Integrated Marketing strategies Communications

Practical Strategy Development for Small to Mid-Sized Retail Businesses

Part Two: Brand Audit: Establishing Brand Consistency at the Heart of your Retail IMC Strategy

Using a Brand Audit, SWOT Analysis, and Brand Summary to establish Brand Consistency at the heart of your IMC Strategy

    At the heart of your Integrated Marketing strategies Communications strategy is your company’s ‘brand.’ Your company brand is the personality and voice through which you communicate messaging about your business, both externally (to customers and the public at large) and internally (to team members and stakeholders). Every touch point where human beings come into contact with your business is an opportunity to convey an illuminating and consistent portion of your broader brand personality. When we talk about Integrated Marketing strategies Communications, essentially we’re talking about the potency and underlying consistency of your
brand at each touch point across your business enterprise.
    Here are some examples of diverse touch points that communicate aspects of your business’s brand to different audiences:
  • A logo imprinted on payroll checks
  • A brief value message on price tags
  • A statement about environmental impact printed on shopping bags
  • Photographs in a newspaper ad representing the demographic range of customers
  • Photos in a recruitment brochure representing the demographic range of internal team members
  • The inclusion of alternate language translations in store signage for ethnic customer groups
  • The type of music played within the retail environment
  • Employee uniforms: colors, casual or formal, logoed or not
  • Customer service dedication level

    Your retail brand may be 50 years old or it may be gestating in its final pre-launch weeks; either way, the potency of your brand and its capacity to strengthen the impact of marketing strategies and communications campaigns and initiatives, depends upon the underlying consistency of each branded element at every touch point, as well as how the conveyed message resonates with its target audience. A successful Integrated Marketing strategies Communications strategy begins with an internally robust and consistent brand; so, the development of an IMC strategy for your small to mid-sized retail business should begin with a comprehensive Brand Audit designed to explore the state of your brand and its inherent relevancy to your target audiences.
    Such an audit or Brand Exploration doesn’t necessarily need to be complex, time-consuming, nor expensive, but in practice it often is all three. A Brand Audit or Exploration can benefit from the kind of objectivity, professionalism, and discipline that a competent third-party agency or consultant can bring to the table, but if they are required to hold your hand all the way through the process from beginning to end it will likely cost a lot of money, money you’d rather spend on the marketing strategies and communications projects such an exploration is designed to support. To the degree that you can initiate at least some of this work internally, without compromising objectivity in key initial stages, you can keep costs to a minimum while optimizing team ownership of the process as well as the outcomes.
    In Part One of this Knol, I provided some sample questions intended to assist you in assaying the scope of your IMC development needs, your ability to leverage internal resources, and metrics to measure successful execution. Below, I offer some questions that you can adapt to initiate a Brand Audit, to begin the process of exploring the status of your brand; soliciting and articulating the perceptions and expectations of company stakeholders with regard to your brand. As a follow up to this questionnaire, I will offer some methods for validating the learnings from your stakeholders with the perceptions and expectations of your customers.

Step 1 – Brand Audit
Goal: To gather insight into stakeholder perceptions and expectations regarding the brand. Once these internal viewpoints can be articulated concisely and consistently, they can be validated against customer and competitor customer perceptions. The resulting brand statements will be used to influence the development of brand positioning and messaging within an Integrated Marketing strategies Communications strategy.

External Brand

  1. How would you describe the primary customer (demographic or psychographic of the most abundant type of customer) in your store?
  2. How would you describe the most profitable customer (demographic or psychographic of the type of customer that spends the most in your stores annually) – either most per transaction, or cumulatively over multiple shopping visits?
  3. What other types of individuals have you noticed or do you believe are your targets? Of the customer profiles you have mentioned above, describe each customer’s primary purchase driver – what makes them buy?
  4. In your opinion, what is the primary reason that individuals choose to shop at your stores?
  5. What do you believe is the store experience ‘image’ in the minds of individuals who shop in the store? And, the image of your store held by those who do not shop with you? How does that relate to the desired image you’d like them to have?
  6. In what ways does your company strive to be, or provide, the “best” in the world? How would you define “best” as it relates to your business? Do you believe customer service plays a part of “best”? If so how would you describe the type of service you strive to offer?
  7.  What is the single thing, with regard to your customer, that you believe is your company’s reason for being? Example: Wal-Mart’s ‘Purpose’ is saving people money to help them live better. What makes you unique in the marketplace? Discuss your unique selling proposition?
  8. What values do you want to communicate to the consumer?
  9. Describe the ideal impression you want your stores to leave with key audiences – Customers, Internal teams, and investors? Explain your perspective of the value you bring your core audiences.
  10. Can you describe the personality of the brand? What should a customer expect? If it helps, use some other, recognized brands to modify your description. Example: We are the Nordstrom of kitchen appliance retailers. The McDonalds of big, box electronics retailers.
  11. What are the major barriers/challenges in the market that you routinely run into? Competitors? Profitable store locations? Expensive advertising media?
  12. What do you think are the “missed opportunities” for your stores?
  13. How closely aligned is the brand to the shopping experience or vice versa? What could be done to improve the in-store shopping experience? Do you know of anything that customers are specifically asking for?


  1. Which brands do you feel you primarily compete with? Which competitive brands do you think have crafted the best shopping experiences? What is it about the experience that you like?
  2. Of the brands you mentioned above – what do you perceive as the primary strength and primary weakness of each one?
  3. Are there any brands you should aspire to be more like?

Internal Brand

  1. How would you describe the internal culture of your business? In what ways does this internal personality compliment the external brand? In what ways is it at odds with the external brand?
  2. What kind of person do you look to hire? How do measure their ability to assimilate into the culture? To contribute to the culture?
  3. Do you feel there is a “your company” way that is intuitively understood by all sales personnel that builds/delivers a consistent message? If yes, what is it – if not, what prevents it?

Step 2 – SWOT
Creating a Company SWOT Analysis

    A SWOT Analysis is a strategic planning tool used to evaluate the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats involved in a project or business venture or any other situation requiring a decision (strategic planning, budgeting, marketing strategies plans, etc.).  It is the first stage of planning and helps you to focus on key issues.  Strengths and Weaknesses are internal factors.  Opportunities and Threats are external factors.  SWOTS are usually done against a vision statement (who we are or who we want to be).  

    Create a SWOT against the company vision statement.  Listed below are some definitions and examples for each of the areas of the SWOT and some simple rules to follow:

Strengths: Attributes of the organization that are helpful to achieving the vision.
Examples:    Resources: Financial, Intellectual; Location; Customer Service; Efficiency; Competitive Advantages

Weaknesses: Attributes of the organization that are harmful to achieving the vision.
Examples:    Ineffective Infrastructure; Inferior Quality; Inadequate Staff, Management; Non-competitive Pricing, Acquisition of Goods, Cost; Capacity

Opportunities: External conditions that are helpful to achieving the vision

Threats: external conditions that are harmful to achieving the vision
Examples of Opportunities and Threats: Economic strategies Conditions, Legislation, Expectations of Stakeholders, Technology, Public Acceptance

    SWOT’s can be used as inputs to the creative generation of strategies and priorities by asking and answering the following questions:
  1. How can we use each strength to further the delivery of our vision
  2. How can we stop or support each weakness
  3. How can we exploit each opportunity
  4. How can we defend against each threat

    Some simple rules to follow:
  1. Be realistic about the strengths and weaknesses of the organization when conducting your SWOT.
  2. SWOT should distinguish between where the organization is today, and where it could be in the future.
  3. SWOT should always be specific
  4. Keep your SWOT short and simple.  Avoid complexity and over analysis
  5. Remember that SWOT is subjective, which is why you want a representative sampling of your Strategy Development team participating

Step 3  – Brand Summary 

What is your desired future state with regard to customers and your ability to meet their expectations? This is aspirational, but realistic.

What is your driving sense of purpose? What is the focus of the business and what keeps is growing?

Core Values

What can you promise customers in terms of value, selection, quality and service, every day?

Identity and Image
    Identity is what we say about ourselves. Often confused with a logo, brand identity is the managed “presence” of a brand. It includes the marketing strategies messages, a team member’s greeting, signage, colors, typography, imagery, and even the music on hold when someone calls in.
    Image, on the other hand, is what your customers perceive. Image is not in your control but can be influenced.     Branding is focused on creating as much overlap as possible between identity (message sent) and image (message received).
    A strong Integrated Marketing strategies Communications Strategy will contain the tools to successfully manage and build the brand identity so that every marketing strategies effort and dollar spent is leveraged toward building a consistently strong brand.

Positioning Statement
    The positioning statement is the spear-point of the brand strategy. It includes the bull’s-eye target (who you are speaking to), the business category (the space in which you compete) and the primary benefit you most want customers to associate with the brand. This statement is not a tagline or headline, nor is it appropriate for external communications in this form. Rather it provides focus and clarity when creating messages to communicate your value across all media.

Target Audience
    You will likely speak to many groups, internally and externally, most importantly the customer. Identify the characteristics that define your primary and most profitable shopper.

Demographics & Psychographics:

Bull’s-eye Target
    This is a compilation personality profile, described as if talking about a single individual, that most specifically represents the core shopper.

    The brand personality holds the emotional resonance of the offering. It establishes the feel, the essence of how you want customers to understand you, relate to you and do business with you. If your brand were a person, which adjectives would your customers use to describe you? The primary personality traits are the most important and should be used as a starting point in writing and designing for your brand, and as criteria for determining whether or not creative work aligns with your brand personality.

Brand Voice
    You communicate many things to many people. The constant should be how you deliver these messages. While your brand must have broad appeal across audiences, every communication should resound with a single, clear voice.

Brand Essence
    The articulation of your brand may take many forms but it is important that each form clearly represent the essence of your brand. This includes both verbal and visual communications.
        What we are:                                                We are not:

Elevator Story
    Imagine you're riding in an elevator and someone steps on and asks you about your company. Sure, this would be shocking because people are, for the most part, silent when riding in an elevator, but just go with it. You have just enough time to tell the essence of your company's story in a couple minutes or less, representing the important nuances of the brand that you've explored earlier in your audit. Your Elevator Story is the result of refining this story until it is simple, concise, illuminating and, perhaps, inspiring. Ultimately, the more team members who can tell their company's elevator story, and believe it, the higher the likelihood that your brand will be communicated and supported consistently.
Key Messaging: Bull’s-eye Target
    This is a sentence or two that is aimed squarely at your bulls-eye target consumer. Recognizing that many, and maybe most, of your customers do not fit completely into this very narrow target, it is still important to be able to communicate the essence of your brand personality in a brand voice that is focused directly at your bulls-eye target customer.

Supporting Messages: Bull's-eye Target
    These are messages that the support secondary and tertiary aspects of your business to your core customer. While the Key Messaging addresses the most important behavior-rewarding or influencing features and benefits to primary customers, Supporting Messages round out other aspects of the brand that support shopping loyalty and frequency behaviors in this group.

Key Messaging: Secondary Groups 
    This is a brand-descriptive sentence or two that is aimed at important secondary demographic or psychographic groups.

    Armed with important learnings derived from a process that includes work in a Brand Audit, SWOT and Brand Summary, you are now much closer to bringing consistency to elements within your Integrated Marketing strategies Communications strategy development, as well as all of the brand touch-points you identified earlier. Remember, the strength of your brand and the marketing strategies communications plan that supports it is heavily reliant on the ownership that your key management strategiespersonnel have taken in the process you've just reviewed. While the destination, in this case having a potent and successful IMC strategy, is of supreme importance, the journey is critical in ensuring that you have the resources and support to execute it.

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