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Part Two: The Anatomy of a Strategic Brand Audit

Part Two of a Three Part Series The Anatomy of a Strategic Brand Audit.

Brands have a lifespan.

Like people, brands don’t live forever. They’re born into the marketplace, grow and become successful, then iconic, and then stale as week old bread.

The driver underpinning all these life phases is unrelenting and rapid change. The forces driving our global economy are getting harder for business leaders to keep up with. Brands are dynamic. Brands have their cycles and they run their course.

What’s difficult for brand owners to grasp is when to continue to invest precious capital into a tired under-performing brand or move on.

This is particularly true if the brand was once a leader in the market. Market success always creates size, power, and breeds a false sense of security (think arrogance). Over time, this creates an unrealistic view of the marketplace reality, and a lack of urgency to correct course in maintaining relevancy among consumers the brand serves.

In the US, Sears, Kodak, Blockbuster and Blackberry are stunning examples of this dynamic. Dead as Abraham Lincoln!

Owners and managers of iconic successful brands naturally become inwardly focused. They tend to miss new opportunities or competitive threats. Complacency becomes the norm, and endless advertising messages, brand extensions, and ultimately commoditization of a category will blur the brand’s compelling meaning in the minds of consumers.

That’s why enlightened business leaders consistently check in on the health (equity) and well being (relevance) of their brand over time. The brand audit process is how these enlightened stewards keep their brands from becoming yesterday’s tomatoes.

Brand strategy and brand management is not marketing.

Brand strategy is too important a discipline to be left in the hands of marketing people alone. The principles that guide the strategy and management of a brand have to be driven by the leadership of the organization.

Brand leadership begins with business leadership. Brand strategy is a top down discipline. Business leaders must initiate and drive brand strategy. Leaders determine the higher purpose, vision and values of the business enterprise, not their marketing organizations. Consequently, when leaders have clarity on “why” their brand matters, it’s much easier and more effective to weave the elements of brand strategy into the fabric of the organizational culture and guide the behavior of the organization at every customer touch point in the value chain.

When marketing organizations (or worse their advertising agencies) attempt to define and lead brand strategy, it just becomes more marketing. Consumers / customers loathe marketing. Marketing can get in the way of real engagement with your brand.

Your marketing needs to be baked into your brand strategy, not the other way around.

Brand strategy informs everyone within the organization why their brands exist and matter to people, what values they share, what markets they serve, what products they innovate and bring to market, what processes they use, and what experiences they are to create for customers and the community at large.

Without this solid foundation firmly established, marketing organizations (and their communications partners) have nothing to go on – no map, no guidance, and no discipline– an aimless ship adrift without a rudder squandering money on campaign after campaign.

Brand strategy and brand management is the rudder that steers the ship. A brand audit provides accurate coordinates to help those at the helm figure out where the brand’s strengths, weakness, opportunities and threats lie at any moment in time.

The components of a strategic brand audit.

Completing a brand audit is a chance to take a fresh and objective look at your brand from a number of critical perspectives. A comprehensive brand audit will often reveal surprising insights to grow opportunities for your brand, and new ways to make your brand resonate with a new generation of customers who will represent your brand’s bigger future.

If you believe your brand could use a check up, a comprehensive brand audit will include a thoughtful examination of the following components:

Brand Positioning What does your brand promise? Is this promise still important to customers? Does your brand matter to the customer segment that represents the brands bigger future? Does it represent and reflect a highly valued competitive advantage not in abundant supply elsewhere?

Brand Identity Do customers know what your brand stands for? The brand audit provides the reality check on just how well the essence or personality of the brand is resonating with people.

Brand Equities It’s critical to gain quantifiable insight on important customer metrics like category drivers, brand awareness, purchase behaviors, attitudes, values, market share, and customer life value.

Brand Architecture Brand architectures can get completely out of alignment over time. How is the brand portrayed at the Master Brand level, and is there confusion with the product brand, sub-brands, and branded attributes or features?

Marketing Communications / Messaging If you reviewed several communication pieces carefully, would they portray a consistent message? Would your communications serve to re-inforce and enhance the brand’s position in the minds of customers?

External Partners and Customers This includes your distribution channel partners, independent sales reps, strategic supplier partners and — most importantly — your best customers. Social media is a very effective way to monitor brand health with partners and customers.

Internal Stakeholders Gaining deep insight and understanding of how all stakeholders within your organization perceive the brand’s value proposition and meaning is important because they’re in direct contact with customers; and it’s equally important for management, product development, manufacturing and other groups within the organization to have a clear picture of what the brand stands for.

Competitors / Industry Since your brand doesn’t live in a vacuum, it’s often instructive to compare its image, message and product or service scope within the competitive landscape. Take a deep, long look into their new product initiatives, programs and value-added services. The key is not to benchmark, but to know where your brand is or can be differentiated in a highly valued way by the target consumer/customer segment.

Budgeting / Resource Allocation Does your brand receive the resources it needs to grow and prosper? Do you know what you should be spending your resources on? Are there more effective methods and tactics that will yield the desired results in your brand marketing activities?

Stay tuned for my final segment–Conducting a Strategic Brand Audit– in Part III.


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