Research and Discovery: Audits
What Is an Audit?
This article continues examining, in depth, the parts of the branding process that I introduced in my e-book, 17 Mistakes that Can Harm Your Brand. In the book I outline five phases of the branding process:
This article covers the fourth part of the Research and Discovery phase of the branding process—audits. When it comes to the audit portion of the branding process there are several things that need to be considered. Running audits can be tedious and at times feel time consuming. While there may be an element of truth to this, the only truth you need to realize is that the more thorough you are with your audits and the more you focus on being meticulous, the better the results.
Your audit can help determine your place within your market, what your key differentiators are, and help you focus on your unique selling proposition (USP). There are many parts to doing a full audit successfully. There are marketing, competitive, technology, legal, and messaging audits that should all be taken seriously. To better help you let’s take a look at these different audits and give you better understanding into what goes into each.
Marketing audits take a close look at the communication, brand identity system, and marketing methods that might be in place or will need to be put into place for the brand. It is important and imperative to look at and identify all major touchpointsof how your brand interacts with customers, both potential and repeat. Understanding and knowing the different ways your brand will interact through these touchpoints allows you to grasp and understand the larger picture. Through knowing your touchpoints, you also are able to identify the common materials that will be most important and a central focus of your brand’s success. These touchpoints include items such as packaging, sales collateral, and even your website. If you have not created a standard for these items (and many others), determining what items you need to focus on will allow you to later create a brand style guide that maintains your vision.
Marketing audits also contribute to the creation of your processes. How will your brand organize, maintain, store, retrieve, and document everything you do? Your processes are one key area in which you can be separated from your competitors. Anyone can copy a product or idea, but the trick is to create a process that sets you apart from your competition.
A marketing audit should gather information from outside influences. How is your organization looked at by those involved in your market? Does your brand convey what you think it does? Solicit feedback from any party you consider important to the success of your brand. Look to the past as well—what can you gather from the history of the market that you are trying to influence? Looking at the past leads you to the next audit.
Competitive audits allow you to gain a better understanding as to what else is happening in the market that you are entering. During a competitive audit, you want to learn all you can about those you’re competing against. Who are the leaders in the market you’re entering? You need to stay focused on your market; don’t get distracted by the happenings of a market leader in another category. Once you identify your lead competitors, look at “lesser” competitors. Once you have a basis as to all of your competitors, identify their strengths and weaknesses. Which brand relates best with your market’s buyers? Do any of your competitors leave customer need “by the wayside?” Can you quickly absorb those customers into your brand strategy?
Competitive audits are an ideal time for running focus groups. Focus groups allow your brand to gauge potential consumer response and perceptions of your brand and its offering(s) before you invest large amounts of money into production. As with everything else in a competitive audit, the results should focus on your consumers and how your brand stands apart from others in the same market.
In today’s world, technology constantly needs to be a focus of any brand. Even if your brand offering is not perceived as technological, technology will have a bearing on the success of your brand. During your audit, you need to identify all of the varying amounts technology related to the management of your brand. If you’re a single-operator brand, you probably have one or two computers that you use. Are these computers backed up? If you’re a larger company you may have hundreds of computers. Are they being backed up? What devices are connected to your network? Is there a possibility of them leaving your network vulnerable to attack or other malicious activity? A company I worked with had their IT department run an audit and discovered an open wireless network that was not maintained by the company. It took some time to discover a member of the sales team had installed their own personal router which was unprotected. While not done maliciously, this employee’s actions could have allowed anyone access to the company’s servers and all proprietary files.
What physical software or SAAS (software as a service) is being utilized? Is the software being used in full compliance? It is not uncommon for employees of businesses, no matter their size, to purchase software or signup for a SAAS and then share installation discs or passwords for login. This opens your brand up to violation of terms of services, which can lead to legal issues and fines.
Technology audits can also help in regulatory requirements and industry changes. Recently the European Union made changes that impacted companies world-wide. These changes are all related to technological use and how companies retain, use, and disseminate information gathered on websites and through other electronic media. These changes impose significant fines and penalties for any business that potentially does business with an EU citizen. The impact of such regulatory changes can be minimized by frequently engaging in technology audits.
Legal audits should identify areas in which your brand could have potential legal issues. With technology audits, we touched on the potential fines that can be imposed by regulatory policies. Does your brand offer a warranty? Are there warranties that are automatically offered to residents of a certain area, known as “implied warranties?” Warranties can extend beyond what might be stated in what is often called a warranty booklet or printed guarantee. Do your marketing and sales offers give a perception that a product will last longer than what is outlined in your warranty booklet?
Legal audits also show how your brand might be impacted by certain actions of employees. Knowing beforehand can help in creation of an employee handbook and other HR policies.
Is your brand protected from Infringement? Intellectual property (IP) is a valuable part of any brand and needs to be protected in all instances. If you fail to protect your brand in one instance you may not be able to legally protect your brand in subsequent infringements. Many people look at Disney as being ruthless when it comes to protecting their IP. What they fail to realize is that they have to be—to maintain their IP rights they have to pursue all potential infractions they discover.
Does your brand offer contracts and agreements? Have you entered into agreements with other brands? What are the legal ramifications for your brand because of these agreements? Even dealing with a perceived small simple service can have huge implications for a brand and its company. I worked with a company that had purchased a stock photo from a website and used the image in a way that was in-line with the terms of service. A potential fine of the higher six figures arose because the company acquired the image as part of a subscription plan, then quit the subscription years later in a cost-cutting maneuver. The terms of service stated that the image could be used as long as the subscription was maintained, however the company was still using the image unaware that it violated the usage rights.
Dealing with legalities can cause anxiety and confusion, but running legal audits early can lead to fewer headaches and financial repercussions.
Messaging audits (sometimes referred to as content audits, voice audits, or language audits) are the audits many brands strive to accomplish however many fail to do. Messaging audits help determine how a brand will present itself to consumers and the world. Established brands are always wanting to know how to communicate their brand more effectively.
Running a messaging audit can help answer several questions related to your brand’s perception. Looking at the various brand touchpoints your brand is involved with, you can determine and setup cohesive communication for each touchpoint. Do your customer service communications relate to the marketing brochure or the marketing e-mails your customers receive? Is there confusion between the various areas of your business and the messaging provided from those areas? Does your messaging position you as the leader in your market? Does your messaging show how you stand out above your competition?
Completing your messaging audit should be the last audit performed as you prepare to move into the last two parts of the Research and Discovery phase of branding. Audits can be very time consuming; each audit can take weeks to complete. The results, however, can be long lasting and should shape your brand for years to come.
What audit will you start on this week? Which audit do you feel will take the most time to complete? Let us know your audit-related questions below.
Brand Touchpoints: The various methods in which a brand interacts with others. Touchpoints include the people, places, or items that enable communication between your brand and customers and potential customers.
Brand Style Guide: A list of rules and requirements for representing the company visually, in text, video, in person, and more. The more specific and cohesive, the better an organization will appear to potential and existing customers.
Focus Group: a group of demographically diverse people brought together to participate in guided conversations. Focus groups are often used before product launches, for information gathering, and in gaining insights to issues related to the brand, product, or business hosting the focus group.
Intellectual property:Any work or invention derived through a creative process, such as product design, which can be protected under patent, trademark, copyright, etc.