You don’t know what you don’t know
Brand perceptions change over time. So, unless an audit is carried out to clarify exactly where your brand stands in its marketplace, precious marketing funds may be wasted or, at best, may not be targeted correctly.
Simply put, a Brand Audit assesses a brand’s integrity, clarity and consistency. Because it is vital for an organization to deliver a consistent brand strategy across all points of consumer contact, it is equally important to have a precise and detailed understanding of how that policy is progressing. Senior management should (from time to time) step back and review how the organization’s brand is holding up and, because it is invariably an illuminating experience, all those involved find the project energizing. Included are all relevant internal departments, a sampling of customers (existing and, more difficult, those who have been unhappy), suppliers and (if possible) the competition’s view.
Establishing the brand’s terms of reference
It is worth noting the accepted industry criteria used for assessing the status of a brand and the parameters BFT uses to evaluate its stature in its marketplace. Depending on how robust the brand is versus its competition, we make astute recommendations on what amendments should be made across the organization’s marketing. Our suggestions can range from quite subtle (usually the case) to quite fundamental (although, in that instance, the organization usually knows that to be necessary prior to the Brand Audit).
What is a brand?
A brand is an intangible but critical component an organization ‘owns’ that represents a ‘contract’ with the customer. While a customer cannot have a relationship with a product or service, it is likely that there will be a relationship with a brand (even if that is negative). A brand implies trust, predictability, a defined set of expectations and is a collection of memories that, together, help customers feel confident about their purchase decision. Brands must be created; they don’t occur naturally.
What does not make a brand?
- A logo does not create a brand.
- A tagline does not create a brand.
- A product’s shape (or retail outlet’s design) does not create a brand.
- A spokesperson does not create a brand.
- A brand is not a jingle.
- A brand is not the product or service.
The term Brand Equity (the brand’s effective value) is generally regarded as the ultimate goal for any brand. Measuring it requires careful consideration of all factors that have impact on the consumer. We assess Brand Equity in five ways:
|1.||The level of loyalty it has achieved amongst its target audience.|
|2.||Its name awareness.|
|3.||Its perceived quality.|
|4.||The associations it carries (and whether these are in line with the organization’s marketing objectives).|
|5.||Other proprietary assets—patents, trademarks or industry associations.|
We all identify ourselves to match a series of criteria into which we think we fit. Successful brands target key consumer groups based on not just demographic, but also psychographic profiles—that is, segmenting consumers by lifestyle, attitudes, beliefs, values, personality and their buying motives. Therefore, Brand Personality is the extent to which the brand’s image is compatible with who the buyer is or wants to be.
All brands have varying degrees of potential—the extent to which purchasers will go out of their way and be willing to try the brand or even pay more for it. In effect, bring the brand into their lives—or, as BFT calls it, include it in their Portfolio of Choices. If this is achieved the brand will be held in the memory so that it is always ‘checked-out’ when considering a purchase. We refer to this as Brain Engraving—not just to create top-of-mind awareness, but to create brand recall that prompts positive action.
An organization’s marketing—including all aspects of its advertising and promotion—cannot guarantee purchases of products or uses of services, but it can bring the identified consumer to the brand. Closing that purchase is then reliant upon product/service benefits, customer care and after sales follow-up.
Realistically assessing the brand’s performance
Our methods for evaluating a brand vary depending on the type of marketplace in which it competes, the degree of competition in that marketplace, the maturity of the brand, the brand message that is being promoted (and its consistency), and the likelihood of that message being in-tune with the identified target audience (this last appraisal being based on BFT’s very significant previous experience of marketing to a wide range of target audience categories).
Auditing a brand’s performance against the objectives set for it is not a science. However, by using experience (the client’s and our own) and knowledge across many marketplaces (and how they interact) we can successfully gauge the progress a brand has made against its competition and, of course, this becomes an ideal benchmark for future evaluation.
Our knowledge of a wide breadth of the overall commercial marketplace is an effective ‘thermometer’ for understanding the way in which general expenditure and disposable income are being spent versus the category for the brand being audited.
We assess 17 dimensions (as relevant):
|1.||Differentiation: How distinctive the brand is in the marketplace.|
|2.||Relevance: How meaningful the brand is to the audience.|
|3.||Communication: Brand message consistency across all promotion/POS.|
|4.||Recall: Top-of-mind awareness – is it ‘brain engraved’?|
|5.||Esteem: Whether the brand is held in high regard.|
|6.||Trust: Similar to esteem but more relevant to some sectors.|
|7.||Quality: Belief in the quality of the product/service.|
|8.||Knowledge: Understanding of the brand’s intended values.|
|9.||Leadership: Degree by which the brand leads its market.|
|10.||Stability: Value of the brand’s history in the market.|
|11.||Loyalty: Estimated repeat purchase/usership patterns.|
|12.||Trend: Sales growth (against the overall marketplace).|
|13.||Competition: What stance the brand’s competition is taking.|
|14.||Behavior: Market share data (if measurable).|
|15.||Support: The level of support – continuous vs. spasmodic.|
|16.||Employees: Views and perceptions of all categories of staff.|
|17.||Protection: Legal brand protection (if relevant), eg: trademark.|
Why is all this so important?
A brand is the internalized sum of all the impressions received by the customer, resulting in a distinctive position in their mind’s eye (engraved on their brain), based on perceived emotional and functional benefits. This is proven by the fact that customers are willing to pay a significant premium for their brand of choice, and many consumers actually use brands to guide their purchase decision. A strong brand also forms a launching pad for new products or existing products marketed to new target audiences, enables co-branding and licensing opportunities, and in advertising and promotion allows the organization to become the yardstick by which all others are judged.
We’ve sat through many brand reports ourselves—indeed, just having listened to so many prompted the formulation of this service by BFT. When reporting to our clients we are always mindful that the BFT team can never know as much about the brand and the organization as does our client. It is so easy to sound too ‘smart’ in these instances. Our role here is to provide a detached and realistic view of the organization and its brand(s) as seen by the company’s target audience customers and its vendors (who are also key). We believe that our reports are professional in content and lively in tone. We find that significant discussion is usually prompted.
After evaluating all the parameters we do not assign a formal score to the brand. That would be pointless as we cannot assign a similar score to the other main brands in the market sector, so realistic comparison would be impossible. We provide a written report of our findings and present our interpretation of those findings in person.
Included in this report and presentation will be initial relevant recommendations to rectify any negatives found in our Brand Audit. As a result, the organization has the option to request BFT to provide a ‘blueprint’ for implementing these recommendations.
Included as an option is for BFT (usually with the client) to present a summary of the findings to chosen members of staff. Employees, of course, are a critical link between the organization and the customer and, often, more than any other factor, they deliver the brand’s message on a daily basis. Indeed, a brand can stand or fall by this vital relationship. We believe that the employees should not be the last to know.
What happens next?
We find that the results of a Brand Audit fall broadly into two categories—either the need to implement small but key adjustments to the brand’s overall communication, or the need for a fundamental change that may well encompass everything from a new brand identity logo, through stationary, website, advertising, signage, etc. As stated above, it is usually the former not the latter, and if it is the latter, everyone knows before undertaking the exercise, and the audit becomes the creative brief.
If it transpires that a totally new Brand Proposition is necessary, BFT works with the organization to ascertain what would fit best in the relevant market segment bearing in mind the stance being taken by the competition. Such areas of differentiation might, for example: place the brand as the first to offer something; highlight a brand attribute; be the best or first at something; refer to the brand’s heritage; make the brand a specialist; or have the brand own a unique capability. There are obviously many other options but in all cases the brand message must be simple, straightforward and consistent across absolutely every aspect of the organization’s marketing—particularly its advertising content.
At this stage, we always ask: What is possible? What is feasible? And can the brand be the best in its marketplace? Because if it is, everything else falls into place and makes perfect sense to all aspects of the organization and its customers.