Brand is about what you do, who you are. It’s your DNA.
Why is it then that so many still consider brand to be about the look, the feel, or the words on a page? Ask yourself this: The clothes you wear create an impression, but do they fundamentally change who you are? No. The same is true with brands.
At Dobies Healthcare Group, we are disappointed when we see companies invest tens of thousands of dollars, if not a hundred thousand or more, to create identity style guidelines without ever exploring the heart and soul of their brand.
Clearly, changing the brand is a lot harder than changing the message or the look and feel. That’s why we recommend starting the process by gathering evidence that will help convince executive leadership that change is necessary.
Brand audits do just that. They give the company a qualitative snapshot of how stakeholders perceive the company and its products and services. An audit is like peeling an onion one layer at a time to expose the core essence of the brand.
A brand audit systematically assesses the company’s brand from three vantage points:
- Communications: How authentically the company appears in documents, proposals, advertising, Web sites and other venues
- Internal: What employees think
- External: What the customer believes
Layer One: Communications Audit
The Communications Audit examines the pieces and parts of your brand identity and how well they integrate. Look at your Web sites, print collateral, proposals, presentations, email signatures and everything in between to see how they support or conflict with your strategic priorities or plan. Don’t forget to consider internal tools, like Intranet and interoffice communications, as well as the work environment itself. What’s posted around the office? What subliminal messages do employees receive?
We recommend assessing 10 areas for clarity and consistency:
- Alignment with vision/mission
- Messages, including unique value proposition, consistency across media, and the “So what?” factor: clearly articulated features, advantages and benefits
- Tone of voice
- Images (photos, illustrations)
- Logo, tagline
- Font, color palette
- Design, style guidelines
- Office environment
- Alignment with target audiences and market
Layer Two: Internal Audit
Before learning what your customers think, get a read on the internal staff. Engage all levels of the organization, especially those who are customer-facing, to determine if employees know what the brand represents. Learn how well the brand is performing from their perspective. Ask them to describe the customer’s experience. How well do they believe the communications materials align with customer expectations? A series of short interviews with the executive team, customer service representatives and front-line staff will illuminate the internal understanding of the brand value proposition and whether the company brand is reflecting a competitive advantage.
Internal audits should be conducted in person, via one-to-one telephone interviews, or via online surveys. Internal audits may also involve “secret shopper” opportunities through which “interviewers” can gain insights to responsiveness as well as accuracy and consistency of actual key messages delivered by customer-facing staff.
Layer Three: External Audit
The external audit gives an objective review of how customers and other external audiences perceive the brand. It provides an in-depth view of brand recognition (the customers ability to confirm exposure to the brand) and brand image (the brand associations held in customer’s memory). It also offers an understanding of how much value the brand provides.
During the external audit, it is often helpful to compare the company’s brand with the competition. Ask suppliers, partners and customers for their thoughts while also considering what you learned by reviewing the competition’s advertising and materials during the communication audit.
Additionally, insight may come from third-party industry research. For instance, hospitals often use HealthStream, PRC, NRC or other independent research organizations to inform them of the brand’s recognition and image among consumers in their service areas. Focus groups may also work if the groups are moderated by an experienced and objective researcher.
Analyzing these three layers helps leadership understand how well the brand aligns with the organization’s strategic priorities and core values. And it creates a road map for both marketers and executives to use in improving the brand’s overall authenticity.