Brand management is a critical part of marketing, ensuring every touchpoint a customer has with an organization is consistent, thereby improving their overall experience. But, like any other major piece of business strategy, changing a brand or related processes requires a solid foundation and game plan.
You simply cannot go in blind to such an important initiative!
A brand audit can help organizations clarify where they are today – and provide guidance for what needs to be improved in the future. It also plays an important part in socializing any brand management changes you plan to make, whether you change the brand itself or the processes employees use to engage with the brand. Getting buy-in for something as universal as branding is key, and an audit report can help get everybody on the same page about current challenges and priorities.
The New York Public Library is one organization who has successfully deployed smart strategies to improve their overall brand management. With 92 locations across 3 boroughs of New York, plus 2400+ employees, this team made a critical shift from a chaotic, fragmented brand experience across their branches, to a cohesive, unified system of brand management. The first step in this transformation, before any asset was redesigned or any brand management technology was acquired, was a comprehensive brand audit.
Here are some keys to a successful brand audit, inspired by the NYPL’s centralized marketing team:
Consider your language
How you refer to the brand audit is important. The NYPL’s Creative Services Team positioned this internal project as a “communications audit.” They knew, as they planned to meet with stakeholders throughout the organization, that the term “brand audit” would only put their colleagues on guard. “Audit” insinuates a negative experience, one that employees would dread. (Nobody enjoys being told what they’re doing wrong…)
The creative services team took a different mindset. They considered this audit as a process of getting to know all their many branches. This was an opportunity to visit with a variety of locations, understand their business, get to know their communities, and learn what their specific needs were related to content assets and branding.
Identify all touchpoints
The brand management audit is a process of discovery. Your goal should be to uncover all current assets used to engage with external audiences. Seek to get a lay of the land, and find out what materials are being deployed. This means being open to the fact that there are assets in the wild that you may not currently know about! Learn how they’re being used to further business strategy, and take note as to how you can standardize them in the future with brand management software.
For a centralized marketing team, you serve two audiences; that of your customers, of course, but also of your internal stakeholders, who rely on you for asset requests, new branded materials, and other resources to aid them in the work they do day-to-day.
This audit should be considered an avenue for collaboration, giving you the chance to establish or improve your partnerships with internal clients to better understand their priorities, needs, and what’s going to be required to help them meet these needs. If you act like a dictator cracking the whip, or maybe the IRS, you can expect the same level of cooperation from your colleagues. That’s not a long-term strategy, and it’s not productive.
Explain what a brand really is
Often, employees outside of the marketing function associate the “brand” with simply the logo or colors of the business. The reality is, as we know as marketers, the brand is so much more today than just the visual identity. Make sure everyone understands what a brand is, why it’s important, and what their role is within this brand.
As part of their audit process, the NYPL explained to their internal stakeholders that branding is the sum of the look, the feel, and the voice of the organization. They educated their employees that this look and feel can be transferred to people’s experiences and the perception that an individual has of the company. Often, it simply results in a “gut feeling” someone has about an organization, and that’s a powerful impression to uphold for every employee who represents the brand.
Review and analyze all channels
As we’ve discussed, a brand is the sum of all parts, meaning that any touchpoint can affect a customer’s overall perception. As part of your audit, be sure to include a thorough review of every possible channel someone may interact with your brand. For the NYPL, this included reviewing news, collateral, website, social media, phone interactions, the library buildings themselves, and of course the staff on the front lines of the brand experience.
While auditing, be prepared for what you may discover. You may, like the NYPL, find that your existing brand guidelines are not easily accessible. Perhaps related brands (like that of specific programs or sub-brands) are not aligned with your current brand, or configured differently. Your team may not have sufficient budget, resources, training, or standards to promote the brand appropriately, and as a result, you may find inconsistent communication and a fragmented brand experience.
Your findings will of course reflect your unique corporate history and experience, but every brand audit will undoubtedly uncover some challenges. Think of it as a comprehensive map to guide you towards improved brand management, and an optimal customer experience. Take it from the NYPL – you can do it, and the process is worth the effort. Good luck!