Five steps to a meaningful marketing audit

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Can you start tomorrow?

That's often a question I get when a potential partner or brand sees a gap in their marketing approach. My answer—more often than not—is yes, but not in the way my response might imply. Before we do, we have to stop, look and listen to the data. When you have a team that's responsible and driven by data as a means to create meaningful marketing plans, it's best to understand what's working well, what's not performing, and identify areas of opportunity not currently in use.

That's not always obvious or visible on the surface.

Think of a marketing audit as going to the doctor. On the surface, symptoms like congestion can be attributed to seasonal allergies, the common cold, the latest mutation of the flu or something more serious. A thorough exam and tests should be carried out to diagnose the root of the problem and prescribe a treatment plan that gets you on the road to health swiftly.

A marketing audit is no different. Before deploying tactics like social media, press outreach, or an ad campaign, it's critical not to let assumptions drive strategy. As good stewards of invested resources that are intended to contribute to the bottom line—whether that's generating awareness, protecting a brand's reputation or securing qualified leads—I would rather see a brand pause and do things right rather than pressing forward before doing due diligence.

But where to start? For a holistic marketing audit, follow these steps.

Step 1: Begin with the outcome in mind

While general audits are certainly beneficial in evaluating the overall health of a brand, having established goals and objectives focuses the lens through which an analyst looks at data. Setting parameters for the intended outcome of campaigns, and the purpose of the audit, means analysts can create a blueprint to look at appropriate metrics, messaging, brand positioning and resonance, engagement, third party endorsements and other marketing elements.

Step 2: Hone in on your target audiences

It's Marketing 101. No plan is complete without taking into consideration the intended consumer. Generating detailed personas leads to effectively auditing, measuring and analyzing current efforts. When we find the intersection between the intended outcome and the sensibilities of the end user, we can build campaigns that add value and create connection.

Step 3: Catalog all your active marketing channels

Create a blueprint of all the active channels and the person or team assigned to manage them. For owned media (channels you control) that includes web, analytics, social media, newsletters and the software used to manage them. For earned media (channels you don't control but are important to your brand) that includes access to press and blogger lists, recent media hits, media sponsors, added value and coverage reports. For paid media (channels through which you advertise) that includes access to dashboards, Google Analytics and reports from advertising partners.

Step 4: Create a system to collect qualitative and quantitative data

Before analysis and recommendations, it's best to create a system to simply collect meaningful data points in a way that will make assessment more accurate. Whether that's boards for visuals, grids for language and spreadsheets for metrics, an organized and methodical process for mining and sorting data will help eliminate chances of “analysis paralysis.”

Step 5: Time to analyze: Be an insider and an outsider at the same time

When analyzing data, think from the perspective of the target audience. Being able to remove yourself from the confines of the industry in which you work is critical to assess brand elements that are more subjective in nature. By observing customer behavior and data objectively, you keep a healthy, balanced pulse on how you need to be organizing and reshaping your marketing strategy.

What now? The answer will have revealed itself in the exercise above. If not, I'd say get a second opinion.

A version of this article was first published on Forbes.