The Quick and Easy Guide to Conducting a Comprehensive Brand Audit

Jan 8, 2024 | positioning, core identity, design, marketing, messaging, personality

Is your brand truly supporting your business? A brand audit can help you get crystal clear on what your brand is doing well and where it can improve, as well as what next rights steps to take with the audit results.


Whether you’re in the early stages of business or you’ve been going at it for years, it’s likely that you’ve experienced (or are currently experiencing) what I call The Brand Gap. The idea that there’s a gap between what you know or want your brand to do, and what is actually happening. The vision isn’t coming to fruition.

What often happens is… well, nothing. You get stuck in decision fatigue, not knowing which step is your next right one. So, you just keep running on the hamster wheel, hoping that A) inspiration will strike and you’ll know what to do next, or B) something will magically change and you’ll get different results.

Well, my friends, I’d like to introduce you to a wonderfully helpful tool known as the brand audit.

Because, in order to determine your next right steps in creating a brand that truly represents your business and supports your next level, you need to know where you stand right now. 

So today we’re going to walk through all the ins and outs of conducting an effective audit of your existing brand so that you can confidently take your next right step in business.

What is a brand audit?

According to Merriam Webster, an audit is a formal examination of an organization’s or individual’s accounts or financial situation.

So with that in mind, a brand audit is the examination of your brand; a process of evaluating the effectiveness of your internal and external brand experience.

I said both internal and external because what happens behind the curtain is just as important as what your community is seeing on your website, social media and in email newsletters.

This is especially true if you have any team members who are supporting your business – if they aren’t clear what you’re all about as a brand, it can have a negative impact in how they show up for your business. Even more so if they’re responsible for communicating your brand to your audience.

And the best part of a brand audit is the end – when you can walk away with more clarity on things like:

  • Your business’s position in the market so you can improve your strategy
  • The expectations your customers have so you can better align your services to meet their needs
  • The marketing channels that are and are not working for you
  • The overall health of your brand, including the sentiment it’s generating within your audience

Why do a brand audit in the first place? 

Audits are most helpful if you’ve been running in circles, trying to figure out what (if any) changes need to be make to your brand. Maybe you’re wondering if you need to completely overhaul your visuals or if it’s just a slight update to your color palette.

Well, the saying, ‘You can’t know where you’re going until you know where you are at’, is especially true for your brand. And therein lies the beauty of an audit – it helps you understand your current situation so that you can take your next right step.

Or, maybe you know things aren’t working well; you’re noticing some inconsistencies but aren’t sure the extent or depth that they go.

And audit can help pinpoint those gaps and misunderstandings so you can make the necessary changes or updates.

On a positive note, if there are elements within your brand that are kicking ass, an audit will help you identify what those are so you can confidently double-down on them and drive even more results.

When is the right time to audit your brand?

The short answer?

It depends.

The long answer?

Regularly auditing your brand is a great best-practice. It’s helpful to set a cadence that makes sense for you and your business.

If you’re established and feeling good about how you’re showing up, once a year will likely suffice.

However, if you want to be a little more hands-on, it doesn’t hurt to do a quick check at the end of every quarter when you do your business reviewing/planning.

Sometimes, though, an audit is needed at a different moment in time because things just aren’t working for your business but you aren’t sure what or why.

With that in mind, if you’re in a season where things are feeling off, there are a few signs to look out for that may signify a brand audit is your next right step:

  • Lead generation and/or sales is not growing
  • Engagement with your brand is decreasing and/or staying the same
  • You’re growing at a fast rate and have handed off a lot of external-facing communication
  • You’re seeing brand inconsistencies either behind the scenes or externally-facing
  • You’re preparing to or considering a rebrand
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Conducting a brand audit in five steps

Step one: Setting up the foundation

Step one of the brand audit - getting all the documents and information for your brand pulled together.

There are four key elements that need to be in place before you dig into your brand.

The first is your brand’s strategy. Aka the communication plan for your brand. If you don’t have a brand strategy, it’s going to be extra challenging to understand whether or not your brand is performing as its intended.

While you don’t necessarily need a full-blown strategy, I’d recommend at least having clarity on a these core elements:

  • Who you’re a great fit for; the target audience or ideal client persona(s)
  • What you’re saying; the core brand message
  • Why you’re different; the positioning summary
  • How you’re communicating that difference; your brand personality overview

An understanding around these will help you not only understand what your brand is all about, but it will also create a solid foundation for you to draw from when you go through the brand audit process. You’ll know what you’re trying to say about your brand so you can then see how its performing compared to the desired perception you’re intending to create.

The second key element is to get clear on why you’re doing an audit in the first place and what you’re hoping to achieve with the results. You’re setting the expectation up front to help determine what exactly needs to be audited and what you’re planning on doing with the findings. By defining this up front, it’ll help you stay on track; an audit can be a quick process or something more in-depth and it’s up to you to define the level of detail that you need and/or want before getting started.

This part can be done by creating a simple two-column challenges and goals chart – what’s currently not working with your brand and what are you hoping to achieve with a consistent and cohesive brand?

The third element is a list of key stakeholders that you can interview or survey to help understand how your brand is currently being perceived and communicated. This should include team members, past clients and community/audience members. Depending on size of each, you can shoot for 1-10 people per category.

The fourth is to map out your customer journey. Because definitions are importance, I define your customer journey as how a potential customer moves through your business, from the first point of contact to the transformation, any beyond. I use four key steps and they are:

  • Awareness: How can someone become aware of your business? I.e., social media, search engines, networking events, podcast guest interviews, etc.
  • Buy-in: How does someone become an engaged member of your audience? I.e., subscribe to your email list, subscribe to your podcast, follow you on Instagram, etc.
  • Purchase: How can someone make a purchase from you? I.e., buy a service, be part of your membership, etc.
  • Retention: How can someone stay engaged with your business? I.e., refer customers, join a customers-only email list, purchase a service for past clients only, etc.

Step two: The internal audit

Step two of the brand audit - auditing your internal brand.

The goal of an internal audit is to understand if you have the information, documentation, systems and brand clarity that will set you up for consistent and cohesive brand success.

Because, in order to effectively communicate your brand externally to your audience, you have to have clarity on it behind the scenes.

Below is a high level outline of what I’d consider the most relevant internal brand documentation.

For the internal audit of each document, you’ll want to:

  1. Determine if you even have said document
  2. Read through it and see whether it’s accurate, relevant and useful
  3. Make a list of what needs to be changed, added and/or removed

Internal documents to audit:

Core identity: The something greater that your business was created for and includes elements like purpose, mission, vision, values and beliefs.

Ideal client persona(s): An outline of the type of person/people that you would like to work with again and again.

Brand positioning: How you want your customer to think about your brand in relation to others in the same space.

Brand messaging: The overarching thread or theme that is woven into every communication piece shared on behalf of your brand.

Brand personality: The characteristics that influence the thoughts, feelings and actions someone has for a business.

Brand blurbs and stories: A collection of brand elements like your brand’s elevator pitch, the founder’s story, the brand’s story, the founder’s bio and team member bios.

Visual brand guidelines: Details how your visual brand should be implemented and contains things like logo clearspace, primary and secondary colors and their application, typography recommendations and what not to do to your logo.

Visual brand style guide: A one-page document with the high level visual brand standards like your color HEX codes, logo variations and typography.

Step three: The external audit

Step three of the brand audit - auditing your external brand.

Once you evaluate what’s going on internally, you can shift your focus to external; what your audience is experiencing.

Before you dive into the auditing portion, you need to first clarify what it is you’re actually auditing.

This is done by getting a full picture of all the brand touch points that someone may have with your business – aka your customer journey. Since I know you completed that in step one (!) you can use that as a map for auditing your external brand.

Remember, each touch point provides an experience and the goal with the external audit is to understand where your experience is meeting (or exceeding) expectations and where it is falling short or missing the mark entirely.

For the external audit of each touch point, you’ll want to:

  1. Check to make sure the external communication is in line with the internal standards
  2. See what is resonating with your right audience
  3. Check for consistency and cohesiveness throughout the entire brand experience

The external audit will likely look different for every business because every business has a different customer journey. However, if you’re reading this, I’m going to assume you’re a service-based business owner.

And because examples are helpful, here’s what an external audit could look like:

Awareness:

  • YouTube channel
  • LinkedIn

Buy-in:

  • Substack newsletter

Purchase:

  • Book a discovery call and purchase 1:1 website copywriting services

Retention:

  • VIP copywriting day for past clients

The business owner would then check out her YouTube channel and run through these steps:

  1. Does the content align with my core identity, ideal client, positioning, personality and message?
  2. Visually, is the channel aligned with my brand guidelines?
  3. What content is most resonating with the audience?
  4. What content is resonating the least with the audience?
  5. Is it aligned with the other brand touch points?

Step four: Survey the key stakeholders

Step four of the brand audit - conducting surveys and conversations with your key stakeholders.

I know it can feel daunting but talking to real, live people is an amazing tool to leverage when you’re auditing your brand. Yes, the data and analytics can help tell your story but why not just go straight to the source?

Refer to the list you generated in step one of team members, past clients and current community members, and reach out to them. Ask for a quick phone call or in-person coffee chat, or send a link to a survey.

The goal is to understand how they perceive your brand, so you can see how it stacks up against what you’ve said is your strategy and what you’re putting out into the world.

These questions are a great starting point:

  • What adjectives would you use to describe our brand?
  • What problem do you think we want to help others solve?
  • When you engage with the brand, how does it make you feel?
  • Why would you recommend us to others?
  • How did you first learn about our brand? Do you remember what thoughts you had then and are they different now?
Step five of the brand audit - pulling together the brand audit results into a final report.

Step five: Wrap it all up into an audit report

So once you’ve done the major leg work, it’s time to pull together all the insights into a high-level overview so you can actually do something with all the great information you’ve just gathered.

The goal of the report is to summarize and highlight the good, the bad and the opportunity. And because you identified your goals in step one, you can use that as the foundation for pulling together the information to report your findings.

Remember, an audit’s job is to tell you how effective your brand is, both internally and externally. So, the report should then tell you what’s going well, what needs work and what you can add, remove or change entirely.

With that, happy branding (and auditing)!

All my best,

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