By Katherine (Katie) Bows Taylor
As marketers, it’s easy to fall victim to the ongoing execution of our marketing tactics, forgetting to step back and look at the big picture. Each year, you (hopefully) develop a marketing plan, gain approval and then begin implementation. Another year goes by, the cycle repeats and the next thing you know, it’s been quite a while since you paused to take a bird’s-eye view of your marketing program.
Just like an annual physical with your doctor plays a big part in staying healthy, a marketing audit is an important “checkup” to ensure your marketing program remains healthy. During an annual physical, doctors perform their examinations and run a battery of tests, knowing that catching issues early can prevent bigger problems down the road. It’s the same for marketers – the longer you go without undertaking a marketing audit, the more likely it is that inconsistencies and off-strategy tactics will creep in, undermine your efforts and become much more difficult to unwind.
Marketing Audit Refresher
A marketing audit helps an organization evaluate its marketing program and determine what has worked and what has not. Similar to other types of audits a business may conduct, the ultimate purpose is to improve the bottom line. When your marketing program isn’t effective, you’re wasting your marketing budget and that impacts your organization’s bottom line.
A marketing audit includes a detailed review of all the marketing efforts your organization has engaged in to reach your target audiences including prospective customers, current customers, referral sources, investors, media, vendors and employees.
Step 1: Gather
The first step is to gather all your external and internal marketing communications. Typically, these include print/digital collateral, email marketing, website, print and digital ads, social media, blog posts, trade show materials, PowerPoint presentations, direct mailers, customer communications, proposals and internal employee communications. Be sure to include corporate identity materials – business cards, letterhead, logo, and signage. In addition, gather data or any reports that contain results of your marketing activities as these aid in determining the effectiveness of your activities.
Step 2: Review
Next, find a place like a conference room where you can lay everything out on a table or tack to walls. You will also want to have a computer where you can display your website and social media channels. Set aside time for a detailed review of everything you have identified. During the review, take note of the following:
- Target Audiences. Who are the key audiences your marketing communications intended to reach? Do they align with the target audiences in your marketing plan?
- Key Messages. What are the overarching messages in your communications? Do you have clear messaging and are you consistently using your messages? Are you tweaking key messages for your target audiences?
- Visual Branding. How does your marketing look? From a graphic design standpoint, do your marketing materials, website and other communications all look like they are coming from the same organization? Are your graphic identity standards being followed? Having a consistent visual brand is critical in helping target audiences identify your business.
Step 3: Evaluate
At this stage, you should be ready to ask the harder questions:
- Have your marketing communications been effective at informing your target audiences about your organization?
- What has worked and what has not worked? Can you quantify results from your marketing activities? How have they impacted your organization’s bottom line?
- Is your visual branding where it needs to be? Does your graphic design need to be more consistent or is it time for a refresh?
- Are your marketing communications relevant, compelling and interesting? Are you consistently incorporating a call to action? If not, how does your target audience know what action you want them to take?
Who to Involve and Timing
If your organization is small, the marketing team may be able to conduct an audit on its own. For larger businesses, involving others in the process is advised. It can be extremely useful to obtain feedback from current customers, prospects, employees and other target audiences and incorporate those findings into your audit. If you work with a marketing agency, involve your account team and consider having them lead the process.
How often to conduct a marketing audit is dependent upon several factors, including the size and the number of individuals involved in your marketing program. For a smaller organization, once a year should be fine. But for a large business with multiple divisions and various individuals responsible for marketing program execution, consider conducting an audit either quarterly or biannually.
After completing the above steps, you’re ready to move forward. A marketing audit completed toward the end of the year can be a great way to begin planning for the following year. No matter when you conduct your audit, document any issues uncovered and create a plan to address them.
If you’re unsure that your marketing program is as healthy as it should be, hit the pause button and carve out some time for a marketing audit. It’s the best way to start spending your marketing budget more effectively!
About the Author
Katie Taylor is an independent marketing, communications, and branding consultant. After more than 20 years in various marketing roles, she formed her own consulting business in 2013 and offers an outsourced marketing solution for small-to medium-sized B2B and B2C entities across a range of segments including professional services, financial services, retail, nonprofits, and associations, among others. From brand discovery to developing and executing marketing plans, Katie serves as an extension of her clients’ teams, helping them implement marketing strategies that achieve results. In addition, she serves as a strategic marketing and branding resource for agencies needing to tap into additional marketing expertise.