From big blue chips to cottage industries, Louise Harris, senior account manager at Freshwater, explains why you really ought to be thinking about a communications audit.
When was the last time you scrutinised – and I mean really scrutinised – the way your brand communicated? If the answer is ‘not in the last two years’ then the time has come to consider investing in a communications audit.
A communications audit – or ‘health check’ for want of a simpler phrase – can deliver a wealth of business-critical information that can add invaluable insight to an overall business strategy whatever your size, specialism or sector.
Are you an NHS Trust looking to change the way you provide services? Then do you know if your patients, staff and other stakeholders understand and support your objectives? Or if you’re a food brand threatened by a competitor launching a similar product, do your current customers understand and accept your USPs? Operating in a saturated buying space such as fashion or beauty? Then ask yourself if your brand has the clout to defend its share of voice in a crowded market. And if you’re a technology start-up looking to recruit new investors, you need to take stock before you talk stock.
These questions and others can all be addressed by a thorough communications audit. However, too few organisations are investing in this most worthwhile of exercises.
And it’s easy to see why. Even as the economy recovers, comms budgets are still tight, so it can feel difficult to justify the added expense of a further communications product to scrutinise your strategy. There can be defensiveness, too, from those who deliver and implement these strategies and feel threatened by an external consultant reviewing the work that they do. And the most obvious of all – the fear of what issues such an audit will bare to the world.
But businesses need not be apprehensive about undertaking an audit, for the benefits can be huge. Below you’ll find a summary of four core aspects of any communications audit to give you a flavour of what they involve.
You’ve lost count of the number of different versions of your logo you see on a daily basis. Your cobalt blue Pantone has gradually migrated towards navy and no-one can seem to agree what your current strapline is. The cornerstone of any brand is consistency – and if you’re consistently falling short of that, an audit is overdue.
If you’re not clear on who and what you are, your customers won’t be either, leaving them ripe and ready to be swayed by a competitor brand with more clarity of its own identity and offering.
Do you know your customers as well as you think you do? Are you relying on the same staid testimonials and customer insight from several years ago? When did you last speak to your target market and use that intelligence to hone your strategy?
From focus groups and customer surveys to stakeholder mapping and individual interviews, there are a number of ways in which to engage and identify your customer base, all of which are worthwhile. Don’t take your reputation for granted. After all, you’re only as good as people say you are.
Of course there are hundreds of businesses whose branding is up to date and who regularly engage with customers to track satisfaction and awareness levels (well done you), however too few are fully maximising the opportunities presented by integrated communications, or multi-channel marketing, as it’s also known.
Are your communications working in harmony to deliver the greatest impact? Do you exploit every available channel – from direct mail to social media – with consistent messaging? Do you sweat your content to maximise its reach and the investment made in generating it?
If the answers to the above are no, you’re missing a trick.
The focus on competitor analysis is often the easiest aspect of a communications audit to ‘sell’ to management. Knowing what other leaders in your field are doing and taking steps to ensure you steal a march on them has a huge impact on your market standing and bottom line.
Intrinsically linked to other aspects of the communications audit, the competitor analysis will shed light on your customers’ perceptions of competitor brands’ materials and messages, reveal opportunities and threats to your own marketing campaign, and ensure you’re reacting to and exploiting emerging market trends faster than they are.
Depending on the scope of the audit, a thorough competitor analysis will answer the questions of which brand is gaining the most traction with proactive media relations and enjoying positive press coverage; which brand is dominating Google’s search rankings; who is investing (and bidding) on pay per click terms and other forms of non-organic search engine optimisation (SEO); and who has the edge on Twitter and Facebook?
The key point to take on board is this: communication audits are not an academic exercise geared at patting anyone on the back or pushing anyone out of the door. They are on opportunity to take a pragmatic look at how a business’ communications are performing in the real world and make strategic recommendations based on insight and data on how to enhance or maintain its reputation and market position.
So, if you’ve not considered a communications audit before, it’s probably time to take a good hard look at yourselves, because you can be sure your customers and competitors are.
Freshwater delivers strategy-enhancing communications audits for clients in a variety of sectors. To discuss how we can support your business or brand, contact us on 0207 067 1597.