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Is your brand hurting your sales and revenue behind your back?

Strong brands are worth big dollars. Coca Cola’s brand value (excluding other assets and cash) is 35% of its market capitalisation – about $118 billion. But hidden shortcomings in a brand can also harm sales and hinder growth. Whether you’re a small entrepreneur or a giant multinational, strengthening your brand is lucrative for business. Lime’s brand audit service is the perfect tool to do that.

What is a brand audit and why do I need one?

Before we get into what a brand audit is, let’s look at what it actually does.

Most businesses are fairly confident that they understand their customers well, yet research shows that 8 out of 10 consumers feel that businesses don’t understand their needs as customers.

This is a serious problem. When it comes to marketing, the old adage, “what you don’t know can’t hurt you,” couldn’t be further from the truth. What businesses don’t know routinely can and does hurt them, but the worst impact comes from things that businesses don’t even know that they don’t know!

Brand audits are tools that can uncover and resolve such risks.

A GPS for businesses

For instance, consider the case of a distinguished, well-established company that sold products widely regarded as being high-quality. They’d been in business for over half a century, were selling in more than 70 countries around the world, and had never once suffered a loss since they were established.

But by 1998, this company was seeing a decline in sales, and their best efforts to solve the problem were going nowhere.

“Maybe customers are bored of our products and expect something different,” they thought, and launched new products like clothes and jewellery.

“Maybe we aren’t fun enough in the age of internet and technology,” they worried, so they launched theme parks and experience centres.

“Maybe consumer interests have shifted and we should cater to changing trends,” they reasoned, and launched tie-ins with popular culture and entertainment phenomena.

Despite all that, they incurred hundreds of millions in losses and were facing bankruptcy in 2003.

The company we’re alluding to is Lego. Fortunately, they undertook a meticulous and detailed brand audit, and managed to get their business back on to the growth curve.

The brand audit helped Lego realise that in the rush to innovate, they’d lost touch with what their core customers really wanted, and ended up making products for people who didn’t like Lego, rather than those who did. These findings helped them turn things around; by 2020, Lego clocked over $10 billion in sales, and profits have so far grown 140% to $2.5 billion.

The brand audit, defined

A brand audit is a method used to determine:

  • How well a business or organisation is fairing in a market
  • Its strengths and weaknesses, relative to competitors
  • Whether consumers know and recognise the business, what they think of it, and what they expect from it
  • Actionable steps to address weaknesses, and strengthen its appeal to consumers, including improvements in marketing communication, sales process, customer experience, and vision / purpose, to name a few.

Done well, a brand audit helps get accurate answers to questions such as:

  • How well does your customer know you?
  • Why do your customers prefer you to your competitor — or vice versa?
  • Could you be losing customers to your competitors without realising it?
  • Who is the first business your customers think of when they need your product or service?
  • Do your customers recognise your business?
  • Are your customers being consciously or unconsciously put-off by your business due to incongruous marketing messages, packaging, signage, promotional offers, uniforms, or even by what your staff say or do?

To really see how a brand audit can increase your sales and profits, let’s rewind a bit to the fundamentals.

First, what is a brand?

Here’s what a brand is NOT: it’s not a name, a logo, a product, or a company.

A brand is how people feel about a product, a service, or an organisation.

In this case, that refers to your past, current, and future customers, and how they feel about your business and its products and services.

Notice that it’s what they feel, as opposed to what they think, because research shows that human behaviour is essentially driven by emotions, despite whatever we imagine of ourselves as rational beings.

To paraphrase Marty Neumeier: your brand is not what you think it is, it’s what they feel it is.

As an example, consider how you feel about the following people: Michael Phelps, Nicole Kidman, your Mum, Acker Salterton.

If you’re like most people, odds are, you recognise the first three people, and you have some kind of feeling about them that might range from intense emotion to complete indifference.

And your reaction to Acker Salterton is probably, “Huh?”, because you’ve likely never heard of him.

Brands are the same way: they help consumers recognise an entity, just as we recognise people, and they inspire certain feelings in us, whether the feeling is confidence, love, annoyance, indifference, or whatever else.

Brand = perceived reputation, is another way of thinking about it. When you perceive that you are familiar with someone or something, you make choices easily and with confidence.

People and brands with perceived positive reputations overcome our innate risk-aversion, and we turn towards them. People and brands of no repute, or with non-positively perceived reputations, prompt us to turn away or respond with suspicion and guardedness.

It’s important to note that people’s perception of “positive” and “non-positive” is not binary; it doesn’t work like an on-off button. Rather, positive and non-positive both exist on a spectrum, much like supermarket checkout queues – there isn’t a specific length at which they become either long or short, and no matter how long a queue you think you’ve seen, there will always be a longer one someday.

The fact that brand perception exists on a spectrum is the reason why even the most successful brands in the world continuously work on building and strengthening their brands. It’s also worth mentioning that consumers form and revise perceptions in a matter of seconds – one inconsistent interaction is all it takes for a person’s perception of a brand to slide from positive towards non-positive.

So, regardless of what business you’re in, or what products or services you offer, your business has a brand. Even a sole-trader B2B service, working out of a garage, with no name or logo, still has a brand – it just may not be a very effective or persuasive one.

But why does branding even matter?

Here are a few examples of the range of options in 2021 that consumers in Australia must choose between when making purchase decisions:

  • 44,679 restaurants and cafes
  • 349 car models
  • 517 mobile phone models
  • 33,028 salons
  • 27,220 plumbing services
  • 17,391 packaged snacks

Clearly, unless you’re in the business of running the government of North Korea, your existing and potential customers have a lot of choice. The question is: when you and your competitors offer the same benefits, how can you make more consumers choose your business, more of the time?

By building a brand they trust and can instantly recall, is the answer.

And the starting point for that is – you guessed it – doing a brand audit.

What if I’m a small business owner who knows all my customers personally? Might there still be something harming my brand?

While it’s true that with scale comes complexity, the size of a business has no bearing on the fact that blind spots exist. Every business, regardless of scale, must contend with an environment of constantly evolving competitors, trends, consumer attitudes, expectations, regulations, and on and on.

The truth is, blind spots (and therefore, weaknesses, threats, and hidden opportunities) can exist anywhere — not just in the customer-facing aspects of your business, but also in operations, internal procedures, or organisational culture. What makes blind spots so problematic is that they are very difficult to see or uncover by insiders familiar with the business.

Here are just a few of the factors that might be hurting your business, without you even realising:

Marketing communication: The most successful brands are those that know how to say exactly the one right thing, over and over, without being boring or repetitive. Mixed-up or convoluted messaging, or talking about something that customers don’t care about, could be holding back your sales and growth.

Pricing: There’s no better example of the importance of pricing strategy than how Chivas Regal dramatically boosted sales, overtaking Johnnie Walker to become the #1 brand, by increasing the price of their product. There’s a lot more to pricing than cost + margin, or matching or undercutting your competitors.

Customer experience: Customer service isn’t just how a business responds when things go wrong; it’s every aspect of customers’ journey with the company, from the moment they first call on the phone, walk into a store, or land on your website. BestBuy survived competition from Amazon by transforming their customer experience and offering something that Amazon cannot: friendly and helpful tech advice from real humans.

Culture and internal procedures: From how well your employees collaborate and share information, to what they think, feel, and say about the products and services — it’s often the little things that matter much, and that could be costing you sales and customers.

What will a brand audit for my business actually involve?

There are four steps to a brand audit:

  1. Pinpoint exactly where your brand is today
  2. Determine where it needs to be within the next one to three years
  3. Map out an action plan to get there
  4. Implement, monitor, calibrate

Here’s how each of these steps works.

1. Pinpointing where your brand is today

At Lime, there are three key aspects we help you assess to determine your brand’s current position:

  • Your target audience: Who are they, what are their stated and latent needs, and what are their opinions of your product/service? What do they like? What are their biggest reservations, objections, or complaints about products / services in your category? What would they like to see improved?
  • Your brand awareness: How visible is your brand to your audience? How recognisable is your brand to them? How memorable is it?
  • Your market situation: What percentage of market share does your brand have? How does your audience feel about your brand? How do they feel about your competitors? What are the opportunities for, and threats to, growth?

2. Determining where your brand needs to be in the near future:

Based on the findings from the previous step, we work with you to set strategic goals that are realistic and appropriate for your business, including aspects such as boosting brand visibility, raising brand awareness and recall, improving brand positioning, strengthening brand perception, and gaining new audiences and market share.

3. Mapping an actionable plan to get there

Once the brand audit distils a set of clear and focussed goals for your brand, we then craft the recipe of how to get there. This includes actions across a variety of tangible and intangible aspects of your brand, including:

  • brand vision, mission, values, and purpose
  • brand / organisational culture
  • internal and external communication (to build differentiation, memorability, and tone of voice)
  • customer experience across brand touchpoints (such as in-store, online, or with phone support, for example)

4. Implementing and recalibrating the plan

For every plan, execution is where the rubber meets the road. And since every business operates in a dynamic environment – with changing trends, consumer preferences, competitor landscape, and social / political imperatives – every plan, no matter how good, must be fine-tuned over time.

That’s where Lime’s expertise comes in – but we’ll get to that later.

Does my business need a brand audit?

Here are the typical problems that businesses run into when they don’t take stock of their brand:

  • A lack of clarity of purpose on what needs to be done, when, and why, increasing the odds of reactive tactics and lost business opportunities.
  • Ineffective use of marketing dollars — often spending on too many tasks, spreading resources too thin, rather than focusing on the most essential tasks.
  • Poor return on advertising spend (ROAS).
  • No measurable metrics for brand performance (and what isn’t measured, can’t be improved).
  • Higher vulnerability and exposure to business risk, owing to little or no strategic mapping of threats that might otherwise have been anticipated and addressed

So, if your business is pursuing new goals, dealing with evolving competitors, or growing slower than intended, a brand audit might be a potent catalyst for growth.

Why should I choose Lime to run my brand audit?

Lime’s in-house capabilities as a one-stop shop for marketing communication, combined with our holistic approach to brand building, delivers a level of collaboration, ease, and excellence that conventional, siloed agencies cannot.

What’s more, because we’re full-service, we actually walk the talk. When we do an audit with you, we can then follow through with execution, unlike most consultancies that deliver lofty plans that you must then struggle to implement by yourself and try explaining to various suppliers, and ensure they correctly understand the entire plan.

Drawing from our experience of working with businesses across nearly every industry, we’ve developed a proprietary framework that propels brands to the next level of performance.

Here’s what that looks like in action, for your brand:

  1. You interact with one of our specialists who completes a comprehensive audit of your brand, holistically examining every aspect of your business, from product packaging to service time and everything in between.

  2. Based on the audit findings and your business goals, you review and approve an action plan that we formulate – a plan that is both realistic and relevant – to effectively address, resolve, and counter your brand’s weaknesses and threats.
  3. You gain a trusted implementation partner, as we’ll execute the plan, which includes working with each of the concerned functional team members, departments, and suppliers of your business. You won’t have to worry about things going astray between strategy and execution, thanks to our close collaboration.
  4. From malicious online reviews, to competitors stealing away customers, Lime helps you monitor and respond to the evolving business landscape. You can focus on running and managing your business, while we take care of recalibrating tactics to keep your brand on track and heading in the right direction.
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