A brand audit is one of the best ways to measure the strength and performance of your brand.

But, if you’re like most companies, you may not have ever heard of a brand audit, let alone actually audited your brand.

Whether you’re a CEO wondering whether to rebrand or a marketing manager feeling pressure from your higher-ups, a brand audit is an invaluable tool.

It’s the only way to get a comprehensive understanding of where your brand stands today, so you can make informed decisions about tomorrow.

In this post, we’ll look at why a brand audit is so invaluable. We’ll explore the “what?” “when?” and “why?” of brand audits, before showing you a proven six-step process for doing a brand audit of your own.

CONTENTS

What is a Brand Audit?

A brand audit is a detailed analysis and assessment of a brand, including its position in the marketplace.

A brand audit includes a broad survey of the brand’s competitive landscape, as well as a deeper analysis of the brand being audited and a select number of its top competitors.

The purpose of a brand audit is to assess a brand’s strengths and weaknesses against the strengths and weaknesses of its top competitors, and to identify opportunities for differentiation within the competitive landscape.

A brand audit report documents the findings of the audit and outlines recommendations for competitive differentiation and the improvement of overall brand performance.

Why Should You Do a Brand Audit?

brands-collage
If you’re looking to better understand your brand’s performance, there’s no better place to start than with a brand audit. But the benefits of an audit don’t stop there.

They range from improving the consistency of your marketing initiatives to increasing customer acquisition to maximizing brand equity.

The following are just a few of the tangible benefits a brand audit offers, each of which can have a measurable impact on your bottom line:

Enhance Brand Clarity

The brand assessment you get with an audit enables you to clearly understand what’s currently working and not working with your brand, so you can make important decisions about its future with insight and clarity.

The clearer you are about the direction of your brand, the clearer your brand experience will be for your customers.

Improve Marketing Consistency

When it comes to your brand, consistency is key to building trust and credibility. An audit can reveal inconsistencies that may exist across your marketing channels.

It’s hard to accurately assess the consistency of your marketing without the type of holistic, objective brand evaluation that an audit provides.

Enhance Competitive Differentiation

How differentiated is your brand from the competition? Is your competitive advantage defined merely in terms of features and benefits or have you set yourself apart as substantively, authentically different?

An audit helps you identify opportunities for true differentiation, beyond surface-level distinctions.

Increase Customer Acquisition

The better positioned you are, the better you’re able to target your highest value customers.

Not only does a brand audit help you identify opportunities for differentiation, it also gives you the tools to hone your brand positioning so you can precisely target ideal customers with custom-tailored messaging.

Command Premium Pricing

Customers will always be willing to pay a little more for a premium brand. And what makes a brand “premium” is largely a matter of positioning.

A brand audit gives you the insight you need to position your brand as premium, enabling you to command premium pricing.

Maximize Brand Equity

As we’ve explored in our post on the ROI of branding, brand value accounts for up to 40 percent of the total value of a company.

Maximizing brand equity is one of the most effective and efficient ways to increase the overall value of your company.

A brand assessment by way of an audit is one of the best ways to evaluate your brand equity so that you can pinpoint ways to increase it.

When Should You Do a Brand Audit?

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As a multifaceted tool, an audit can give you answers to a number of different questions. There are a few scenarios when an audit is optimal, if not imperative:

Deciding Whether to Rebrand

If you’re not sure whether it’s time to rebrand your business, an audit is an excellent way to find out.

One of the biggest concerns I hear from CEOs and marketing executives is “How do I know it’s time for a rebrand?” Any good brand audit example will include the answer to this question.

Building a Case to Rebrand

If you’re responsible for brand management in your company and you need to make a case for updating that brand, an audit is the best place to start.

A systematic assessment of your brand’s strengths and weaknesses vis-à-vis your top competitors, a professionally produced audit report gives you the firepower you need to make a rock-solid case for a refresh or rebrand.

During a Rebrand

If you’ve already decided to rebrand your company, a brand audit should be one of the first steps in the process.

Before you can get to the business of repositioning your brand, reimagining your logo, or redesigning your website, you need to know where your current brand stands within the competitive landscape.

More often than not, your current brand will have certain strengths and/or equity that you’ll want to carry over into its new iteration. It will likely also have weaknesses that you’ll want to be certain you leave behind.

Preparing to Expand into a New Vertical

Looking to extend your market presence into a new industry or vertical? A competitive brand audit can provide much-needed insight into how your brand stacks up against a new competitive landscape.

Taking a close look at your brand’s positioning as it relates to the positioning of the new vertical’s top brands can reveal valuable marketplace niches to capitalize on.

Failing to Differentiate Yourself from the Competition

At the end of the day, corporate branding is all about competitive differentiation.

If you feel like your brand is lost in a sea of marketplace sameness, a brand audit can help you identify areas for radical differentiation.

The insights that a brand audit returns enable you to carefully reposition your brand so that is more visible to consumers searching for the unique solutions you provide.

Undergoing a Merger or Acquisition

Mergers and acquisitions should always be looked at as a time for reassessment. This is especially true when it comes to branding in private equity.

A brand audit gives you the critical tools to see how the acquired brand or brands fit into the positioning, personality, and architecture of the parent company.

All too often companies fail to think this through, resulting in marketplace confusion that devalues all of the brands involved in the merger.

Failing to Attract Top Talent

The best talent wants to work with the best brands. It’s as simple as that.

If you’re having trouble recruiting the caliber of employees that is necessary for the advancement of your business, it might be because your brand is poorly positioned or undifferentiated.

A brand audit allows you to see precisely what might be hampering your recruiting efforts. It gives you the insight you need to improve your employer branding, so that your brand is optimally positioned not just for your customers, but for your current and future employees as well.

Trying to Connect with a New Audience

The marketplace sway of millennials is quickly giving way to the whims of Gen Z. Is your brand ready?

There will always another generation hot on the heels of those who are spending money in the current marketplace.

A brand audit allows you to better understand your brand within the competitive landscape so that you can redefine it with the goal of reaching these new and untapped audiences.

Staying on top of demographic shifts is simply good business. The last thing a savvy young demographic wants, after all, is to associate itself with the stodgy brands of their parents’ generation.

Periodic Brand Maintenance

As mentioned earlier, brand audits are part of the ongoing maintenance of any brand to ensure the momentum initialized during brand activation.

If you want to stay on top of changes in the marketplace and remain relevant in the fickle minds of consumers, it’s critical to audit your brand at least once a year.

The findings can allow you to make slight adjustments to positioning and messaging that will ensure your brand is performing at its best.

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Whatever you do, don’t wait until it’s too late to do a brand audit. If your brand is already starting to feel stale and irrelevant, you shouldn’t waste another minute before getting started on a brand audit to pinpoint opportunities for improvement.

If you’ve never considered auditing your brand, don’t worry, you’re not alone. Most of our clients had never done a brand audit before working with us. But all of them are better off having done one.

How to Do a Brand Audit

We’ve done countless brand audits over the years, each of which has helped to inform and improve our methodology. If you’d like to do an audit of your own, we’ve outlined six important steps to follow:

Step 1: Identify Competitors

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The first step is to survey the competitive landscape and come up with a list of companies that offer similar products or services as your own brand.

The length of the list depends entirely on which vertical you’re operating in—you want the list to be comprehensive but not unreasonable.

After compiling a master list, the next step is to prioritize your top 5 to 10 competitors to focus on for the more in-depth parts of the audit.

You may think your brand offers such niche products or services that “competition” in the traditional sense does not exist.

But no brand operates in a vacuum. There are always relevant similar brands that can be considered in the audit process.

Some questions to ask when identifying competitors include:

  • Who are your brand’s direct competitors?
  • What are some brands that offer similar products or services?
  • What are the benchmark or aspirational brands in your industry?
  • What are some industry directories or resources to review?

Step 2: Gather Assets

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With a list of your top 5 to 10 competitors in hand, begin collecting relevant assets from each brand to analyze during your audit.

You’ll be gathering assets from both your competitors and your own brand. As you collect the assets, compile them in separate folders for later analysis.

Some questions to ask when gathering assets include:

  • What types of touchpoints best embody each brand?
  • Which assets best illustrate visual identity?
  • Which assets best represent verbal identity?

Spend time on company websites, social media channels, press releases, videos, etc. It probably goes without saying that the more thorough you are in gathering information, the more useful your findings will be.

What types of assets should you collect? The following brand audit example list should get you started:

Visual Identity Assets

  • Logos
  • Company names
  • Product and service names
  • Taglines and slogans
  • Trademarks
  • Brand guidelines

Business Stationery Assets

  • Business Cards
  • Letterheads
  • Envelopes
  • Notebooks
  • Folders

Sales and Marketing Assets

  • Sales and product literature
  • Brochures, flyers, posters
  • Newsletters
  • Email campaign templates
  • Advertising campaigns
  • Investor relations materials
  • Annual reports
  • Seminar literature
  • PowerPoint presentations
  • Awards

Electronic Communication Assets

  • Websites
  • Content
  • Photography
  • Video
  • Blogs
  • Apps

Environmental Application Assets

  • Signage
  • Retail stores
  • Showrooms
  • Events
  • Trade show booths
  • Banners

Internal Communication Assets

  • Employee communications
  • Internal newsletters
  • Employee handbook
  • Quarterly or annual meeting presentations
  • Ephemera (T-shirts, apparel, pens, etc.)
  • Holiday greetings

Retail Material Assets

  • Packaging
  • Promotions
  • Shopping bags
  • Menus
  • Merchandises
  • Displays

And don’t stop there. Visit retail outlets, use products and services, experience the sales process, talk to customer service, etc. The goal is to experience the competitor brand in the same way a customer would.

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It’s also beneficial to determine how each competitor brand has structured its brand architecture and naming conventions.

Is the architecture of sub-brands, products, and/or services intuitive and cross-promotional or confusing and fractured? What types of brand names does the company use?

Each insight into how a competitor’s brand is manifested out in the world is another opportunity for differentiation.

Step 3: Analyze Verbal Identity

brand-analysis

The verbal identity analysis examines the linguistic content of each of your competitors with the goal of distilling insights as to the messaging the brand conveys and the style and tone of the voice in which the messaging is conveyed.

In analyzing the materials you gathered in Step 2, you’re looking for key learnings about the company and its products or services, as well as the brand voice it uses.

Some questions to consider as you parse a competitor’s verbal identity:

  • What does the brand stand for?
  • To which audience are they speaking?
  • How would you characterize their brand personality?
  • How would you describe the style and tone of their brand voice?

Step 4: Analyze Visual Identity

brand-language

The visual identity analysis examines the logos, colors, typography, and imagery utilized by each of your competitors.

Visual grouping and segmentation can help you see patterns that emerge within the visual language. By identifying patterns, you can find opportunities for competitive differentiation within the market landscape.

Some questions to ask when parsing your competitors’ visual identities include:

  • Which shapes and symbols are most common in the logos of brands in your vertical?
  • Which colors seem to dominate the field?
  • How have competitor brands differentiated themselves through the use of typography?
  • How does each brand employ imagery and photography?
  • How do their logos make you feel?
  • What types of personalities do these brand identities evoke?

Step 5: Determine Positioning

brand-position

The fifth step is where you draw conclusions on the positioning of each brand you’ve audited. Determining positioning is all about trying to understand the strategic intentions of your competitors.

Questions to ask when determining positioning include:

  • What unique segment of the competitive landscape does each competitor purport to own?
  • How do they differentiate themselves from the competition?
  • What is the core messaging comprising their brand compass?
  • What are their value propositions?

Step 6: Compile a Brand Audit Report

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The final step in our brand audit example is to compile your findings into a brand audit report.

A visually compelling synthesis of insights, the audit report presents a high-level overview of the verbal and visual identity analyses of each brand you’ve audited in the context of the competitive field as a whole.

The goal of the audit report is to illuminate both the similarities and points of differentiation amongst your competition, giving you a comprehensive picture of the market landscape and, more importantly, the opportunities that exist within it.

The audit report should also include a summary of key takeaways and recommendations. The summary comprises the most important findings from throughout the report, a high-level analysis of the competitive landscape, and a list of recommendations including opportunities for differentiation and the improvement of overall brand performance.

Opportunities for differentiation may exist in visual identity, verbal identity, or overarching strategy. The goal is to identify a unique position for your brand within the market landscape.

Who Should Conduct a Brand Audit?

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To get the most out of your brand audit, it’s important to have the right people involved.

An audit is best done by an objective, third-party team, ideally representatives from your branding agency partner. Three different experts should collaborate on your audit.

1. Brand Strategist

A qualified brand strategist has the expertise to analyze the positioning of your brand and its top competitors.

A brand strategist can help you connect the dots from what you find with your audit to what those findings mean for the future of your brand.

Should you rebrand or just refresh? What are the implications for your marketing budget and ultimately your bottom line? A brand strategist can help answer these questions and more.

2. Senior Graphic Designer

A senior graphic designer has the skills and experience to assess the visual identity of your brand and its top competitors.

What are the dominant colors and other visual themes in your industry? Is your brand design distinctive or predictable? Does your photography authentically capture your brand’s positioning and personality?

A senior designer has the expertise to parse the visual side of your brand experience.

3. Senior Copywriter

A senior copywriter has a unique set of tools needed to analyze the verbal identity of your brand and its top competitors.

Is the style and tone of your brand voice authentic to its positioning and personality? How do the sub-brands, slogans, and taglines of your competitors stack up against your own? Is your brand telling a rich and relevant brand story or is it bogged down in wordy redundancy?

A senior copywriter can answer important questions about the verbal expression of your brand and its top competitors.

Who Should Be Included in the Brand Audit Report?

brand-findings

Once you’ve completed your sleekly designed and smartly written brand audit report, you might wonder who should be briefed on the findings.

The insights you compile during an audit are only valuable if they make it into the hands of the right people, after all. These include those with the power to make decisions based on your findings and those with the power to implement those decisions.

Generally, there are three different stakeholder groups that should be made aware of the brand assessment in your audit report.

1. Head of Company

Executive-level decisions will need to be made based on insights from the brand audit. So, it’s best to have your CEO or President in on the conversation.

2. Marketing Team

Insights from the brand audit will deeply inform future marketing strategies and initiatives. So, the leaders of your marketing team should be made aware of your findings.

3. External Partners

Any strategic partners like agencies who are responsible for the execution of your company’s marketing should also be made aware of the insights that emerge from the brand audit.

The Takeaway

A brand audit gives you a clear, objective understanding you need to pinpoint your brand’s strengths and weaknesses, and powerfully differentiate it from the competition.

Whether you’re a business owner wondering whether or not to rebrand, or a marketing manager feeling pressure from your higher-ups, a brand audit provides a comprehensive understanding of where your brand stands today, so you can make informed decisions about tomorrow.

Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in January 2016 and has been updated with additional insights.

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A prolific blogger, speaker, and columnist, Brian has two decades of experience in design and branding. He’s written for publications including Forbes, Entrepreneur, Inc. Magazine, Fast Company, HuffPost, and Brand Quarterly.