Did you hear the one about the difference between a business and a brand? Far too often businesses pay the price for thinking of a brand as a separate entity, but understanding the distinction is no laughing matter.

If you grew up in the 1980s or 1990s, you’d have seen enough body-swap movies to know that switching bodies doesn’t change who we are because it is our character and personality that define us.

Think of brands as personalities and businesses as bodies, and you’ll start to appreciate the distinction. Besides, all great body-swap movies end with the characters realising they are their best selves in their own bodies, so the brand has to belong to the business – no copying.

Our personalities and character are developed over time and through all our experiences – much like how brands are built. We take time to evaluate ourselves and adjust our behaviour to achieve our goals, and it’s something every business should be doing with their brand via a brand audit.

What is a brand audit?

The word audit is unfortunately often linked to images of financial records being seized by the tax office and someone being led out of an office in handcuffs. Thankfully, brand audits are entirely positive events, with no handcuffs required.

Think of a brand audit as a full medical check-up to determine the function and health of a brand. Strengths and weaknesses are determined and, where necessary, action can be taken to improve the vitality of the brand either reactively or proactively.

It’s a comprehensive analysis and review of the present state of a brand using all visual media, editorial copy and social media content including websites, adverts, partnerships, copy tone and printed collateral. Ultimately, it’s about determining how the brand is perceived internally and externally from the colour scheme to customer engagement in relation to the goals and values of the business.

Benefits of a brand audit

Brands are enormously important to customers because great brands signify trust and quality worth paying for, and that inspires loyalty. A regular brand audit allows businesses to identify strengths and weaknesses to refine and improve the trust in their brand, which ultimately improves the bottom line.

There are no ‘cons’ to conducting a brand audit but there are heaps of ‘pros’. The most negative aspect of a brand audit is finding that something needs to be improved or inconsistencies need to be addressed, but these are still a positive because, once identified and acted upon, these changes will make the business more successful.

A brand audit is also useful for learning about how the brand is perceived by customers and rivals, the intersectionality and coherence of marketing collateral, and what potential hurdles there may be further down the line.

When and who?

Businesses should conduct a brand audit during any significant period of change such as restructuring, or at least annually. Regular audits will help businesses stay ahead of the curve and true to their objectives and values.

The question of who should conduct the audit can be a little trickier. Ideally, it should be an objective third party. Expecting the marketing director or anyone else with ties to the business to leave all biases at the door is a tough ask.

Think of all the people who can’t sing but end up on TV talent shows because mum and dad always said they had a lovely voice, and you get the idea. It’s almost impossible not to have a coloured opinion of something you’re a part of, but detachment is a must if honest answers and beneficial conclusions are to be found for the sake of the business.

Whether businesses look externally or conduct an internal audit, the process shouldn’t be frightening and could be the most useful thing they do this year.