Absent vigilant policing, brands take on a life of their own. Over time, individuals within an organization will unintentionally misinterpret or flout certain visual and messaging standards and apply those mistakes to marketing and sales materials, resulting in a hodge-podge of misaligned communications. When these indiscretions of branding accumulate, the brand itself suffers from dilution and misrepresentation, which leaves it vulnerable to consumer misperception. As a first step toward ensuring your content accurately reflects your brand, we recommend conducting a content audit.
What Is a Content Audit?
A content audit entails reviewing your brand’s marketing and sales materials (basically, anything written, audial, or visual that external audiences can consume) to determine how well they adhere to your brand platform and brand standards so that you can identify where you need to make changes in service of your brand.
It is useful to conduct a content audit if:
- Your organization has never conducted a content audit.
- Your organization recently implemented brand standards or refreshed or changed existing brand standards.
- Your organization has experienced significant personnel changes in marketing or leadership.
- Your organization opened new offices or locations.
Tips for Performing a Content Audit
A content audit is a substantial undertaking. When you combine it with the normal responsibilities and day-to-day tasks of your team, it can be daunting. But depending on your organization’s resources and the objectivity of the individuals who would be tasked with the job, a content audit can be conducted in-house. You’ll just want to keep in mind the following guidelines.
Have criteria in place.
A content audit is futile if you don’t have something to check your content against. If you have an official brand platform and brand standards, consider those the criteria by which you should judge your content. If you don’t, you’ll need to capture things like your brand positioning statement, brand story, voice and tone, visual identity standards, and key messages in writing before proceeding. Once they are documented, you’ll have something to compare you content to, so you can assess alignment. The whole point of a content audit is to see how well your content supports these foundational elements of your brand.
Put an expert at the helm.
A content audit is time consuming and tedious, so it can be tempting to assign it to an intern or junior employee. Don’t. This is work that requires identifying subtle visual, messaging, and tone inconsistencies, which means it’s work that necessitates a person who deeply understands branding and has the eye for detail and good judgment that only comes with experience.
But make sure that person is not emotionally attached to the content.
If the individual who created your brand’s content is also the person charged with evaluating its merits as branding tools, there is risk that he or she will be too close to the work to be thoroughly critical.
A content audit needs to be comprehensive to be effective. Before you begin, account for all of your content types—websites and landing pages, social media profiles and posts, sales brochures, trade show handouts, print and e-newsletters, advertisements, menus, invoice templates, automated replies, proposals, presentations, podcasts, outgoing phone messages, office signage, business cards, email signatures, and more—to ensure your audit samples them all.
Break out the red pen (literally or in Adobe PDF editor).
Once you’ve compiled all the materials for your audit, go through them one by one, and mark them up wherever you spot problems. Don’t be afraid to make a mess. Circle obvious brand deviations and take useful notes, but also be sure to identify and make note of missed opportunities. In what additional ways could you be communicating more about your brand or portraying your brand more accurately? On the other hand, if you find examples of well-branded content, earmark those as examples to live up to.
Gather feedback and data.
Don’t assess your collateral in a vacuum; seek input from others within your organization and outside of it. Formal interviews, casual conversations, focus groups, surveys, and a review of existing customer feedback and social chatter can all be helpful in this respect.
Organize and analyze.
Once you’ve gone through your content and made your assessments, outline your takeaways and conclusions in an easy-to-digest summary. As part of your report, make useful recommendations for improving your content, and lay out next steps for actualizing those improvements.
With your content audit complete, feel free to pat yourself on the back for finally tackling a critical project that’s all too easy to put off. But don’t get overly comfortable in the glow of your achievement. The hardest work is yet to come: addressing the branding problems you identified in the course of your audit.