6-Step Brand Identity: Investigation


Without knowing where you are, how do you know which way to go?

Continuing our series on the 6-step process for building out a brand identity, we will unpack what it means to investigate a brand. If you haven’t yet, we suggest reading the previous articles before jumping into this one the ay linked below:

Brand Identity Goals

6-Step Brand Identity Process

brand identity investigation magnifying glass

Why do we need to investigate the current brand?

In our previous article we asked readers to take out their phone and open up a navigation app (Apple Maps, Google Maps, Waze, etc.).

We ask that you do the same thing again, this time knowing a destination. After entering the destination and cueing the app to direct you, where do you start?

That’s right. You start exactly where you are at that moment. Only then can you roadmap and navigate to your destination. The way you map out where you currently are from a branding standpoint is by investigating.

How do you investigate your current brand?

Investigate | inˈvestəˌɡāt | to carry out a systematic or formal inquiry to discover and examine the facts so as to establish the truth. In a branding context, this means finding out if who you are matches up with who you want to be. Diving deeper, it will unearth where the disconnect is and what’s causing it. Thankfully, there are steps that make it easier.

person being interviewed on brand identity

Interviews (Stakeholders, Employees, and Customers)

When police interview people, they ask the same questions to individuals to see where there is consistency and eventually uncover the truth. The same process works for finding out what the current perception of the brand is, minus the spotlights and dark rooms, of course.

Some common questions that will be asked are:

“Why are we in business apart from making money?”

“What business are we in?”

“How is the world better because of us?”

“What is the value we bring to our customers?”

“How are we different within our industry?”

“What is our mission?”

“Why did you choose this company over x?”

“What does this brand make you feel?”

The phrasing of the question might vary depending on the recipient (i.e. employees vs customers), but what you are looking for is alignment. If the answers are all over the place, then the brand needs to be defined ASAP. As far as methods, these are best conducted in person or over the phone. Surveys and digital forms could work, but the interpersonal connections yield greater results and allow for clarification.

marketing audit for brand identity

Marketing Audit (logos, brand architecture, media, design, style, collateral)

Nothing should be left off the table, review everything from the logo, website, and social posts to pamphlets and business cards. There should be a clear sense of uniformity and cohesion between everything.

All of these elements are surface level representations of the brand. They reflect what is happening behind the scenes. When these are being reviewed, visual alignment and consistency are the areas of focus.

Does all of the marketing material look like it came from the same place?

Is it current and modern?

Does it evoke the emotions you need it to?

If the company has multiple sub brands, are they organized effectively?

language audit for brand identity

Language Audit (voice and tone, naming, messaging, consistency)

Alongside the marketing audit, a focus on verbal and written communication evaluates how the brand sounds to the outside world. This audit covers big elements like the name(s) of a brand or videos and smaller ones like social media posts. Here are some of the overarching questions to consider:

Is our name easy to remember?

Is our name a reflection of who we are or what we do?

Is our big idea/mission clear?

Does the brand sound human/relatable?

Is our phraseology and syntax cohesive?

Experience Audit for brand identity

Experience Audit (how the systems in place affect the brand)

The brand is a culmination of experiences, every interaction counts. What this part of the investigation will do is unearth some of the weak points when engaging with customers. For example, what happens when someone submits a form on your website or when they walk into your office? Pinpointing exactly what this looks like is contingent upon each company, but a general outline would be a walkthrough of your customer and employee experiences. All of them.

How did you find out about this brand?

What happened when you did?

Why do you care about it?

What happens when you become a customer/user?

How easy is it to purchase a product/book a service?

What is the onboarding process?

How do employees learn about the brand?

people standing next to each other competitive audit

Competitive Audit

After an in-depth look at your own brand, it’s time to see where you stand next to your competitors. Differentiation is the trickiest part of the entire investigation and the most humbling. Even if all of the previous elements are to spec, homogenized brands will not get far. Without getting overly complicated, we answer the simple question, “is there a clear and distinct difference between our competitors and us?”

This difference must be present from the getgo and easy to identify. Not a comparison of services, price, USP or any of that shit, how are you intrinsically different? If you cannot answer that question, you need to change.

In conclusion

Investigating your current brand is the only way to make a path forward. Yes, you can jump right into a rebrand with assessing the current one, but that is no different that asking a doctor to perform surgery without diagnosing first.

Gather up all those assets and dive deep.