Brand building should be an essential part of the growth of SMEs.As various components of brand equity, (such as awareness, salience, brand loyalty and advocacy) strengthen, they impact positively on brand performance and on future discounted cash flows which, in turn, enhances the financial value of the brand. This has positive outcomes for the value of the organisation as a whole.
This means that when SMEs exit their business they can expect a far better return with a strong brand compared to one that has not been optimised. Before charting a course to build your brand, you should have an objective assessment of its current state. In this regard a brand audit is valuable in that it researches and analyses the current state of an organisation’s brand/s, as well as the way in which it is managed.
By assessing a brand’s status quo, including its strengths and weaknesses, a brand audit provides an excellent foundation for planning and brand development in the future. In addition, it provides a benchmark against which future brand activity can be compared.
A comprehensive brand audit consists of a number of elements including:
- An analysis of existing strategic, branding, and marketing plans.
- Analysing relevant brand, market and marketing research, if available. This pertains to both the brand under review and the competition.
- An internal brand audit which examines perceptions of the brand and the way in which it is managed from the perspective of management and staff. As with an external audit, research can be either qualitative or quantitative, or a combination. Our recommendation, generally, is to ensure that quantitative elements are included.
- A brand management audit which examines many key areas in detail. These include brand mission and vision, market sectors and target markets, brand strategy, brand standards as well as tactics and execution. In addition, the measurement of brand performance (KPI’s and ROI) and financial elements are also included. Whilst many organisations include communications in this area of a brand audit, large organisations with many divisions and departments sometimes require a distinct brand communications audit for their purposes.
- An external brand audit. An external brand audit is generally conducted by researching a representative sample of external stakeholders including customers, lost customers and customers of competitive brands. In addition it can also include other types of external stakeholders such as suppliers and the media, as appropriate. An external brand audit assists a company to attain a deeper understanding of its brand image and establish if this is consistent with its desired brand identity and positioning. In addition, it is greatly beneficial in assessing the extent of brand equity in important areas such as brand awareness, brand salience, perceived quality, brand loyalty, and advocacy.
- An overall SWOT analysis. This is often included to pull all of the above elements together and add to the overall understanding.
Whilst the points mentioned provide a very brief outline of the steps involved in a comprehensive brand audit, many SMEs do not have the structure, finances or time to undertake a brand audit of such a comprehensive nature and as such the scope of a brand audit in this instance should be truncated and tailored to accommodate individual needs and circumstances.
Despite these limitations, a brand audit of this nature provides an important benchmark and can greatly assist in crucial areas like planning, brand building, and strategy. As successful brands have the potential to add considerable financial value to their owners a brand audit is a significant investment from many perspectives.
Alan Kaplan, PhD, is an Executive Director of Optivance 360, a multi-disciplinary consultancy that helps SMEs flourish. Alan’s international experience spans more than 25 years across academic, media, agency, client and consulting areas.
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