For a Stronger Brand and a Stronger Company
“Audit”…the very word, when it comes after “tax”, strikes fear into the hearts of most people, but when applied to your company’s brand, it could be just the groundwork you need to enjoy a stellar year.
First of all, here’s a mini recap on what a “brand” is and why it’s so important. “Brand” is what differentiates your company from your competitors. It’s not just your company’s name and logo, it’s the unique impression you leave on your customers, it’s about how they feel about you, it’s how your company looks, it’s the special way you deliver your service and products, it’s your attitude and the way you advertise yourself.
Brand is important because a consistent brand means you need to spend less money attracting new customers, your current customers return, you’re able to charge a higher price for your services and you get more word of mouth referral!
Big companies the world over have huge folders devoted to their brand guidelines, with detailed instructions about how and where logos can be used, the colour palette allowed and what their promise to customers is. They have these folders and these rules, because they know the value of a strong, consistent brand. The good news is, it’s easy for a small business to get on board the “brandwagon”!
The best place to start is with a “brand audit”. This process helps determine the strength of your brand, what is good about it, where it works and how well your customers can recall it. It will also uncover weaknesses, inconsistencies and show you where there are opportunities for improvement. The outcome of the audit is to ensure consistency in the way your business is promoted and perceived. This leads to a stronger brand and therefore, a stronger company.
To successfully pull off a brand audit you will probably need an external consultant or the ability to look through a truly fresh set of eyes.
Your research needs to include:
- A complete review of the physical representation of the brand (stationery/advertising etc)
- An internal brand audit – conducting employee workshops and management interviews
- An external brand audit – conducting external market research ie customers, target market and stakeholders from whom you want to find out how the company is spoken of, it’s current positioning and perceived culture
You need to go over a wide range of areas including:
- Typefaces & colours: are these consistent across your stationery, emails, website, marketing materials, uniforms & signage?
- Imagery: do the photos/illustrations you use all have the same hue and framing and characteristics?
- Email tagline: does everyone in the company use the same one, or do some not use one at all?
- Tone of voice: do your sales material, website, emails and letters all use the same tone of voice and same language style?
- Reception area: is it in keeping with your brand?
- Name tags: are these consistent in typeface, colour & quality?
- Packaging: is your product’s packaging distinctive and in keeping with your brand?
- Communication: is your phone answered in the same manner every time. Is this first introduction to your company in keeping with your brand?
- Advertisements: Do you chop and change your style regularly or is your advertising instantly recognisable based on its theming?
- Employees: do they feel the same way about the company’s values or is there a wide disparity in views? Do they treat customers in much the same way, or are there huge discrepancies? A mystery shopper program can be useful to determine this.
During an audit you might realise your company is promising one thing to your customers but delivering something else. This destroys customer loyalty, and hence reduces sales. Or you might discover your brand has lost its sense of direction and what it stands for. If this is your discovery, revitalising your brand would be the next step.
The most valuable brands in the world (Sony, Coca-Cola, Nokia) have achieved their position not just through implementing an initially strong branding strategy, but more so by monitoring changes in customers perceptions over time, and being strategically flexible to these changes. SME’s often overlook the need to monitor their customer base in any great depth as the focus is often all about acquiring new customers, not keeping current ones. A brand audit helps you do both.
Many unexpected positives can come out of an audit. You might need to make just a few tweaks to get back on track, or you might have to go through a thorough spring clean, wherever you are on the scale, an audit helps give you an important perspective on your business.
Taking an outside-in view of your company is what is needed to drive initiatives that create greater market share and build customer loyalty. This is an audit that, for a little bit of pain, will bring pure pleasure!