A strategic audit is a set of exercises used to build a clear, unbiased view of a brand system and its current performance. These processes review each component of the existing brand system to understand how elements or materials can be improved, refined or removed. This article will talk about why it’s essential to do a brand audit and how you can get started.
Uncovering a clear view of your brand is an essential step towards building effective design and communication systems. As part of the broader brand strategy and general strategic planning processes, it will also help inform the brand position, audience and key messages.
To form a strategic overview of your brand, it’s necessary first to understand the benefits. There are many reasons why a strategic overview may be helpful — and these are not just for businesses owners but also for the people that live and breathe the brand day-to-day.
Potential benefits include;
The main components analysed during a strategic audit include;
These topics should be addressed holistically and aim to capture the current state of the brand accurately.
A carefully structured brand audit provides an opportunity for businesses to identify their strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and risks. We use several exercises to inform our findings before organising them into a list of observations and recommendations to structure the process. These exercises include;
These strategic planning activities help provide clarity on a range of operational aspects of a brand. The planning process might also include exercises designed to help understand how audiences are engaging with your brand’s digital channels and analysing customer feedback trends over time. We use a mixture of established research methodologies to gather this information, including group workshops, one-on-one interviews, desk research, focus groups and audience surveys. The findings uncovered during the audit can then be used to make informed decisions that will underpin the future direction of your business.
A well-researched strategic overview is also an effective tool for charities and other non-profits. These are commonly used to understand how their communications and messaging are performing. A communications audit will also help brand-builders to understand how to measure brand awareness while uncovering any gaps that need addressing before moving on with other strategic planning efforts.
To start a brand audit, we recommend engaging key stakeholders early to introduce the potential need for change.
Some preparation is recommended at this stage to establish an agenda and define some light exercises. These exercises should open a conversation regarding brand performance, with participants encouraged to share their thoughts on the current state of the brand. Stakeholders may also be asked to raise any concerns or opportunities they are aware of. While this kind of meeting will act as an open forum, it should also be carefully managed to ensure feedback stays on-topic. The strategic planning process will then continue with a deep dive into each component area of your business, airing views, ideas and concerns. These views should be captured and categorised in order to make sure they are capitalised upon later.
It is often useful at this stage to gather key topics and open out the discussion to a wider group. This can be done in the format of a question and answer session or an anonymous questionnaire circulated to employees. Establishing an honest view can be a powerful decision-making tool for later in the process.
Examples of clients that we have undertaken a strategic audit with are Halley Stevensons, The Feather Company, Heath Diamonds and many more.
When analysing a specific area of business such as a product, sub-brand or service, it can be useful to spread out all of the elements on a table and encourage group critique. Helpful topics for discussion might include findings from market research, a deep dive into the current brand storytelling, the existing mission, vision and values, the brand and product portfolio architecture and the various elements of the brand identity. Other topics might take the shape of any print, digital or content touch-points that customers may come into contact with.
To keep things focused, we recommend distilling the comments down into a ‘Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats’ sheet to help gain an objective view. It is also important to separate views that are entirely subjective in nature, as these are rarely useful when scaled up to brand level.
In order to gather a coherent brand overview, a process of distillation needs to be performed. A brand strategist will work through the various opinions and views that have been aired. The information will then be disseminated and condensed into an easy-to-understand document that spells out the areas of agreement and conflict, then opens this up for discussion again. It is not always possible to achieve agreement on everything, but by virtue of discussing and agreeing on a way forward, conflict or misunderstanding can often be resolved.
This strategic audit process includes a ‘threats sheet’, which is used to identify and tackle any potential threats that a brand may face in the future. The idea behind this is to create broad awareness of potential problems and encourage early-stage solutions. This process will help business leaders keep an eye on all aspects of their business, helping them to see things coming down the track before it is too late for them to respond.
From here, it is recommended that the topics raised are organised into tiers of priority. For example, ‘top-level’ issues such as a brand name, positioning or target audience should be tackled differently to the colour of a product or a website functionality issue. Whilst it is desirable to complete all strategic audit tasks, each of these should be given appropriate levels of priority and will likely require an investment of time or resources to action.
A traffic light system is a useful tool to help reach a strategic overview of what’s working well, what needs refinement and what elements need to be scrapped entirely. For example, when working through a brand audit, a business might analyse their product offering before categorising them in terms of effectiveness. A traffic light system can be used here to help bring structure to this debate, eliminating subjective views and working towards an agreement about a way forward.
An ‘Opportunities and Recommendations’ list can be drawn up once appropriate brand planning has been undertaken. This content is often identified as part of a strategic audit — by compiling this plan, a brand will gain a clear list of steps to convert into an action plan. Timelines and resources should be mapped next to each objective to help separate the easy wins from the harder-to-achieve goals.
Once the opportunities and recommendations report has been reviewed by all decision-makers, an action plan can be drawn up where the most essential points can be put into action. This action plan is often known as the ‘brand strategy’.
For most brands, only some of the opportunities and recommendations make it into the final action plan. This is because it can be logistically impossible to achieve everything in one go. To define a realistic action plan, it can be helpful to plot an action plan over a defined period of 3 to 5 years. This illustrates the ambition while providing a roadmap to achieve success. Many brands summarise this plan and use it to inform their mission statement.
It may be useful to note that the final action plan should act as a launchpad for future initiatives and not become the sole focus of the brand strategy.
If you believe your business would benefit from undertaking a strategic overview or communications audit, please get in touch and we’ll be happy to advise on the best route forward. We recommend that strategic audits are performed every three years to ensure everything is rooted in a solid evidence base. You can also read more about this topic by visiting our Medium account.