How to Conduct a Brand Audit: 6-Step Guide for Big Brands
Mar 25, 2022|Read time: 11 min.
- A brand audit helps brands assess their strengths and weaknesses, identify areas for improvement, and develop a plan to strengthen their brand identity.
- Brand audits include both internal branding elements, like mission statement and values, and external elements, like social media, PR, etc.
- A brand audit is beneficial because it can help you objectively evaluate your brand and make course corrections if needed.
A company rises and falls on the strength of its brand. Companies with strong brands attract more customers, more easily fend off competition, and position themselves for growth. That’s why it’s so important for marketing teams to conduct a brand audit.
What is a brand audit?
A brand audit is a detailed examination of all aspects of a brand, including its history, mission, vision, values, target markets, products and services, marketing mix, and competitive landscape.
It helps brands assess their strengths and weaknesses, identify areas for improvement, and develop a plan to strengthen their brand identity.
A brand audit covers, at a minimum, these three areas:
What is the DNA of the brand? What does the brand stand for, what are the brand values, and how would your customers describe your brand? How well does the target market understand the brand? What are the key brand messages, and are they being communicated effectively? How strong is the emotional connection between the brand and customers? What is the overall customer experience like?
Where does the brand fit in the overall market? How do the brand’s products or services stack up against the competition? How does the pricing compare against similar brands? Is the brand targeting the right market segments?
How effective is brand management? How does the target audience feel about the brand? Do products and services meet customer needs and expectations? Is the brand being managed in a way that is consistent with its strategic identity and positioning? Is brand equity increasing over time?
To put it another way, a brand audit should be both internal and external in orientation. It should encompass internal branding elements, like values, mission, company culture, etc. It should also cover external branding elements, like PR, social media, search engine optimization (SEO), customer relations, content marketing, customer support, and more.
At a minimum, a brand audit answers the following questions:
- Who do we want to be as a brand?
- Are our actions aligned with our goals?
- Are our brand values clear, and do they resonate with the target audience?
When you’re in the trenches of a business on a daily basis, it may be difficult to step back and see how your brand looks through the eyes of your target audience. That’s where a brand audit serves you well. It can help you objectively evaluate your brand and make course corrections if needed.
Why you should conduct a brand audit
A brand assessment might seem like an abstract, vague concept without clear objectives. However, there are several concrete benefits of conducting a brand audit.
Brand audits help measure market performance
First, performing a brand audit allows you to measure your overall market performance. The process forces you to revisit your primary business objectives, the metrics and KPIs tied to those objectives, and your brand’s overall performance compared to those KPIs.
During the brand audit process, you may discover one of two things:
- Existing brand guidelines don’t match your current brand
- Published content and/or business actions that aren’t aligned with your brand
Conducting a brand audit gives you clarity regarding how your brand is performing against your established KPIs and guidelines.
Brand audits reveal target audience needs
Second, a brand audit clarifies the needs of your target audience. The process uncovers details about their motivations, their purchase behaviors, and critical customer touch points with your brand along the buying journey.
You’ll learn more about the users within your target market, what they want from your brand, and how to reach them throughout the customer lifecycle.
Obviously, understanding the needs of your target audience helps you improve your products or services. But it also helps you craft marketing campaigns that tap into the desires and goals of your audience.
Brand audits help compare your competitive position
Third, a brand audit can help you gain a better understanding of your competitive position. You’ll be able to see how well you stack up against competitor brands in terms of product offerings, marketing strategy, and target customers. This information can help you adjust your business strategy as needed to stay ahead of the competition.
It’s also important to note that a brand audit can help you identify potential new markets or niches for your brand to enter. As you compare your brand against your competitors, you can identify underserved areas of the market that you could tap into.
Additionally, you can compare the overall sentiment around your brand versus your competitors. For example, if a competitor is known for selling high-quality products, you can determine whether you want to compete against them in terms of product quality or pursue another brand differentiator, like price or service.
Brand audits help protect your brand
A key benefit of a brand audit is increased brand protection. As any business grows, it faces increased scrutiny from consumers, regulators, and the general public. Expectations are high that you’ll be a good social and environmental steward, and you’ll deliver on your brand promises.
When your brand messaging strays from your core values, it can harm your company reputation. A brand audit catches these inconsistencies before they impact customer perception.
When to conduct a brand audit
Ideally, you should perform a brand audit once every few years to ensure your brand strategy is cohesive and all departments are operating in alignment with your core values.
However, there are also specific circumstances that, when they arise, merit a brand audit.
Marketing campaigns underperform
If your marketing efforts are underperforming, it could be a sign that your content is not consistent with your brand. Maybe the brand messaging doesn’t resonate with your target audience, or the visual identity is jarring. Perhaps the value proposition or brand promise is weak. Or maybe the brand is being tone-deaf to world events.
In these cases, conducting a brand audit can pinpoint the disconnect so you can fix it.
An example of this was when Coca-Cola changed its classic formula and rebranded their soda as “New Coke.” The public reception was almost immediately and comprehensively negative, showing the company didn’t understand their target audience well. Within three months, Coca-Cola went back to their original formula and saw a corresponding surge in sales.
If you launch a marketing campaign and the results are mediocre, it could mean:
- Your campaign moved away from the core brand values that initially attracted new customers.
- Your core values have shifted and no longer resonate with your target demographic.
Performing a brand audit helps you identify the root of the problem and resolve it as quickly as possible.
Before a brand refresh or rebranding
If you’re considering a brand refresh or rebranding, it’s important to perform a brand audit first. This will help you get a clear idea of what your current brand stands for, what elements need to be kept, and what needs to be changed. Performing a brand audit before any drastic changes are made can help ensure the end result is cohesive and on-brand.
Gap learned this the hard way when they implemented a logo change back in 2010. Gap greatly underestimated the emotional connection that loyal customers had to the longstanding logo and the change resulted in a huge backlash for the brand. Less than one week after the launch of the new logo, Gap decided to return to the original.
If they had done a brand audit first, they may have saved a lot of time, money, and their brand reputation.
A brand refresh or rebranding also gives you the opportunity to reevaluate your core values and determine whether they still reflect who you are as a brand. If they don’t, you can shape your values to better reflect your brand and then change your branding materials to more accurately reflect your new values.
Customer loyalty is lacking
If you notice that customer loyalty is declining, it may be a sign that your brand isn’t as strong as it once was. Maybe you began to favor safety over innovation, and edgier startups stole some of your market share. Or perhaps stakeholders prioritized better margins over user experience and an improved sales process.
Conducting a brand audit can reveal why the relationship with your customers changed, and how to win them back.
Target audience is not responding to the existing brand identity
If your buyer personas aren’t responding well to your current brand identity, it either means you don’t understand your audience or that something is off with the brand identity you’ve built.
Performing a brand audit can help you get to the bottom of the problem and make the necessary changes so that your target audience starts responding to your branding efforts. The use of an empathy map can help your organization gain important insight into customers’ needs and wants.
Example of a successful brand audit
In the 1990s, Nike was facing significant competition from Reebok. As a result, Nike’s market share began to decline.
Nike conducted a brand audit and discovered they needed to connect with the everyday wearer, not just top athletes.
As Nike founder Phil Knight told the Harvard Business Review:
“The problems forced us to take a hard look at what we were doing, what was going wrong, what we were good at, and where we wanted to go. When we did that, we came to see that focusing solely on the product was a great way for a brand to start, but it just wasn’t enough. We had to fill in the blanks, starting with understanding who the consumer is and what the brand represents.”
In other words, performing a brand audit helped Phil Knight and his team to realize that they didn’t understand a significant portion of their customer base. They were able to adjust accordingly and eventually become the shoe juggernaut they are today.
How to conduct a brand audit
To keep your brand audit project on track and aligned with business goals, follow these six steps.
6 Steps to conduct a brand audit
- Determine goals
- Conduct an audience survey
- Audit website analytics
- Audit social media profiles
- Evaluate your competitors
- Review brand assets
1. Determine goals
Before you do take any specific actions, determine what you want your brand audit to achieve. For example, do you want to:
- Improve brand clarity
- Revitalize a declining brand
- Grow brand awareness
- Strengthen customer loyalty
Having a clear set of goals in mind gives you much more clarity throughout the brand audit process. Your goals can guide the information you collect, what team members are involved, and the actions you take a result of the audit.
2. Conduct an audience survey
One of the most effective ways to discover how your target audience feels about your brand is to gather Voice of the Customer feedback. Whether you send out questionnaires, ask for reviews, or measure your Net Promoter Score (NPS), customer insights are crucial to your success.
There are several different types of questions you can ask, but some examples include:
- What words come to mind when you think of our brand?
- How likely are you to recommend our brand to a friend?
- Which channels do you prefer for interacting with us?
- What do you think we’re doing well?
- What could we be doing better?
Make sure the questions are open ended and don’t lead people to answer in a particular way. You want honest feedback, even if it’s not all positive.
3. Audit your website analytics
Another effective way to understand your audience is to look at your web analytics and sales data. This data can uncover which pages are most visited, how long people engage with your site, and what devices they use to access it.
You can also use this data to determine which marketing channels are driving the most traffic and conversions for you. This is valuable information to help you make decisions about where to allocate your resources going forward.
Some important SEO metrics to look at include:
- Bounce rate
- Pages per session
- Session duration
- Traffic sources (e.g., organic, direct, referrals)
- Conversion rate
- Device types
Additionally, behavioral analytics might reveal areas of your site that are confusing or difficult for visitors to navigate. For example, you might notice most users who visit a certain section of your website return to the home page after a few seconds. This may indicate a problem with that section, including misaligned content, confusing navigation, or other usability issues.
4. Audit social media channels
Auditing your social media channels provides you with valuable information, both about your brand and your audience. As you audit your social channels, attempt to answer these questions:
- Is our brand voice consistent across all platforms?
- Do our social posts align with our brand values?
- Do our social media channels reflect our brand identity?
- Are we regularly engaged with our followers?
- Do we share a variety of content marketing types?
- On what platform are our fans most engaged with our content?
Social analytics tools like Sprout Social, Hootsuite, or CoSchedule can provide you with detailed insights regarding your activity across all platforms, making it easier to gain the full picture.
5. Evaluate competitors
Part of any good brand audit is doing a competitor analysis. This will give you an idea of what’s working well for them, and opportunities for you to differentiate your own brand.
Make an effort to determine your competitor’s:
- Precise target audience
- Marketing strategies
- Marketing channels
- Core strengths
- Potential weaknesses
- Market positioning
- Overlap between your brand and theirs
- Brand distinctions
If you need a more defined structure for evaluating your competition, the SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) can be helpful. It helps you carefully analyze your own brand compared to the competitive landscape. The insights you gain can then be used to strengthen your position relative to your competitors.
6. Review brand assets
Your brand assets are all the elements that make up your brand identity, including things like your logo, fonts, colors, and taglines. As part of your brand audit, it’s important to review all these elements and ensure they still accurately reflect your brand.
If you change anything (e.g., you redesign your logo, update your color palette, etc.), update all of your brand assets to be consistent. Otherwise, you risk sending mixed messages to your audience and confusing them about your brand identity.
Follow the above brand audit methodology to develop a game plan that aligns your company vision with your customers’ needs and expectations.
Distribute your findings to the appropriate parties and delegate tasks accordingly. It’s critical to develop an action plan so you know how to move forward collectively.
Conducting a brand audit is a challenge, especially if your brand is well known or has experienced harsh public scrutiny. But it’s a worthwhile endeavor. Your brand is, arguably, your most important asset. Performing brand audits on a regular basis ensures that it stays healthy.