As a brand strategy is pushed out by a company, it often adapts to environmental pressures that can potentially change or corrupt the desired perception of the brand.
In basic terms, a brand audit is the review in whole, or in part, of a company with respect to it's public perception to ensure the integrity of a company's purpose.
Companies that believe in the relevance of a strong brand and the relative relationship to building a successful business will periodically do a brand audit as an evaluative exercise. It is a checkpoint process that can be performed to make sure that everything relating to the brand is in-line with the company's brand strategy and that negative issues or inconsistencies affecting the brand perception are dealt with before they become problems.
Many small companies operate in a bubble, rarely changing processes, adapting messaging to current market pressures, and losing touch with their reason for being. Often resulting in customer confusion, product, and ignored service value, and diminish sales results.
If a company reaches this state, it's crucial that it take actions to understand and correct the issues that are causing the problem. Is it reputation? Is it a lack of understanding customer need? Is it quality? Is it the competition? Or is it the fact that the company is no longer addressing a favorable position?
A brand audit helps a company identify it's state-of-being in the minds of its customers as well as the market, and it helps determine a strategy for building a favorable position and strengthening a positive brand perception.
Brand audits that can be performed at many different levels, but each inspection must relative to a company's size, budget and time constraints.
An ultimate audit might include every internal and external detail of a business from concept development to product support - from business cards and collateral right through to customer thank you letters. It surveys employees, customers, prospects, stakeholders and the competition at every brand touch-point in hopes to find areas to improve perception, attitude, processes and communications. Such an audit could help a company ensure that whatever their brand stands for, it is being applied at every step from manufacturing to sales and support — walking the talk.
At it's very simplest application, a brand audit may just include a review and evaluation of all company marketing materials, a review of competitive on-line presences, a basic competitive SWOP analysis and a verbal survey of sales personnel.
External perception of a brand comes via an interaction with the brand, and although we can make assumptions as to what the customer wants or how they are experiencing the brand, the customer is our only real authority. Understanding the customer experience helps us determine strengths and weaknesses.
Some companies with huge brand issues ignore audits. Not getting to the root of the problems, they proceeded to re-brand in hopes to wipe the slate clean and repair the damaged brand. Unfortunately, many of these companies end up falling into the same rut they're trying to avoid. In most cases a successful re-brand is more than just a fresh coat of paint, it requires that all the issues that may be causing brand confusion, or negative perception be addressed and fixed before re-brand implementation.
The process determines variables that can be used to measure a company’s performance and sets the groundwork for evaluation and analysis that will point out areas of negative brand issues. Once problem areas have been identified, they can be included in an updated brand strategy and addressed within marketing and communications planning.
The purpose of an audit is to ensure brand integrity (products, services, messaging, internal processes, identity, and promotion, etc.) and to deal with potential negative (alleviate) or positive (capitalize) issues that may be affecting the reputation the brand.
An audit will usually incorporate both an internal and external data collection processes that involve surveys, interviews, and market research. Once an audit has been performed, the data is analyzed and will reveal opportunities, strengths, and problem areas.
With the advent of the internet, many companies now build a brand audit component into their process with after sales surveys, so that they are always monitoring customer perception, and able to control or adjust product or service variables that may affect the perception of the brand.
Understanding all the factors that are affecting the brand, both positive and negative, you can now prepare strategies to fix problems and address concerns.