Branding is a fickle thing.
Even the most consistent brand images can be shaken by a few high profile missteps, but when used correctly it can be a powerful tool for making your product or services instantly recognizable and attractive to your target audience.
To do this, you need to have a regular process for a performing a brand audit.
This will let you build a specific perception of your brand, such as one of an authentic, reliable company. This can have massive benefits too; the Authentic Brands study of 2014 by Cohn and Wolfe surveyed opinions of 12,000 people over 12 markets. They found that brand honesty (along with not letting customers down) was most highly valued with 91% saying it was important in their view of brands.
That’s why this post will take you through what a brand audit is, the elements of audience brand perception, how to measure what they think of you, and how to help shape the brand image that you want to give.
Let’s get started!
What is a brand audit?
Brand audits are a method of finding out how your brand is perceived and how that compares to the competition. This information then allows a plan to be formed for how to influence that public perception, making your brand more memorable and attractive compared to other offers.
Doing this lets you tackle negative opinions surrounding your brand, target your audience more effectively, gain more referrals, and limit the damage of any negative press. If you perform a brand audit and don’t like what you see, you can take steps to make sure public opinion changes.
The way your brand is viewed is also often a key factor in setting you apart from your competition. Unless you’re a market leader you’ll have dozens of highly similar competitors in terms of what you’re offering, meaning the way to be memorable is with your brand.
This view of a brand isn’t always tied to products or the direct benefit to the customer either; sometimes the knowledge of certain business practices makes the brand seem more trustworthy and moral, and therefore worth a purchase over others.
Here are some examples of brand perception:
- Best Buy is cheap
- Apple products are expensive, but innovative, useful, and look good
- Dove products are good for dry skin
- Lush provides ethical alternatives to skincare and body wash products
All of these perceptions set them apart from their competitors and make them memorable – if it’s a choice between any old soap and Dove, I’m going to go with the one which I know won’t irritate my skin.
These views can also influence the way people interact with a brand and shape their future success. For example, Apple’s increasing attempts to be seen as more than just a hardware company shows their intended direction and the need to be more than “the iPhone people” to continue to grow.
Yet, despite all of the advantages to shaping your audience’s perception through a brand audit, this can also prove to be a headache-inducing endeavor, as you don’t have ultimate control of what your audience will think. Certain actions and techniques will help to foster their view of a brand, but it’s up to the target audience as to whether or not the intended view will stick.
So, before we dive into how to perform the brand audit itself, it’s worth explaining what causes your audience to think of a brand in the way that they do.
Elements of brand perception
Everything you do affects brand perception, because all of it feeds back to how your customers and employees think of the brand. Every action, interaction, color choice, text snippet, bug, and feature all form the idea of “you”.
However, to boil down the elements to a manageable list:
- Product/service quality
- Value to customers
- Marketing stance (eg, the tone of video ads)
- Visual elements (brand colors, logos, product design, etc)
- Target audience
- Company culture
- Audience familiarity with the brand
This is the heart of why your audience’s perception can be difficult to shape, maintain, and change. It’s all well and good to try to project an image of honesty and reliability, but every negative interaction with your product and company (eg, through customer support) can risk breaking that.
Let’s take Facebook as an example.
Facebook’s product provides a way for people to interact and socialize freely, get news and follow brands and people that they’re interested in, form common interest groups, plan events, share photos, and so on. This gave the view that Facebook values open communication and expression in a secure environment.
Coupled with the business opportunities of Facebook ads and the number of websites which integrated with the site, and the social media giant sat comfortably courting both public and business-minded audiences. The brand’s reputation allowed it to flourish, attract new users, and become a household name around the world.
However, this perception has been thoroughly shaken by widespread scandals and concerns ranging from the proliferation of fake news to the supposed selling of the data of 87 million users to Cambridge Analytica. After this, the perception of Facebook as secure took a beating, leaving it on the back foot and risking losing the patronage of over 3,000 brands’ advertising (not to mention the fear in casual users of their data being usurped).
Although Facebook is an extreme example (and it’s hardly ruined the company), this demonstrates how important it is to have a united front in shaping the perception of your brand. In their case, now that they are no longer seen as being secure, a brand audit could be used to assess the damage and plan out their response.
How to measure brand perception
The first step of any brand audit should be to find out what perception your brand currently has. You can’t plan how to influence the perception or even how urgent the brand audit is until you know this.
Unfortunately, brand perception can’t be measured with a single metric. The more resources you pull from, the more accurate idea you’ll have of what your audience thinks (and is saying) about you. Yes, it takes time, effort, and manpower in order to gather and review this data, but without knowing what your audience thinks of your brand it will be difficult to tell if your business strategy will work or not.
Namely, you need to pay attention to:
- Your Net Promoter Score (NPS)
- Sentiment analysis on social media
- Reviews of your product/company
- Customer and product surveys
- Website traffic
- Blog comments
- Your customer success team
Since each element can’t tell the full story and has its own pros and cons in terms of building your brand’s perception, I’ll break these down individually.
Calculate Net Promoter Score (NPS)
Net Promoter Score is a measure of the percentage of your customer base which would recommend you to a friend, family member, and so on. Although it’s by no means an all-encompassing measure of your current customers’ satisfaction, it’s a good start in building up a picture of how they see your brand.
The easiest way to calculate your NPS is to ask your customers how likely they are to recommend you on a scale of 0-10 (10 being the highest). The easiest way to do this is to message your mailing list or users in your app with an interactive element or survey link.
Everyone who scores 9 or 10 is a “promoter”, 7 or 8 indicates they are “passive”, and anyone scoring from 0-6 counts as a “detractor”. Once the results are in, calculate the % of respondents in these three categories and use the calculation below:
- NPS = % promoters – % detractors
As for what the results mean, any positive NPS score is a good sign, but generally, 30%+ is considered good, 50%+ is great, and 70%+ is excellent.
Again, while this figure shouldn’t serve as the basis for the entire brand audit, it does serve as a great measure of your current customer happiness which, in turn, reflects positively on your brand. At the very least this will tell you if your current audience is overall satisfied with the service you’re providing.
For a more thorough rundown of NPS, what it means, and how to use it, check out our blog post on how to calculate NPS.
Use sentiment analysis on social media
Imagine that you’re trying to find out what everyone you know thinks about you. One of the immediate problems is that what they say to you might not be the same as when talking to others.
The same is true of brand perception, and this is a core reason why you can’t rely solely on statistics like NPS.
Social media sites are a great opportunity to find out what people are saying about a brand when there are fewer pressures to be glossy with their words. People tend to speak their mind, but manually trawling through Twitter to find every mention of yourself is an exercise in futility and wasted resources.
Enter sentiment analysis tools.
These allow you to analyze mentions of your brand to see what the general sentiment of messages involving you is. For example, a tweet saying “Facebook is bad” could be detected by searching for tweets with the word “Facebook” in them, and a sentiment analyzer such as Aylien’s Text API could detect that the message is overall negative.
Obviously, there are some drawbacks to this method. You’re relying on a tool to assess whether your brand is being referred to in a positive or negative light, which won’t always return accurate results. Not to mention that you’ll need to filter the messages being analyzed according to their date in order to get an idea of what your current audience’s brand perception is.
While it shouldn’t be taken for gospel, sentiment analysis will add to your NPS by telling you what your wider audience thinks of you. The nuance of what people like (or don’t) and why will be lost, but knowing the general sentiment towards a brand can go a long way towards knowing what position needs to be taken after the brand audit.
For a look at sentiment analysis in action, check out our study of 12,844 tweets to find out how top SaaS companies handle Twitter support.
Read reviews for your product or company
Reviews are a brutally honest format, and so are a great way to discover what people like and dislike about a brand. Although not all will contain useful information, it’s good to know what your customers are saying to each other about your product and what anyone researching your brand will see.
There’s no real secret here – depending on the type of business, reviews may be spread over Amazon, eBay, Capterra, G2 Crowd, LinkedIn, and many, many others. Although analyzing the text of all of them isn’t entirely necessary, try to look at as many as possible and at least average them out to find the general consensus, along with common positives and negatives pointed out by your audience.
Create customer and product surveys
Another great way to get a sense of what people think of your brand is to ask them to complete a survey or two. While this can be done at the same time as measuring your Net Promoter Score, it’s worth thinking about whether to separate the two in order to get more NPS responses from those who aren’t willing to complete an entire survey.
Customer satisfaction surveys (CSAT) are typically the kind of survey you might hand to someone as they leave your store, asking for feedback on their purchase and buying experience. By asking questions relating to their experience with your brand rather than a specific product or service, you get an overall view of what you’re doing well, what needs improvement, and what message you’re sending overall.
Remember; just because your customers are happy with their experience, that doesn’t mean they have the ideal perception of your brand.
Product surveys, unsurprisingly, are much more focused on what you’re selling and the value being provided. These can be given to any of your customers, as each kind will give your different information:
- New customers will show you what convinced them to make their first purchase
- Return customers let you know what brand or product elements make them keep coming back
- Lost customers illustrate why they left, and what you could be doing differently
Monitor website traffic
Website traffic can tell you a couple of useful things when it comes to a brand audit.
First, it shows you how many people visit your website, and thus how widespread your reach is. This isn’t the be-all-end-all figure, as it doesn’t count the number of in-store or phone-in customers you have, and most website views won’t convert into customers, but it’s nonetheless good to see whether online interest in you is growing over time.
By analyzing the sources of your traffic you can also start to build a more complete picture of your brand’s perception.
For example, if you see that most of your traffic is coming from keywords relating to IT, it’s safe to assume that your brand will have that association in their eyes. Repeated backlinks from certain sources also highlight where your content is being shared and to what kind of audience, so that’s also worth noting.
The main thing to remember is how your traffic and the sources of it relate back to your audience. Keep asking yourself where these views are coming from, what that tells you about them and their views, and thus what associations your brand currently has.
Read blog comments
Reading blog comments is another way you can interact directly with your audience and hear what they think. These are people who have taken the time to visit your site, read (at least partially) your material, and write a comment, so the least you can do is read it and reply.
Not only is this a great way to build relationships and a community feel, but it serves as another chance to speak directly to your audience and learn what they think. However, don’t apply their views to the rest of your audience without due care – comments are relatively rare, and so any who speak out are typically a vocal minority.
Talk to your customer success team
The final way you can get a sense of your brand’s perception is to talk to your customer success team and ask them what customers and potential leads are commonly saying. These people work with your audience every day while trying to sell your product, help customers make the most of it, solve any issues, and address concerns, so they will know what the common thoughts and ideas on your brand will be.
Whether you’re analyzing common holdout points for potential customers or learning the most common use cases for your service, these conversations with your team, combined with the other elements above, will help to build a better picture of how your brand is viewed outside of your team.
Plan your brand audit strategy
Now that you know what the general perception of your brand is, it’s time to work on your brand audit strategy. That is, you need a solid plan of action before diving in, otherwise your uncoordinated efforts will send mixed signals.
To do this, you need to do three things:
- Unpick the reason for your brand’s current perception
- Survey the competition’s perception
- Lay out your ideal brand image
Find out why your brand is perceived the way it is
This is the easiest step of planning your brand audit strategy, since you will already have much of the information from your initial brand perception analysis.
Take what everyone thinks about your brand (along with common pros and cons) and compare it with your various teams, their work, and your product in order to find the root cause of your audience’s opinion. Knowing this will let you see what needs to be changed in order to shake any perception that you don’t want to have.
Review your marketing material, product image, support and customer success performance, social media presence, and anything else which could affect the perception of your brand to see whether you’re presenting a united front. If not, find out what message each department is sending to your target audience.
Combine this with the responses to your surveys and think about what all of this adds up to in terms of the idea of your brand. Then you can start to identify obvious problems. For example, if people are saying that your logo is forgettable, a review of your marketing department could show that this is because it is too small to stand out on your products.
Survey how competitors are seen
By analyzing how your competitors are viewed you can identify where any gaps in the market are, and potentially what weaknesses you can capitalize on. No, I’m not talking about jibes or blackmail.
Let’s say that you run a streaming service and are trying to break into the market. Your current customers complain that your selection isn’t wide enough, but you can’t afford many of the larger releases services like Netflix can. However, through analyzing Netflix’s brand perception, you’re able to see a distinct lack of (hypothetically) horror movies.
With this knowledge, you can shift your branding and strategy to capitalize on this and market to that niche. Rather than attempting to court the same audience as Netflix (and getting crushed due to their established presence in mainstream streaming), you’re able to audit your brand to cater to a gap in the market which isn’t currently fulfilled, and then expand from there.
Competitor analysis can be done largely using the same techniques as analyzing your own brand (albeit with a wider scope for your surveys), along with taking a look at their official marketing elements to see if they are successful, and what they were originally trying to link the brand to.
Plan your desired perception
Once you know where your brand stands with your audience, why they think the way they do, and what your competitors are doing to stand out, it’s time to plan out how you want to be seen and remembered.
Changing your audience’s perception takes a long time, and so this plan will give you and your team a consistent framework to draw from without contradicting each other and ruining your efforts. After all, re-targeting your audience in marketing campaigns won’t do much good if your product or support team have the same major flaws that put off your customers previously.
If everyone is clear on how the brand needs to be perceived then everything else can be planned around that, creating a united effort which feels genuine to your target audience. This is vital, as 63% of consumers will buy from a company they see as authentic over and above their competition.
In this case, it really does pay to be honest.
In any case, ideally all team managers and above should agree on how the audience needs to perceive the brand. Failing that, the chosen presentation (eg, from the marketing team or CEO) should be passed onto every team for reference in their work.
Influence your brand’s perception
You have the current brand perception and an ideal version that you want to achieve. Now it’s time to make the journey between them.
To do this, I’ll be highlighting the following techniques:
- Dedicating extra resources to social media
- Aligning marketing with your product/services
- Working with influencers in your target market
- Speaking at events
- Writing books
- Buying ads
- Interacting with charities and fundraisers
Dedicate resources to social media
Although the usefulness of social media depends on the size of your audience and the field you’re in, there’s no reason to hold out on reviewing the resources you dedicate to the various platforms and reassessing them when doing a brand audit. After all, now that you know what brand perception you want to have, you can more easily identify the ideal social platforms to focus on to reach the right people and send the right message.
Even ignoring any attempts to build a personality through your interactions and the platforms you choose to use, having an active social media presence show that you’re listening to customers and are willing to talk to your audience. It’s a great way to make a good impression, alleviate customer issues, and generally increase satisfaction with your brand.
Alternatively, social media can be used to carve out your distinct brand voice. Wendy’s did this with their Twitter account, and as a result managed to give their brand a distinct personality which generated a lot of interest and helped them stand out from their fast food competitors.
Make sure your product/service aligns with your marketing
While it’s important to attract more people to continue to grow your business, there’s no use creating a generic marketing campaign which doesn’t truly represent the brand image you want to aim for. Customers like authenticity, so you need to live up to the promises and impressions created by your marketing.
Therefore you need to take steps to see that your marketing material lines up with your product(s) or service(s). Specifically, you need to check the following:
- Product quality needs to suit the advertised level.
- Priorities and/or features should reflect the target audience’s desires and your intended brand image.
- Pricing should be competitive (but not necessarily the lowest), even if you’re making a point of higher quality than the competition.
- Delivery and/or availability should be improved where possible to give more people better access to your product, especially when it comes to your target audience.
- Customer service should have the same unified tone as your product and marketing (highly professional, friendly, informal, etc) and respond rapidly to issues
This is a stage which will require a lot of work and enforcement as time goes by, so it’s worth creating a document (or template) to follow for your marketing. That way you can make sure that all material relating to your brand has a consistent tone and presentation.
Work with influencers in your market (or to influence perception)
Another great way to win over your target audience and reshape their brand perception is through social proof, and by working with people who are already key figures in their niche. By doing this you can gain exposure to a pre-existing relevant audience and associate your brand with their perception of the influencer you’re working with.
Some examples of this are sponsored videos or articles, producing guest content for each other’s sites, reaching out to known customers and asking for a review, or flat-out hiring them to produce content for you. Having said that, it’s not a good idea to try and force views through the influencer (eg, through a set script or by forcing them to have a good opinion). This can easily backfire and make your brand and the influencer seem untrustworthy, which is bad for both parties.
Take care to research the person you’re teaming up with before going ahead too, as any negative perceptions of them will be linked back to your brand via proxy. Remember, the association works both ways.
Speak at (or just attend) events
Speaking at events is a fantastic way to both advertise your brand and shape the opinion of it at the same time. Not only do you pose yourself as an authority figure on the subject you’re talking about (assuming the talk goes well), but through your word choice and delivery you can shape an image of your brand and what any customers can expect.
If you don’t have the connections (or money) to get a speaking slot at a relevant event, just attending them can often be worth your time and money, as the opportunities to meet new people and grow your network will, in turn, give you better ways to audit your brand to suit your goals.
Write a book
Although it takes a lot of work, writing a book is a great way to position yourself as an authority on the topic you write about. Not only that, but you don’t even have to pay publishing fees – you could compile an ebook to upload to platforms such as ProductHunt and Amazon with little trouble.
Assuming your writing is good, the ebook has a good design (remember, you can always outsource the editing and design), and you provide useful information, this will demonstrate your brand as being highly relevant to a particular niche. Through the language and visual elements you can also push your brand image.
For example, here at Process Street, we’ve written several ebooks on topics such as business process automation, customer success, and business process management. All of these are free to download, but make for great content upgrades and ways to get people signed up to our blog.
Running ads as a branding exercise is a fine line between increasing audience familiarity and annoying people with irrelevant or spammy ads. As such, you should have a thorough understanding of the platform you’re using, where your ads will be, whether they look the best they can, and whether you need ads at all before even thinking about investing money in them.
When used correctly, ads (website banner or sidebar ads, youtube ads, billboards, etc) are a great way to get your brand’s name out there and make your target audience familiar with your branding elements. This can help to break the ice to ensure you’re not doing completely cold calls, get people talking about your and drumming up interest through word of mouth, and even change perceptions of your brand depending on the content of the ad itself.
Interacting with charities and fundraisers
Finally, charities and fundraisers can be a great way to encourage some goodwill towards your brand and show that your company is interested in supporting its customers and the values they hold. It can also be a great way to repair relations after something blows up (although this could just as easily appear like a cynical marketing attempt, in which case you’ll have to commit to further such events to see a return in public opinion).
It’s admittedly not the most effective way to market your brand, but in terms of boosting public opinion, a simple one-evening fundraiser can go a long way. It all depends on what you want your brand to embody.
Even a successful brand audit won’t work overnight
It’s easy to get lost in assuming that your audience thinks the way you expect them to, but that’s precisely why it’s important to perform a brand audit every so often. This (along with asking yourself some simple marketing questions) will help you stay grounded and keep tabs on when you need to tweak your strategy, and when you need to overhaul your brand’s image and do some serious damage control.
To check out a brand audit in action, check out our post on how we managed our own startup branding, from product inception all the way through to late 2016.
How do you track your own brand’s perception? What’s the biggest challenge in shaping your audience’s perception? Let me know in the comments!