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It's hard to understand how to shift a brand without a solid understanding of where it's positioned. A brand audit is a good tool to employ, as outlined in a previous column.

What are the components of a basic brand audit, and how they are deployed?

1. Metric design

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An old engineering adage goes like this: It is a bad idea to measure without the right measuring stick. This is the stage to build that stick – to decide what is going to be included in scope and what is going to be left out. These elements will be central to all aspects of the audit, so that results can be compared later.

Some good elements to include and measure are:

• Clarity of value proposition.

•Clarity of strengths and differentiators.

• Brand recognition.

• Effectiveness of sales and marketing materials.

• Appropriateness of pricing.

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• Perception of quality.

• Corporate image effectiveness.

2. Study/question design

The next step is to design study areas and questions that will yield data. A good study design includes six areas:

• Internal analysis.

• Competitive assessment.

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• Supplier perspective.

• Current customer analysis.

• Past customer analysis.

• Potential customer assessment.

In other words, no matter how simple or complicated the audit design, many perspectives generate better results. The questions posed should flow from the metrics outlined in step one.

For example, clarity of value proposition could merit more than one question asked to each group – questions here could include: 'If you were to describe our services to someone else, what would you say?' And 'what makes us better than our competitors?'

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Other important questions to ask, regardless of study design specifics:

• If you had $1 million to spend on my business, what would you spend it on?

• What are we worst at? How could we fix it?

• Is our branding consistent with what we do and how we act?

• Does our website and do our marketing materials and ads accurately 'sell' our message?

3. Study execution

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At some point the planning has to end and the doing has to start. Executing the study means assigning the appropriate party in the organization the task of interviewing people from each group or study area identified. The exception to the rule is on the competitive side, where a more guerilla approach is required to see how competitors are doing business – a topic for another day.

Internal interviews tend to be longer than those with customers and other outsiders. Internal folks will normally have stronger opinions and more context – plan for 45 minutes to one hour for each. External interviews with customers and suppliers can be as short as five minutes over the phone, although a wide spectrum of current and past customers is important. In terms of numbers, surveying thousands of potential customers is an option, although you only need about 20 interviews with each of current and former customers to lead to the most important trends.

4. Study analysis

The analysis should be fairly straightforward. There are two main elements: themes and differences in answers between groups.

Thematic analysis can only really be done manually – someone experienced with trending should pick through all the raw data, particularly quotes, looking for common messages such as 'your sales materials don't really tell me what you do.' There is software available, but the financial investment is probably not warranted given the number of times the audit will be performed.

A good way to start the comparative analysis is to use answers from the internal interviews as the anchor – since what employees believe is where the business is starting from – and then compare the answers from the other groups against this data for comparison. Some call this a gap analysis. If customers or potential customers, for example, don't see the value proposition the way the company does, there is an issue to correct.

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The ultimate goal of branding is accuracy and consistency: everything a business does should portray the brand or value proposition, and the branding and messaging should be delivered consistently. A brand audit, whether basic or complex, can be a powerful tool in starting a brand repositioning.

Special to The Globe and Mail

Mark Healy, P.Eng, MBA, is a partner at Satov Consultants – a management consultancy with practice areas in corporate strategy, customer strategy and operations strategy. Mark's focus areas inside the customer strategy practice include consumer insights, customer experience, innovation and go-to-market strategy. He is a regular speaker and media contributor on topics ranging from marketing to strategy, in telecom, retail and other sectors. Mark is known as much for his penchant for loud socks and a healthy NFL football obsession as he is for his commitment to Ivey and recent Ivey grads. He currently serves as chair of the Ivey Alumni Association board of directors. Mark lives with his wife Charlotte and their bulldog McDuff in Toronto.

Join The Globe's Small Business LinkedIn group to network with other entrepreneurs and to discuss topical issues: http://linkd.in/jWWdzT

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