Brand positioning tip #5: the brand audit

Oh no! An audit? That can’t be good, right?

Actually, if you are a brand manager, a brand audit is an incredibly useful tool (I’m sure the IRS feels the same way about their audits).

What is a brand audit?

There are plenty of people out there who’d be happy to tell you about brand audits (here are a few interesting links). But as you found out in previous brand positioning tips, I’ve learned a lot about brand positioning from Dr. Kevin Keller, author of Strategic Brand Management and professor at Dartmouth (plug: buy the book, great section on brand audits). When we did our most recent brand audit at Red Hat, we used Dr. Keller’s approach.

A brand audit is a deep introspective look at your brand from inside and out. Done the Kevin Keller way, the audit is made up of two pieces: 1) the brand inventory and 2) the brand exploratory.

I think of them this way:

Brand inventory: Where you find out who you say you are.

Brand exploratory: Where you find out who your customers say you are.

The brand inventory is a look in the mirror. It reveals how you make your brand look and sound by the stuff you send out into the world, how you describe yourself. It is both a visual audit and an audit of your company voice. Even more, it will often reveal your actual company positioning, which might be a little different from that awesome positioning presentation you showed the executive team a few months back.

If you are a small company, a brand inventory is pretty simple. Wanna start right now? Ask yourself “What did I put out into the world this year?” Emails, t-shirts, advertisements, call scripts, signage, blimp messaging, logos, whatever. Find it all.

What does all this stuff look like when you see at it as a whole? Does looking at it all together change the way you think about the message that you are putting out there? Are you consistent? Are you actually saying what you thought you were saying? Be honest, people.

As your organization gets bigger, with offices around the world, different departments with different goals, and other ugly corporate complications, you’ll find a brand inventory can reveal some interesting, sometimes frightful things. Inconsistency in delivery of message from function to function. Inconsistent visual brand work. Different positioning in different parts of the company or the world.

The most fun part of a brand inventory in a big organization like Red Hat is getting to see materials that are being created by people around the world. You see some amazing stuff that you probably didn’t know was been made. I still remember the first time I saw our Truth Happens film translated into Japanese– it made my heart stop for a second. For you extroverts, the brand inventory gives you a good excuse to reach out to other folks who are living the brand every day and say hi and see what sort of stuff they are working on.

As you are doing a brand inventory, I’d encourage you to handle it in the spirit of brand enlightenment and not the spirit of brand policeman. The goal is to see whether your company is presenting a consistent brand position to the world, not to berate people for what they are doing wrong. Use it as an opportunity to educate rather than punish.

If your brand inventory is all stick and no carrot, the reality is you will only see a small subset of the work that is actually being created. No one wants to share their hard work with a hater. So if you want the true picture, be open, be interested, and especially stay open to the possibility that elements of your final brand position may come from people in the organization other than yourself.

You may be pleasantly surprised with what you find. When we did our brand inventory at Red Hat, we put everything we collected up on a big wall in our workspace. Here’s a picture of what our wall looked like when it was done.


The funniest thing we found was that someone had designed a pair of Red Hat tidy whities with the Shadowman logo on the front. Probably not exactly on brand (I think Shadowman would actually wear boxers)… but we loved it.

The brand exploratory, which I’ll cover in more detail in another post, is a way to get the data from the outside world about what your brand actually stands for. The main technique you’d probably use to get this data is brand research, but there are other ways too. More later.

When you combine the data you collect in the brand exploratory with the brand inventory, you get the full brand audit. Here’s a chart we did internally based on Kevin Keller’s model that shows how this stuff all fits together.

brandexperiencebrandpromiseThe data from your brand exploratory will help you fill out the top two slices of the piece, telling you what position your customers currently think you own, and what they value from you.

The data from the brand inventory will help you flush out the bottom left quadrant, and tell you more about the position you are claiming out there in the world.

Then is the hard work. You have to put all of the information you’ve collected together and decide your brand position. What do you want the company to stand for?

And there is a whole set of posts I’ve written previously that might help you figure that out!

About Chris Grams

Chris Grams is Head of Marketing at Tidelift. He is also the author of The Ad-Free Brand: Secrets to Successful Brand Positioning in a Digital World.


3 thoughts on “Brand positioning tip #5: the brand audit

  1. Did you manage to obtain a pair of the tighty whities?

    Posted by Rebecca Fernandez | August 20, 2009, 7:02 pm
  2. Are you kidding? He wears them nearly every day.

    Posted by John Adams | August 21, 2009, 4:06 pm


  1. Pingback: Brand positioning tip #12: Don’t get hung up on the words « Dark Matter Matters - July 23, 2010

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