Branding has become so much of a buzzword it’s teetering on the realm of cliché. Before it goes the way of marketing jargon like “best-in-breed” and “world-class,“ let me break down what branding really is. At its core, branding is the communication of your brand’s value. That’s as simple and as complicated as it is.
Your Brand Is More Than Your Logo
It’s not just your logo or your business cards or your slick trade show booth, though all of those things contribute to your brand. Your brand is what you say it is, what your employees think and say about it, and what your customer and the public discerns it to be. That last part is vital because often the public’s perception of your brand is different than what you intend in large and subtle ways.
How Does The Public Perceive Your Brand?
Last month, when I covered positioning your business in an overcrowded industry, I mentioned that analyzing your brand was worthwhile. As I outlined in that blog, if you want to get more attention than your competitors, you have to clearly and compellingly convey your value proposition and differentiators. You also need to know how your business is coming across to prospects and customers, and the best way to achieve that is by performing a brand audit.
The Value of A Brand Audit
While you may be very good at crafting messages and delivering them through various channels like advertising, social media, email, brochures, etc., if you don’t ever analyze how those communications are landing on your target audience, you’re likely sending inadvertent messages. An unbiased brand audit allows you to see the gap between what you want your brand to transmit and what it is communicating.
Often, when a business can pinpoint where those gaps are, they can then become more focused and deliberate in their brand communications, and their marketing spend gets a lot more efficient.
Perform A Brand Audit in Four Steps
A brand audit begins with an assessment of your brand elements, includes an appraisal of your products and services in relation to competitors, continues with a deep dive into customer perceptions, and concludes with analyzing the findings.
- Assess Your Brand Elements
Enlisting an unaffiliated expert is critical to a brand audit, especially for this first section. You’ve seen your name, logo, colors, website, and brochures so many times; they are all old friends to you. You won’t be able to look at them anew, from a completely unbiased perspective, so don’t try to. The longer you’ve had these elements, the more you will believe they are perfect for your business. They may be, or they may be generating what’s called a brand disconnect of which you are completely unaware.
Uncovering A Brand Disconnect
Let’s say, for example; you have an electronics manufacturing business. Your brand colors are black, red, and silver because when you founded the business thirty years ago, those colors looked high tech. Your logo resembles a circuit board because that also looked cool back then.
Between the time you founded the firm and now, computer technology has exploded, the Internet happened, and foreign competition has increased ten-fold. Your customers have many more supplier options, are more technologically savvy, and are far more price-sensitive. In response to these and many other market shifts, the number of products you make has increased 1000%.
When you started your business, your colors and logo accurately signaled what you make. Even though your offerings have changed, you can’t imagine your business without these brand elements. From an expert’s view, however, your logo and brand colors look dated, low-tech, and do not accurately convey what your brand is today. More importantly, these elements are subtly communicating to your audience that you are behind the times. When a company’s branding does not portray what the brand stands for, that’s called a brand disconnect.
Often, the brand disconnect doesn’t end there. It usually filters down to all brand communications, so things like brochures and email newsletters don’t just look old, the messaging isn’t completely conveying the current brand’s value either.
Your brand elements include:
- Brand Colors
- Print & Electronic Communications
- Business Cards
- Email Signatures
- White Papers
- Case Studies
- Social Media Posts
Examine each of these elements against the brand’s value proposition, and in the context of the marketplace to discover where the gap is between what you want to be saying and what you are saying.
- Appraise Your Products and Services
The second part of the brand audit involves appraising your products and services against your top competitors. You have to look soberly at how your offerings are positioned in the market in terms of the packaging, pricing, and features and benefits when compared to challengers. Here again, this is as difficult as asking you to provide an impartial assessment of the beauty and intelligence of your children. You will have a bias in your judgment of how your business stacks up against rivals, especially if you are service-based, so leave this to someone who has experience in brand assessments and no ties to your business. A finished product and service appraisal should provide a clear view of where your business offerings lead and where they fall short, as well as options for improvement.
- Examine Consumer Perceptions
Now that you have scrutinized your brand elements and appraised your offerings against your competitors, it’s time to look at what the consumer thinks of your brand.
Consumer reviews are the cheapest market research you’ll ever find. Review sites like Amazon, CitySearch, Consumer Reviews, Google, Yahoo Local, Yelp, and many more aggregate what people think of your brand. Use consumer review sites to gain insights into how people perceive your value.
Keep in mind; there’s always a few cranks in the crowd. For this kind of analysis, you want to look at the overall sentiment consumers have towards the brand without getting too hung up on the people who are overly exuberant or menacingly unhappy.
There are many social media listening tools available that will alert you when anyone posts something about your brand on social media. And you can set up a Google alert that will email you when your business name or product comes up on the web.
Monitoring social conversations and Internet mentions will help fill in the picture of your brand. Even if there are thousands of social mentions, you can track sentiment as either positive, negative, or neutral. These conversations can also be analyzed in more depth to find the subtle brand perceptions that are influencing buyers.
There are any number of market research tools available to discover what customers and prospective customers think of your brand. Customer surveys, focus groups, and interviews are all useful in different situations. Any one can help you discover how aware of your brand the consumer is and what your brand’s image is in their eyes.
- Analyze the Findings
The last step in a brand audit is putting all your findings together to create an action plan. It’s not enough to see where the gaps are between what you want to be communicating and what the consumer is perceiving. You have to take action to decrease those gaps.
For example, let’s say when you analyzed your consumer reviews and measured the sentiment in social media, you discovered that many people are frustrated with your website. As an electronics company, technology is the last thing you want causing friction in your customers’ experience. (That’s a brand disconnect.)
With this information, you then have the opportunity to fix the problems on your website that are hindering the shopping experience. (You should be analyzing your web traffic’s behavior on your website, but that’s a subject for another day.)
A brand audit will uncover many gaps like this example. The value to you is that you gain a clear picture of where your brand sits in the marketplace compared to competitors and where it is in the mind of consumers. Without a brand audit, you’re guessing and assuming and it’s probably costing you money you don’t even know you’re misspending.
Is it time for a brand audit? Contact us and let’s discuss it.