A brand audit can be thought of as brand insurance. When you think of the brands that dominate our cultural landscape, like McDonald’s or Apple, they are immediately recognizable by the golden arches or the silhouette of an apple with a bite out of it. But, there are other attributes that go into the brand that are more subtle – but just as critical to the success of the brand.
In the case of McDonald’s, a complex network of franchised locations all follow the corporate guidelines on store layout and décor, uniforms, promotions, menu items, food quality, and more. For a retailer like Apple, where the experience is of the utmost importance, branding involves making sure wait times are within the required limits, and that associates are working off the required “script” when addressing customers.
A brand audit can be performed in each case – to protect the brand and ensure that all employees, signage and marketing materials are staying on-message.
What is a brand audit?
• A brand audit is what happens when an auditor is sent to a location to determine whether your brand is being properly presented to customers by your employees, resellers, and franchisees.
• A brand audit determines whether your advertising, marketing and operations are aligned with what is actually being performed out in the field.
• Brand audits can be overt or covert, depending on your goals, and they can be performed in the shopping and dining space – or in the back office.
• Brand audits are conducted via surveys, recorded phone calls, and hidden video. Who needs a brand audit?
All companies should monitor the actions that go into fulfilling the brand promise. For some, this is a rather simple task. For others, with multiple locations and a large population of employees who interact with the customer, the task becomes much more complex.
What follows is a list of vertical markets where a brand audit has become an essential component of the brand management process. In these verticals, third party vendors are often sought. These contractors can save the hiring company travel expense by employing auditors geographically close to the locations where the audits will be conducted.
For retailers, the store IS the brand, along with everything it contains. A brand audit within the retail space can be as simple as making sure a limited promotion is being properly executed, or as difficult as auditing the layout of an entire location. Other common brand auditing questions include:
• Associates: Are they properly attired? Are they following sales scripts?
• Signage: Are marketing standards being met? Is warranty and return policy signage properly displayed?
• Sales and Promotions: Are they being properly presented by associates? Are they being properly marketed? Are they being properly merchandised?
• Store layout: Are planograms being properly executed? Is the path to purchase being properly executed?
• Product placement: Are products in the right place and order? Are products in inventory, especially during promotions?
• Experience: Is the optimal customer experience being repeated consistently across all of the locations?
For convenience stores, the outside of the location is just as important as the inside. A brand audit here will often focus as much on outside signage, cleanliness, and the gas pumps as they will on how clean the store is and how engaged employees are. Owners know that an unkempt store will prompt drivers to move on to another safer-seeming location. Here are typical C-Store audit questions:
• Compliance: Are employees properly carding customers on alcohol and tobacco purchases?
• Promotions: Is the appropriate collateral being displayed? Are employees following sales scripts?
• Cleanliness: Are pump areas clean? Is the store clean? Are food and drink stations clean and properly stocked?
• Gas pumps: Are they working properly? Is the appropriate signage included (promotions, credit card acceptance)?
Different types of restaurants measure different things. QSR restaurants tend to emphasize speed, promotions and customer service, while fast casual restaurants tend to emphasize food quality and the overall customer experience. Dine-in restaurants tend to emphasize the quality of service from the host/hostess and server, the quality of the food and the overall customer experience. Whatever the nuance, a brand audit can capture the X-factor that goes into making a dining experience unique. These audits tend to be performed across the spectrum of:
• Promotions: Is the proper signage being displayed inside and outside of the restaurant? Are employees following the proper sales scripts?
• Uniforms: Are employees wearing approved uniforms and name badges?
• Service levels: Are employees hospitable? Is food delivered within the required amount of time? Are orders accurate? Is upselling occurring?
• Food quality: Are servings the proper weight/amount? Is food being served at the proper temperature?
• Stores: Is the dining clean and appropriately stocked? Is the parking lot clean and well lit? Are bathrooms clean and well stocked?
Consumer Packaged Goods (CPG) Manufacturers
CPG manufacturers often turn to a brand audit to ensure their products are being merchandised properly. Typical audits include questions regarding:
• Shelf space: Is the product being displayed in the previously agreed up position in the store? Are seasonal POP displays properly displayed in the correct location?
• In-store sales: In the case where a product is being demonstrated by an in-store representative, is the representative following the approved sales script? Is the proper collateral being distributed to shoppers?
• Pricing: How is the competition pricing their product, especially from market to market? This is a great way to ensure and adjust pricing strategy.
• Versioning: Is the correct version of the product being sold in a specific location?
A brand audit is an effective tool for competitive analysis, especially when the same measuring instrument is applied to both your brand and the competing brand or brands. In all of the examples listed above, the same data that is gathered about your brand execution can speak volumes about the brand execution of your competition. By measuring the results side-by-side, patterns will emerge that will show where the competition is winning and where there are weaknesses that can be exploited.
Whether an audit is performed internally or on the competition, it is critical to see brand auditing as an ongoing process and not a one-time event. A measurement at a single point in time well reveal much, but a consistently executed program conducted over the course of years will reveal seasonal patterns, as well as ebbs and flows of execution that will lead to other discoveries.
A brand is a promise, and the promise is not made in a vacuum. The many people and activities that go into the day-to-day workings of your company either fulfill that promise or make it a lie. A brand audit is the best way to ensure that your brand promise is being kept.