On a day where we are supposed to recognize and appreciate what makes our loved ones special, it strikes me that sports marketers should pause to do the same for their clients or properties. Hopefully, we all subscribe to the truth that a fundamental strategic function of sports marketing is to properly align brands and properties that “fit together.”
It begs the question, how do we know what fits? What really makes a brand or property special and different than others within a consumer’s consideration set? A properly executed brand audit can answer these questions. The insights rendered can be leveraged by sports marketers to either justify, support and monitor their alignment decisions or effectively utilized to use research driven insight to make the right choices on the buy side and demonstrate synergy on the sell-side.
There’s no singular way to execute a brand audit. As researchers, we like to start at the end. In other words, its important to understand what a client’s expectations and desired utilization of the audit will be in order to frame the proper methodological approach, timeline and budget. Regardless of whether the approach is qualitative, quantitative or a combination of both, a good brand audit will blindly assess awareness levels, strengths and weaknesses of all in the competitive set. It will derive these assessments from a properly framed sample that reflects the target audience, ideally comprised of both current “customers” and those who have thus far, rejected the brand to date, but at least appear to look a lot like current customers.
A well-designed brand audit will go beyond some of the more obvious, but difficult to objectively gauge measures such as purchase intent to elicit the target’s emotional connection with the measured brand. This often manifests itself in exposing research respondents to a battery of positioning statements and alternative “personality” metaphors that are then aligned with either the test brand(s) or competitors.
In a sports marketing application, the results can be quite instructive in both suggesting aspects of a brand’s positioning that one may seek to amplify and leverage as well as those that may be a perceived to be a weakness. By proactively creating these statements and personalities with specific activation elements in mind, the sports marketer can gauge what will be more natural fits and what may be perceived to be off target, or in a worst case scenario, appear patronizing or unnaturally forced upon the target.
Dependent upon where a brand or property may be in its lifecycle and what existing brand essence research may exist, a brand audit is alternatively a fresh and eye-opening snapshot or a tracking mechanism that enables those stewarding its positioning to measure perceptual movement over time. We’ve had clients on both ends of this spectrum, including several who continuously track brand perceptions.
The continuous approach is probably overkill for all but those constantly active in their sports marketing activity. However, during periods of significant marketing mix weight, the brand audit can also shed interesting light onto the specific impact of various activations, particularly if the research is constructed in ways that allow for robust cross tabulation against distinct audience segments. Elements of experimental design can also provide telling insight where one compares results against distinct populations of those exposed to the activation and those who are not.
Wherever one nets out, periodic audits can be impactful, particularly if one is looking to reposition or evolve a brand positioning through sports marketing activation. For some, there may not be significant variation across periodic audits. This is a positive if the results are consistently on target. Alternatively, they may suggest a new approach if one desiring to reposition sees little perceptual movement despite significant activation. I’ve often warned clients that brand tracking studies can be quite boring if they are doing a good job. Yet, you still conduct them, because it’s the moment that they fall out of alignment, that can urge one to action.
Regardless of how one implements a brand audit, they are an important tool regardless of whether you are evaluating the right fit for your brand, or a property looking to demonstrate efficacy or proactively deliver compelling rationale for a sponsor to jump on board. Costs of such research vary widely, but they more than pay for themselves in helping to identify the right sports marketing partnerships and in avoiding costly mis-alignment mistakes that can devalue a brand.