brand audit 2Like a lot of things, if you neglect your brand it will deteriorate, get out of shape or whither over time. Brands need to be nurtured, developed and paid attention to. When was the last time you took a step back and took a critical look at your brand and your brand promise? Not just the graphical representation of your brand but your brand in total.

In today’s crowded and increasingly competitive environment, your brand may matter more than it ever has before. Today, most customers are looking for authenticity and transparency in the companies they do business with. They want to do business and interact with companies that are reputable and deliver on their promises. When a brand gets tired or appears worn out, customers often choose to move on and find new organizations to do business with. You need to make sure your brand is as healthy, up to date and relevant as it can be.

What is a brand audit? 

Think of a brand audit as a periodic review of your brand. It is an in-depth review of your current position in the market, how well you are performing against the competition and how effective your current brand is at delivering on your promise. The brand audit process allows you to take a step back and take a deep dive to help you understand the strengths, weaknesses, threats and opportunities of where your brand is today and discover what parts of your brand are still effective and what parts may need updating or revisions.

When should you do a brand audit?

There is rarely a single moment in time when you realize that your brand isn’t what it used to be. No crystal ball will predict it for you and no one will shine a spotlight on the dangers and pitfalls. Perhaps employee retention starts to decrease; maybe a decline in sales or maybe customer feedback begins to be a little more negative. This erosion of your brand happens gradually over time and may go unnoticed for years or even decades.

Your brand is a combination of your reputation, interactions with, and promises made to, your clients. It is also the most important part of your success. A well thought-out and clear brand can empower and inspire your employees as well as your customers. Most brands start with great passion, desire and a strong promise to customers that, in turn, drives the strategy. As the company matures and grows, priorities may shift, new market opportunities may open up or there may be changes in leadership at the top. All of these changes, and others, can weaken your brand and make it less attractive to your customers.

When your brand starts to weaken it is often manifested in higher than normal employee turnover, reduced sales and lower employee engagement. When your brand starts to diminish as a result, it is time to conduct a brand audit.

Some experts will tell you that you need to conduct a brand audit on an annual basis. I’ve always gone off a once-every-three-years rule of thumb. However, if things are rapidly changing in your markets or with your customers, or there is a disruption due to technology or other innovations, you should take a good look at your brand more frequently. You need to ensure that your brand remains relevant and able to adapt to those changes.

What’s included in a brand audit? 

Typically, a brand audit is made up of three key components or steps; perception (where we think we are), reality (where we really are), and the desired future (where we want to be).

  • Perception – The first step of a brand audit is diving into a deeper understanding of where your brand stands in the marketplace. The way you think the market sees you may be out of alignment with how you are truly perceived. During this step of a brand audit, feedback is sought from your current stakeholders, customers, prospects, employees, vendors and partners.
  • Reality – This step of the brand audit is broken down into two separate components, where your brand is currently and where the competitive market is currently. When analyzing the current state of your brand, all marketing material and messaging is analyzed. This includes the positioning statement, print and digital collateral, content, website, social media, thought leadership, and analytics. The second part of this step involves looking at the competitive marketplace to see how your brand stacks up relative to your competition. Do you have a good understanding of your competitors? Are there potential future threats that you’re aware of? Is your product or service clearly differentiated? Are you doing things and behaving the way you should in order to stay competitive, remain the leader or overtake your competitors?
  • Future – This is the final step of a brand audit. During this step, all the information that you have gathered in the first two steps is analyzed, quantified and qualified. Any recommendations that come from the audit should be linked to the long-term business strategy, future desired outcomes, and opportunities.

Should I hire an outside firm to do a brand audit?

When it’s time for a company to take an objective look at itself and its brand to make sure it is properly positioned for the next stage of growth and development, it is best to hire a firm that specializes in brand strategy, messaging and positioning. Hiring an experienced firm will help ensure that you get good and actionable results. The quality of the team that is coordinating and performing the brand audit does make a difference in the results you will get.

Unlike trying to do an audit in-house, an experienced and qualified brand strategy team will be able to see things you don’t and will be able to be honest with their findings and feedback. Because of this, you will have an authentic and honest assessment of where things stand, along with a quality plan to move forward toward your goals.

 

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Content Marketing 3The one thing that doesn’t ever seem to change in business is that change is constant. Those changes are affecting the way organizations market themselves and communicate with their prospects and clients

There are many reasons for the rapid acceleration of change going on. From shifting demographics to new technologies to the way we get our news and entertainment. The way consumers interact with your organization and brand has also changed. Gone are the days of one-way communication and here to stay is the desire for interactive communications and engagement.

With all of these changes occurring over the past 6-7 years, and the advent of social networking sites, the way we market has also changed. This has given rise to what is commonly known as content marketing. Content marketing is a term that is used frequently but there is still confusion about what, exactly, is meant by the term. Is it a passing fad or is it here to stay? How can content marketing help you with your marketing and branding efforts?

What, Exactly, Is Content Marketing?

Marketo.com defines content marketing as the process of creating high-quality, valuable content to attract, inform, and engage an audience, while also promoting the brand itself.  According to Wikipedia.com, the first mention of content marketing was back in 1996, but true content marketing as an accepted form of marketing really didn’t take hold until the late 2000’s.

Content marketing includes articles, blogs, videos, testimonials and case studies, among other things. Each of these types of content delivers insight into your company, brand and products.

Consumers are looking to interact with you in different ways than they did in the past. According to Marketo.com, the average buyer guides themselves through 60% to 90% of the traditional sales funnel before ever contacting a brand or salesperson.

This means that your marketing needs to be more strategic than ever, including content marketing. Before you do anything with content marketing, you need to set goals and objectives and determine how your content is going to move you towards accomplishing those goals. You will need to define, in as much specificity as possible, your target market. It is no longer enough to only segment by demographics or geography you need to go deeper into what their specific needs, and wants and interests are. How does what you provide (service or product) help them solve a problem or satisfy a need?

The goal of good content marketing is to drive customer interaction toward a goal, most likely in the form of new or increased sales, loyalty or familiarity with your organization. In order to do this, the content you create must be valuable, consistent and relevant. It’s not enough to be simply entertaining; you must provide something that is valuable to your audience. You also need to address your audience’s needs, interests and wants in a timely manner. You need to display a level of understanding such that they come away with the understanding that you know what’s important to them and in turn, they trust you to provide them with the service or product they need to solve their problem. Your content and the way it is delivered must also be consistent. Just like any other part of your brand and brand story, your content style, look, tone and topics should be presented in the same voice to help drive familiarization and recognition.

Why Should I Care About Content Marketing?

The days of one-way communication to consumers are long gone. Consumers no longer want to be sold to. Actually, they’re almost demanding that you don’t sell to them. Creating effective, engaging and relevant content can help you build strong customer relationships and avoid the appearance that you are selling to your customers. Good content and a good content strategy help to enhance your reputation as a subject-matter expert and build trust in the marketplace by emphasizing and demystifying topics that affect your prospects and clients. The results of good content and good content strategy will push traffic to your website, engage your audience on social media, build goodwill in the marketplace, help with SEO and ultimately increase loyalty and sales.

In today’s marketing world, content is king.


Grafica colorRome was not built in a day. Nor will your brand or image. You need to consistently invest in that brand and image over time to see the results. As many businesses go about the process of building their brand, they often take the easy way out and don’t put a lot of thought or effort into the visual representation of their business or brand. This can potentially be a serious mistake. Your customers and prospects are able to tell the difference between a well thought out, consistent brand image and one that may have been hastily thrown together. Taking the time to develop your brand image is important, and there are good reasons why investing in high-quality graphic design makes good business sense.

It makes you look professional  

You don’t have a lot of time to make a good first impression on potential customers. It’s usually less than 10 seconds. Often that first impression is your website, business card, brochure or catalog. And even though your potential customers may not be experts when it comes to design and graphics, they can tell whether your promotional materials were done by an amateur or professional. It doesn’t matter how big your company is, if your design is done poorly, it will give the impression that your firm is small, cheap and maybe even undependable. Conversely, well-done, professional graphic design can make your company look strong, reliable and professional. Even the smallest of startups can look established and bigger than they are with professional graphic design.

Good design has a positive effect on the bottom line

If you change your thinking to see good design as an investment rather than an expense, you’ll start to see the benefits. Great design has the potential to help accelerate sales in the short term and build repeat sales in the long term. Because great design, along with other things, has the ability to affect your customers’ awareness, loyalty, trust and perception of your brand it has an effect on the bottom line.

It pulls your brand together in a consistent manner

Inconsistent branding has the ability to make your company look cheap and amateurish. When looking at your brand from the physical design and graphical representation perspective, it needs to all flow together and present a consistent image to your customers, potential customers and market in general. Truly professional organizations all have consistent, cohesive branding; the colors are consistent and complementary, the fonts are consistent and the logos and other images are consistent. Having that cohesiveness and consistency in your branding allows your marketing materials to be recognizable, unique and effective.

Great graphic design helps you connect with and appeal to your audience

A really good graphic designer takes the time and effort to understand the details of your business and your target audience. He or she learns what will appeal to, and attract, new customers, and builds upon that to design appropriately. A good designer knows that a generic, one-size-fits-all approach does not work and will work to make the graphic representation of your company unique to you and your market. A good designer will know which color combinations work and don’t work. What they design, whether a logo, brochure or digital media, will appeal to and connect with your audience in a positive way.

Good design helps you stand out 

These days it seems that everyone has access to tools to do things themselves. From a design standpoint you can get clip art, templates and stock images from many different sources on the Internet. You can even have a logo created by a freelancer for very little money. Does this approach really make you stand out from the crowd? Does it build brand equity and cohesiveness? A good graphic designer and good graphic design will help your brand cut through the confusion and noise to really stand out from the crowd. You want to accentuate the things that make your company unique and special. A good graphic designer will take the time to really understand what makes you unique and different, and then find a way to highlight that in the graphic representation of your brand.

 


Brand Branding Copyright Advertising Banner Concept

As a start up, you have so many things you need to worry about. One of the last things you’re probably thinking about is your brand. Don’t make that mistake. Thinking about and building your brand from day one is important and will help with your overall marketing and awareness going forward.

Why is it so important to think about your brand before you barely exist as an organization? Because building a good brand will help you with your perception in the market place and help occupy the correct space in your potential investors’ and clients’ minds. Bear in mind that your brand is so much more than a logo, website or features of your product or service. A brand is not tangible; it’s intangible. It is your personality, your image, the story of your organization and your reputation.

Now that you can start to understand what a brand is, how do you develop your brand and your brand strategy? How do you make sure to develop one that tells your unique story in a compelling way?

Start with research

If you don’t know your industry and competition inside and out, you’re not going to succeed. You need to find the answers to a lot of questions. Who are the dominant players and how are they positioned? What are the barriers to entry? What is the market size? What percentage of market share do you think you can win? What is the potential for sales? What are the typical margins in this industry? Are investors interested in this industry? If so, how many and where are they?

Similarly, you need to know your own strengths and weaknesses and how those fit into the industry and what you’re trying to provide. What is the fundamental issue you’re trying to address and is there an overriding need for your product or service? How is what you’re doing different? Once the research is done, you can start to develop your position and messaging.

Develop your message and position

Again, there are more questions to be answered. What does your organization do? What problems or issues does it help solve? Why and how are you different than your competitors? What value do you bring to your customers and investors? You need to answer these questions, and others, from the beginning.  This is commonly known as your value proposition. You need to make sure that you set yourself apart from everyone else, and let them know who you are, what you do and why they should care. In the beginning keep it simple. Maybe two or three sentences about what you want people to know about you and why you’re different.

Next, think about your positioning. How do you fit in the marketplace? Will you compete on price or service? Are you going to be a low-cost solution, high-end solution or a completely different solution that no one has thought of before? Is your product or service an improvement to an existing product or service or is this an innovation? This is a critical step since it will help make you stand out from the competitors.

As you go through this process be careful to make sure that you are genuine. Pretending to be something you aren’t or attempting to fool the marketplace is a recipe for disaster.

Create your visual identity

Branding is more than just the visual representation of your company. It’s more than a logo, font or color. However, your visual identity is a big part of your branding process. As you start to develop the visual side of your brand think about how and where a customer or investor will interact with you. Your look should be consistent and cohesive across all opportunities and interactions, and accurately and simply communicate your message.  You will want to develop a set of brand guidelines to use as you go forward. Things that should be included in the brand guidelines are fonts, colors, logo size, approved images and text size, among other things.

Be sure you’re consistent

While not technically a step in the branding process, making sure you are consistent with your messages and how they’re delivered is one of the ultimate goals. You need to make sure that you’ve created a consistent, cohesive and unified brand experience. You want your customers and investors to easily understand what to expect when they interact with your brand. If you are successful in developing this consistency of experience, you will be able to build trust in the marketplace.

This consistency of the brand also applies to internal employees. They need to understand what the company stands for, how to behave and what is expected. Your employees will be a big part of the brand experience going forward for customers and investors.

Periodic review

Ultimately the desired outcome is efficacy and consistency in your brand. You should plan on periodically reviewing your brand and its place in the market. Are you still conveying the messages you want to? Is the brand experience consistent with what you promise? Are you still providing value and solving the problems you set out to solve? Do people still perceive you in the way you want them to? Is your brand still aligned with your mission?

If there’s been a major and fundamental shift in what your startup does or produces, you will need to make adjustments to your brand and your messaging. Examples of major changes might be new products or services, expansion into new markets (geography or industry) or a merger/acquisition, to name a few.

Many entrepreneurs in the start up world don’t initially understand the importance of their brand and, therefore, leave branding activities until they’re done creating their product or service, developing their investor pitch or organizing their team. While all of those activities are important to a start up, thinking about and building your brand from day one will help you succeed. Having the ability to effectively and efficiently tell your story to customers, investors, potential employees and the media with a consistent message is critical.


Rebranding 3As a business owner or executive, your days are filled with the activities necessary to keep the business moving forward. You are constantly working to stay on top of all the changes and advancements in the industry and what your competitors are doing. Often times you don’t have the time to step back and evaluate whether or not your brand still clearly identifies and communicates who you are, and if it is still relevant to what your customers and the broader marketplace wants.

As the market and your industry evolves, so too should your brand. That’s why it is a good idea to do a brand audit periodically to see if things need to change to keep up. A result of that brand audit may be to rebrand the organization.

Rebranding is a process. It is not a simple transaction like changing a logo or colors. It is a decision that should not be made lightly or hastily. But, it is a decision that should be made with the goal of improving your business and facilitating further growth. If you’re uncertain whether or not you should undertake the process of rebranding, here are 7 reasons when it makes the most sense to rebrand.

Your brand is tired and outdated

This one is pretty cut and dried. Sometimes your brand needs to be refreshed or redone. What was current and contemporary when you started may look tired or outdated today. You want to make sure that your positioning and messaging is in-line with who you are today and in the future.

You are looking to jump start growth

Your brand, in its current form, may not have the right components to move the organization forward. Maybe sales have stalled, you’ve expanded a product line, opened new markets, or expanded your service offerings, what worked in the past may not be the best for new growth. A new brand initiative can help communicate the changes you’ve gone through and help solidify your new place in the minds of customers.

Your competitors are starting to look the same as you

There may be instances where your competitors are consciously, or unconsciously, trying hard to duplicate your success. That includes looking, sounding and acting like you. In order to stand out and differentiate yourself from them you may want to rebrand your organization so that you stand out from the crowd again. Refreshing and rebranding can transform your organization and positively affect the way the marketplace sees you.

Your organization has expanded beyond its original scope

Maybe what you started out doing and whom you started out serving has changed or expanded. If that is the case, it’s probably a good idea to rebrand so that you can communicate successfully with this expanded customer base. You want to make sure that your positioning and messaging resonates with whom you now target and serve. It doesn’t have to mean you abandon the past, just expand for the future.

Your brand has become inconsistent and unclear

Over time, it’s possible that your brand has become inconsistent and your messaging confusing. Maybe it happened because of some acquisitions you’ve made? Maybe it happened because you’ve engaged multiple outside service agencies? Often times these types of situations have a negative impact on company culture, which in turn has a negative impact on your brand. Regardless of why it happened, you need to correct that type of situation and rebranding can be the answer.

You want to attract better talent

If you are unable to recruit, retain and develop top talent it might be because your brand doesn’t stand out from the crowd. Maybe your brand, and consequently your company, seems old fashioned, out of touch or mediocre. In this day and age, top talent wants to work for top organizations. Rebranding gives you a chance to redefine who you are to available talent. If you’re not perceived as a top organization it might be time to rebrand to make your organization more attractive.

You’ve developed a bad reputation

Many companies have rebranded because of a bad reputation. It can work but be careful. The better route to go is to make sure that the fundamental reasons your organization has developed this bad reputation are taken care of. Maybe it’s a customer service issue or a product reliability issue? It really doesn’t matter. If you can take care of the bigger issue, the rebrand has a better chance of accomplishing your other goals.

If one or more of these situations exists in your organization, it might be time to look at rebranding. But, as mentioned before, don’t take the process lightly. There is a lot that goes into a rebrand and you want to make sure you get it right. Pay attention to the details. It’s better to have it done well and done correctly, than to have it done quickly.