perfect social media presence for your brand look like to them?
     

    Traditional/digital advertising

    Gather all your past advertisements from the last year, including digital and print ads. Put them all in one spot and document your findings.
     
    • Are the ads aesthetically pleasing or eye catching? 
    • Do they reflect your messaging strategy?
    • Do they drive the audience to a specific action? 
    • Do they have common threads woven throughout that reflect your brand, or is every ad extremely different? 
    • How much did each one cost? 
    • Were they successful or saw the results you wanted? 
     
    Note what you like about each ad individually, what you don’t like about each ad and the overall tone and impression you get from viewing your ads all in one spot. Are they all clearly from your brand or could they be from anyone in your industry?
     

    Email/newsletters 

    Gather all email communication sent to customers within the past year, as well as any email newsletter reports from the past year. It may help to print them off to view side by side, depending on how many you have sent. Ask yourself:
     
    • Do these email communications reflect your messaging strategy? (Are you seeing a common thread here? Always go back to messaging!)
    • Does the imagery and overall look reflect your brand?
    • Are the emails well-designed and polished?
    • How often did you send emails?
    • Were the emails personalized in any way?
    • Did each email have a purpose? (If “selling” is your purpose for every email, take a note that it’s time to rethink your strategy!)
     
    Email is a very personal form of communication between you and your audience and, when done well, it can be extremely effective. But if you’re sending a barrage of thrown together emails, that can reflect as a weakness on your brand.
     

    Customer interviews

    Finally, it’s time to go straight to the source. Schedule interviews with your best customers as well as people who are not your customers, but are in your ideal target audience. Ask them questions that help identify areas where they have concerns.
     
    This information is extremely valuable to you. Knowing how your brand is currently perceived by the audience is crucial to helping you identify strengths and weaknesses and gives you a better idea of how your efforts are paying off.
     
    Sample questions you can ask current customers include:
     
    • How often do you make a purchase from [your brand]?
    • Would you recommend [your brand] to a friend?
    • Have you ever recommended it to a friend?
    • What’s your favorite part of [your brand]?
    • What’s your least favorite part of [your brand]?
    • What makes you choose [your brand] over competitors?
    • What areas do you think [your brand] has for improvement?
     

    Any other touch point your audience interacts with

    This category is intentionally general because it’s so unique to every brand. This is the catch-all audit category for any recent marketing collateral or customer communication pieces, bigger content pieces, physical brand installations and events, etc.
     
    Use the same process of examining these pieces from every angle. Do they reflect your messaging strategy, are they representative of your brand, how well did each one perform? Ask your team for their opinions. This is a great spot to identify your brand strengths and weaknesses, but it’s also a good spot to start determining what works for your brand and what doesn’t so that you can be more efficient going forward and potentially try new ideas.
     

    Auditing your brand creative

    Note that while we have touched on creative elements like “overall look and feel” or “imagery” in the audit above, they may seem like an afterthought. That’s not because auditing your creative is unimportant, but because it could be its own audit entirely!
     
    The “look and feel” brand audit of your creative includes sell sheets, menus, packaging, billboards, digital ads, website imagery and layout, logo evaluation and any other general design execution. Your brand identity is such a huge component of a brand audit that it can’t be overlooked entirely, but it’s possible to simplify it by including “look and feel” in your criteria when evaluating your brand touch points. A comprehensive design audit should identify your brand’s visual weaknesses, inconsistencies and misuses. 
     
    If you do choose to conduct a full creative audit, we suggest evaluating each touchpoint separately based on content and messaging, then based on visuals.It’s best to have a professional, third-party designer or someone within your organization trained in graphic design standards conduct this visual audit alongside you.
     

    Conducting a competitive analysis

    Now that you’ve met with your team, documented your findings and audited your full brand, it’s not time to drop the balloons from the ceiling yet, but you do deserve a reward for your hard work! May we suggest ice cream?
     
    Don’t fall into a dessert coma just yet, though, because now that you know your own brand’s strengths and weaknesses, it’s time to conduct the same audit on your competitors.
     
    If you just burst into tears at the very thought of doing this all over again, don’t worry! Your competitive analysis does not require the same scrutiny or keen eye as your own brand’s audit. Remember, the point is to help position your brand within the market. As long as you have a good idea of what your competitors are doing and how they have positioned themselves, you’re able to conduct a successful second half of your audit.
     
    Keep things high-level and organize them into a grid. Each brand element on the top row, each competitor in the first column. Bullet point your notes in each box and include a section at the end with your thoughts on how each competitor has positioned themselves and used their brands strengths to their advantage. 
     
    You may not be able to dive into your competitors’ newsletters from the past year or find their customers to interview, but you can still get a good idea of where their brand stands by looking at their website, social media channels and some of the sites on the first page of results when you Google them.
     
     
    Pro-tip: You can see the ads a brand is running on Facebook and Instagram, including imagery and video. Go to the Page and click See All in the Page Transparency tab. Then select Go to Ad Library and take a look at their ads active in your country.
     

    Putting it all together

    Assure your brain you only need it for one last big push before you can take a nap, and let’s put what you have altogether. 
     
    If your original brand audit notes are messy and written on different scraps of paper around the office, compile them digitally into one document. Sort your observations for each element into three categories: Strengths, weaknesses and miscellaneous. Notes that point out a strength go into strengths, notes that suggest a brand weakness go into weaknesses and notes that are more observational but still useful fall under miscellaneous. 
     
    Then, create one final report outlining your brand’s major strengths and weaknesses. Explain what they are, how you identified them and include 3-5 actionable items you can use to work on weaknesses or better harness your strengths.
     
    Next, create a positioning document. There are multitude of ways to showcase your brand’s positioning, but perhaps the most simple is to outline your positioning strategy, briefly discuss competitors’ current positioning, identify what makes your brand unique and close with why this position will be advantageous to your brand.
     
    Put everything together into a beautiful PDF document, pass it off to a designer to make it look both legible and pretty and then turn your brain off to recharge for a minimum of 24 hours. Netflix marathon anyone?
     
    Brand audits are not for the faint of heart, but they can be incredibly useful in understanding how your marketing efforts are being perceived by your audience. You don’t have to save your brand checkup for a time when you want to rebrand, reposition or create a new website, either. A simplified version of this brand audit conducted annually can be invaluable when it comes to keeping your brand elements healthy and strong.
     
    Put your healthy brand to action with the marketing stories, methodologies, tips and tricks in our Marketing Momentum email newsletter! Click here to subscribe.
    About the author::Madison Letizia is the Director of Communications at thunder::tech. She develops social media strategies that help clients reach their overall marketing goals. An easy way to win a place in her heart is with pasta, Milky Ways or any viral video including a goat.
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