THE BLOG
11/21/2014 12:53 pm ET Updated Jan 20, 2015

Why You Need a Brand Audit (and How to Perform One)

Consider your brand a living thing. It has a unique personality and characteristics you can't fully control. Over time, you can watch it grow, nurture it, and guide it to fit its environment perfectly. But sometimes your brand begins to deviate from the factors that support it, and your strategies start to suffer as a result.

Of course, your branding is a lynchpin for your overall company strategy. It defines your identity, both to your internal employees and your external customers, and dictates the messaging and actions you take to move the company forward. Allowing your brand to deteriorate, or failing to update your brand in response to new environmental factors like changing demographics or new products, is a major mistake that can cost you your loyal customers and prevent you from finding new ones.

A brand audit can prevent this from happening by analyzing your current position and providing new insights into your brand.

What Is a Brand Audit?

In the most general terms, a brand audit is a detailed analysis of your brand in its current state. By determining which qualities of your brand are currently effective and which ones are not, you can restructure your identity and your messaging goals to produce better results. That's the corporate-speak way of saying it. The plain way to say it is this: you're giving your brand a makeover, but first you need to find out what's in style.

Over the course of your brand audit, you'll take a look at your current branding, which includes, among other qualities:

  • The standards of your brand image and voice
  • The demographics of your target audience
  • The mission and strategic objectives of your company
  • The strategies you use to reach your goals

Since brands tend to become less relevant gradually, it's hard to pinpoint the exact moment when a brand needs to be updated. It's even harder to notice dwindling audience numbers or unfocused messaging when your objective data does not indicate a single identifiable instance of disinterest. Still, it's important to be as objective as possible during the brand audit. You need to base your analysis on measurable metrics, not subjective opinions.

Once you have a good understanding of what's currently right or wrong with your brand, you can create an action plan to readjust your standards and a marketing strategy to support it.

Can I Do This Alone?

No two companies are the same, so what works for one brand audit may not work for another. For a large corporation with a director of marketing and a team of people capable of performing marketing research, it's entirely possible to execute a brand audit internally without any additional help.

However, for a small business with limited resources, the task is much more difficult. Don't try to perform the brand analysis completely on your own or you'll run the risk of skewing the data with your own biased opinions of the brand (whether those opinions support your old brand or an overhaul). Instead, work with a team of individuals inside or outside your company that can help you execute tasks, gather information, and form an objective conclusion.

There are many firms that specialize in market research and even more that specialize in branding, and for the most part, you get what you pay for. If you invest in your brand by working with a team of true experts, you tend to get far better results than trying to shoulder the burden yourself without any outside perspectives. Executing your new branding and marketing strategy requires an even stronger level of effort in order to see a return on your investment.

Evaluating Your Identity

If you want to perform a brand audit in-house, or if you want to get some preliminary ideas before working with an outside firm, the first step is to evaluate your current identity. Your identity as a company is composed of several interactive components, including:

  • Your company name and tagline
  • Your logo, signature graphics, and company colors
  • Sounds and styles that characterize your company
  • Your voice and tone of messaging

Hopefully, you know these elements of your identity well. The point of a brand audit is to determine how accurate they are, how effective they are, and what areas you can improve on without alienating your current audience.

Surveys are one of the most important tools you can use to accomplish this. Internal surveys, distributed within your company, give you an objective overview of your team's opinion on the overall brand. External surveys, distributed to your current customers and potential customers, give you a better sense of your target audience's perspective on your identity.

Some example questions to ask include:

  • How does this logo make you feel? What are your first thoughts when seeing it?
  • Does this tagline accurately and concisely convey the mission and identity of the company?
  • Is our written material appealing? If so, what do you like about it? If not, what turns you off?
  • What, if anything would make you like this brand more? What would make you like it less?

Asking open-ended questions like these and compiling the data can give you a general overview of your current position. Market research, executed at a higher level and with more quantitative data than qualitative data, can give you complementary insights to your current demographics and what their needs are.

Evaluating Your Strategies

Once you have a solid understanding of where your identity fits in the present, you can look to your current marketing strategies for an objective analysis of your performance. Some of the metrics you should look at include:

  • Web traffic data, including how many new visitors you receive and where they're coming from
  • Marketing channel statistics to compare the effectiveness of your different messaging platforms (e.g., various social media platforms, traditional advertising, etc.)
  • Return on investment for your various marketing campaigns
  • Brand awareness in your target demographic

When you start analyzing your strategies, you'll also want to do a competitive analysis. Find out what your competitors are doing, who they're talking to, why they're talking to them, and how effective they are at it. Seeing your competitors' recent efforts can give you a good sense of whether your brand is falling behind. Again, objective data is what's important here--find out as much as you can about your competitors' overall reach, sales revenue, and brand awareness compared to yours.

Making an Action Plan

Deciding what to do once you have all the information is the hardest part of the process. From a pure branding perspective you have three major options:

  • Keep your identity the way it is
  • Overhaul your identity
  • Keep your identity, but refresh it to more closely align with your company goals

Most brand audits result in a pursuit of option three: it's a compromise that maintains your brand for your loyal customers but adjusts it to compensate for your changing environment. Once you make the decision for your brand, you'll need to put together a full action plan for rolling out the changes, including an extended timeline and clear delegation of responsibilities both inside and outside your company.

Whether you opt for a full rebrand or just a handful of simple adjustments, it's important to follow up over the course of the next few months and measure the results of your efforts. Only then will you be able to determine whether the rebrand was successful, or if further adjustments are necessary. Branding is a recursive process that responds to its environment regularly, so perform brand audits every few years to measure your identity and performance against your goals.