When developing your brand strategy, it helps to know where you stand before deciding where to go. What are your brand’s current strengths and weaknesses? What is the relationship between your employees and your brand? How is it perceived by your customers?
A brand audit is essentially an internal and external review of your brand. Internally, it allows you to understand how your brand is perceived and used by your employees. It helps uncover any contradictions, resistances and other limitations preventing you from presenting a unified vision of your brand. It is also a way to take stock of your current branding elements: those that work, those that don’t, and those that are lacking or underused.
The external review is an analysis of the competitive and wider industry landscapes. It looks at trends impacting your industry as a whole, and can extend to both related and unrelated industries. Lateral thinking is important here, as seemingly unrelated industries can provide inspiration and insights into your own sector. The same is true geographically, as different areas of the world may be at different maturity stages when it comes to branding. When Spark Works, the leading Swiss strategic innovation company, asked us to help them map out their list of competitors, we realised most were actually foreign competitors operating in Switzerland. Looking into how these companies’ brands were performing in their home countries was a prerequisite to figuring out how we could use Spark Work’s home-grown status to better win over Swiss customers.
“Lateral thinking is important, as seemingly unrelated industries can provide inspiration and insights into your own sector. ”
The Low-hanging Fruits of Information
A successful brand audit is essentially information that has been synthesized and structured into a coherent analysis of the brand. When looking for data, you should look for company and customer information, as well as industry and competitor data. And while it may be necessary to commission market research or purchase industry reports, we have found time and time again that company materials and publicly available data offer considerable amounts of often unused or underused data.
Companies are veritable treasure troves of information. Detailed insight into a brand, company and even customer and industry data can be obtained from existing internal documents and interactions with employees. While conducting a brand audit for neogem, a premium sub-brand of construction giant Cemex, we discovered we could not find readily usable external data to match the brand’s reach. neogem was present in different sectors, from landscaping to agriculture and sports, and across more than a dozen geographical markets. Through extended interviews with local teams, we were able to obtain data about the brand, its performance, customer information and even local and regional trends. And although they were not exhaustive, these interviews helped us paint a detailed picture of the business context.
Moving one degree outwards, the next place to look for information is through the customers themselves. In a B2B context, customer relationships are often more personal, human-based. This makes it considerably easier for you or a third party to obtain valuable information. For instance, as part of a brand audit we did for DLCM, an offshoot of the University of Geneva that provides content management solutions for researchers and companies, we spoke to representatives from over a dozen universities. The conversations helped us better understand the market as a whole as well as customer needs and expectations. Additionally, we were able to obtain valuable feedback on the DLCM brand and even information about competitors. Involving customers early on in the auditing phase can thus save you precious time, and may well strengthen your working relationships.
The last component of a brand audit is industry and competitor analysis. The industry review is about understanding the trends likely to affect your brand, from technological changes to shifting design aesthetics. Competitor analysis is an essential step in defining the territory your brand can occupy. By observing how competitor brands behave, you can avoid overused messages and symbols, and at the same time ensure you remain within the range of customer expectations. For example, if all your competitors list a variant of “tradition meets innovation” in their brand story, consider changing yours to reflect slightly different values such as “human-powered innovation”or “modern craftsmanship”.
Once the data has been synthesized and structured, set up a workshop to meet with the people involved in the branding or rebranding process to present, comment and agree on the implications of your audit. When at last all the ingredients are in the bowl and everyone agrees on the recipe, only then can you start cooking.