What Does Your Collateral Say About Your Brand?

Absent extremely vigilant policing, brands tend to take on a life of their own. It’s simply a matter of course that, over time, individuals within an organization will unintentionally misinterpret or flout certain visual and messaging standards and apply those mistakes to collateral materials, resulting in an incohesive communications hodge-podge. The situation is often worse for organizations that don’t have official brand standards to speak of. When brand indiscretions accumulate, the brand suffers from dilution and misrepresentation. As a first step toward counteracting the problem, it’s helpful to conduct a brand communications audit.

What Is a Brand Communications Audit?

A brand communications audit reviews an organization’s communications tools and tactics to assess how well they tell the brand’s story and reflect its tone and attributes. It is useful to conduct a communications audit if:

  • Your organization has never conducted a communications 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.

Tips for Performing a Communications Audit

A brand communications audit is a substantial undertaking, especially when considered against the normal responsibilities and day-to-day tasks of your team. But depending on your organization’s resources and the objectivity of the individuals who would be tasked with the job, a communications audit can be conducted in-house. You’ll just want to keep in mind the following guidelines.

  • Have standards in place. If you don’t have an official brand positioning statement or visual and messaging standards, a communications audit is futile because you have no framework for judging the effectiveness of your tools and collateral. Make sure those elements are in writing and have full leadership buy-in before proceeding.
  • Put an expert at the helm. A communications audit is time consuming and sometimes 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 your brand inside and out 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 collateral. If the individual who created your organization’s marketing collateral is also the person charged with evaluating their merits as branding tools, there is risk that he or she will be too close to the objects under appraisal to be thoroughly critical.
  • Take inventory. A communications audit needs to be comprehensive to be effective. Before you begin, account for all of your communication tools and tactics—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, 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 telling your brand story or reiterating your messaging that you are letting go unrealized? That takes a much closer review of your materials, but it’s worth the time.
  • 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 collateral and made your assessments, outline your takeaways and conclusions in an easy-to-digest executive summary. As part of your summary report, make useful recommendations for improving your communications tools, tactics, and overall strategy, and lay out next steps for actualizing those improvements.

Once your communications audit is 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 too comfortable in the glow of your achievement. The hardest work is yet to come: actually addressing the branding problems your audit identified.

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