It’s true, if we asked Google maps to direct us to Pittsburgh, but it had no idea where we were then it could not show us the path we need to take.
Our businesses are similar. If we want our teams to reach a goal, but they don’t know where they are then it is difficult for them to create tactics and plans to reach the destination. The process for a business to know where we stand today is best implemented as formal assessments, evaluations, research and audits. I know, these sound like painful and often avoided terms in companies -- but that does not deny their importance.
This is key to ensure you and your team have the best chances of achieving your goals. It happens faster, with less false starts and fewer dead ends when they have the information to make the right decisions. No matter what, take some time with your team regularly to critically and objectively review your brand, culture, website, marketing, and competitors.
A huge mistake is to avoid formal assessments in favor of guesses and assumptions. The four areas Insivia often assesses are Brand, Website, Marketing and Competitors and each should be done at different frequencies as well as through different methods.
Explore our 5 chapters detailing how to assess these primary aspects of your business.
When improperly evaluated, we may miss or ignore important issues that need addressed or make adjustments to our strategy that actually send us in the wrong direction.
So, when do we assess these aspects of our business? Every business and industry is different, but we can follow some rules of thumb. First, prior to any major strategic decisions or planning, audits will ensure you have all the information to make smart moves. If you follow specific business systems, often times you are creating high-level objectives every three years. We suggest the following schedule for audits and assessments:
Every other year it is important to look at what is happening in the market. We all look at competitors regularly, but a formal unbiased analysis every other year gives us more concrete information off which to compete.
Your brand as we'll talk about below is how you portray yourself in messaging and visuals especially related to what your competitive differences are. Once every year, your brand should be reviewed to ensure it is correct and consistent.
Every year to twice a year your site should be audited. Whether you are using as a validation tool for prospects and candidates or you are working to drive leads, your site is the center point of marketing and all your audiences interact with it.
An ongoing marketing program that encompasses awarenesses (like advertising), engagement (like blogging), conversion (premium content), nurturing (like marketing automation) and closing (lead scoring) needs to be evaluated monthly or at least quarterly.
Your frequency may be different and that's ok -- just as long as you are evaluating in a formal way. When you do audit or assess, the right approach can make a huge difference in obtaining valuable information. It's all about uncovering unbiased information, therefore it is important to consider these approaches:
Your analytical analysis should pull from data sources. Your analytics programs and industry groups can provide hard data to evaluate. Data needs to be balanced by subjective yet expert analysis. When you combine these viewpoints, you are able to uncover more.
This is the best argument for bringing in outside resources. If your own team is evaluating, there is no way they can be critical or objective. Whether they have worked on the solution themselves and are bought into it or their outcomes are tied to the success of the solution, there is no way to look at it in an unbiased way. Bias can easily kill any value provided by an auditing process.
The reality is that our audits can only be as deep as the knowledge of the people implementing them. When assessing a website, it is important to have someone who understands user experience and behavioral psychology, a marketing expert who can analyze search optimization, a designer and a strategist. These subjects are deep and complicated -- it is easy for a non-expert to miss important issues or opportunities.
In many circumstances, an outside assessment can be a reality check for leadership or a team. Providing insight that was unknown or ignored. Denying reality or acting in ignorance are quick ways to fail. However you build your approach to evaluating your business on a regular basis, it really is just important to be evaluating. The following chapters dive into our four primary assessment areas.
Whatever business or industry you’re in, your brand is like a lightning strike that initiates a bond with your target market, while also playing a pivotal role in every single marketing initiative you undertake.
But too many businesses confuse branding with basic design elements like a logo design or color palette. The thing is, effective branding goes way beyond that. Building a successful brand means building on key foundational elements such as brand voice, value propositions, and positioning statement. In this chapter, we'll take a deep dive into what it takes to effectively assess the current state of your brand.
We’ll examine the key foundational elements of branding, and why they’re important. You’ll also learn about the primary branding elements that Insivia looks at when assessing a brand, why they matter, and how to go about undertaking an accurate brand assessment.
An effective brand assessment relies on understanding the foundational elements that successful brands are built on. The Insivia team relies on six essential elements when creating brands.
Does your brand reflect your internal values, mission, and vision?
Culture is such an important, yet overlooked part of a brand. Today, people do business with companies they can connect with personally and a culture can be felt by prospects. Our culture also significantly influences the people we hire and how they work to advance our business.
The Vision Gap explains how the lack of a defined vision and culture disenfranchises teams and holds back success.
Is what makes you different reflected in your branding?
Our goal is to give people a reason to buy from us. The way to convert leads and sales is to show them what makes you different. We believe that getting your value propositions right is one of the most important aspects of your brand to set up both marketing and sales for success.
The key is to make them unique, relative to your target personas and make sure all your messaging backs them up. A thorough process of research and introspection is needed to develop great value propositions that influence your audience.
Have you defined your persona, tone, language & purpose?
Your voice helps create a guide for the sound and look of your company. When messages are created or design work started, your voice is a reference to shape them.
Do you have a clear, powerful overarching business description?
Your elevator pitch - get in an elevator and you have 7 seconds to explain what you do to someone. A statement like this should tell the entire story simply and concisely to provide a consistent message for all employees to use no matter who they talk to.
One of many exercises to create a great value proposition is to look at a problem-fix-outcome model. "Well, you know when you need to get a ride somewhere and you call a taxi, it always ends up costing more than you thought it would? Our app lets regular people bid against one another to give you a ride at a fixed price in their own car. As a result, you know right up front exactly how much it will cost and that you're getting the best possible deal."
Have you created key messaging that gets your point across?
Key Messages help you take your value propositions and positioning statement to build consistent messaging to use across marketing. Website headlines, brochures, presentations, e-mails and more can leverage a series of messages. What is most important is helping build a foundation for a consistent story to be told from marketing to sales and through to your team working with customers.
Does your brand have a visual identity that embodies the elements above?
Finally, your look and feel - what most people confuse with a brand - is your fonts, colors, logos and imagery. The key here is to make sure that your identity is the embodiment of your brand from culture to brand voice.
Developing all of these elements as part of a thorough, solid brand are a key part of success in developing a smart marketing program. Attempting to build a website or create campaigns with a weak brand foundation will make them less effective. Below we explore how to assess your brand.
So, where do we start to look at evaluating our brand? When assessing a brand there are three primary criteria that are important: Interpretation, Consistency & Depth.
When your audience interacts with your brand - from seeing your logo and tagline, reading the messaging on your site, the images viewed, what your sales presentations say, everything - it builds a story and creates an impression.
Each person's interpretation of who you are, the value you provide, the quality of your product or service is built through these brand interactions. The best way to measure interpretation is to create formalized questions that gauge what people see and hear as they interact with you. To match with our guidelines in the first chapter, making this process objective and critical is important so we should avoid getting feedback from internal folks or people with too much familiarity with our company.
Pulling in a mix of existing clients (some long-term and some short-term) with prospects and the general public can help provide concrete feedback. The key is to walk away with information that can help you adapt any messaging, imagery or other aspects of your brand to improve the desired effect of interpretation. Some common questions to ask are:
These are just a few and the best approach is to tailor it based on information you feel you need to gather and the audience.
As a company grows or is around for a long-time, the number of interaction points significantly increases. Each one of your employees is a brand ambassador whether they interact with clients, implement marketing or even simply send out e-mails on your company's behalf.
Over time, without clear definition and instruction - often in the form of a Brand Guide - your team begins to produce their own interpretations of your brand messaging and feel. This can lead to massive disparity in the way your organization presents itself.
When you also add in the fact that your goal is to evolve and improve your brand, information and design from previous iterations can often send the wrong or an outdated message. So, an evaluation of the consistency of your brand is key. It starts with simple assessment of your Brand Guide -- do you have one, how often is it used and does everyone in the company have access? Next, your evaluation should expand to an audit of public messages, assets and profiles to identify what may not match the current brand.
In some cases you may identify old directory listings or social profiles that need quick updates or a larger problem of your sales team explaining your company completely differently than your marketing team.
Last, but not least is depth. Basically, do you have all of the elements of your brand clearly defined, well articulated, and consistently communicated internally to your team.
Depth is both a measure of where you have all of the elements described in the first section of this chapter, but also whether you have defined them well. The first place to start is that checklist, do we have the following defined:
After you evaluate what you have, next you should look at whether these elements are right. Much of this comes from our first evaluation criteria - interpretation - but also can be assessed by a branding expert.
As an example, "Quality" is never a value proposition because it is generic and every company uses it. Instead we look to break quality up into why we deliver quality -- a 5 star quality assurance program, world-renowned experts or a proven process. Your value proposition is one of those, but not the generic "quality".
Finally with depth, is the clear and consistent communication to your internal team. This aspect impacts our second criteria above - Consistency - but above is more about external consistency whereas we are more referring to the internal communication. The consistency to the outside world can only be as good as your internal communication of your Brand.
Having a Brand Guide - a written document describing all elements of your Brand that is distributed to your team is one of the first steps. Evaluation of how often it is updated, distributed and discussed can help understand whether you are following best practices.
How the world interprets your business as the continually interact with your identity, website, messaging, sales presentations and everything can make the difference on convert leads and won sales. Evaluating the interpretation, consistency and depth at least every other year can help you create simple steps to continually improve your brand which will in turn make your marketing, sales and website more effective.
If you are a B2B company, often you focus your website on validation because every prospect is researching and evaluating your site. Smart B2B companies also use their site for lead generation by building targeted funnels where their website is the foundation of converting visitors into their funnel.
With B2C companies, whether you are a physical store or have physical products, people are ordering online. Ordering pizza, scheduling massages or buying their next tech gadget. Your website not only plays a role in driving traffic, but ensuring that the most visitors convert into purchases.
Given the impact that a website can have on a company's success, it is an aspect of our business that we must evaluate regularly to understand what that impact is and the gaps we must fill to improve results. Each business is different and relies on their website in different ways, but an annual evaluation should be done and in some circumstances like e-commerce an assessment completed quarterly. You cannot fix what you do not measure or evaluate. Personally, I believe it is much worse to lose opportunities we have in front of us. A site is the turning point for conversion or validation that can push leads or prospects to the next step - or not. We need to make sure that our sites are as effective as possible to not lose opportunities already on our doorstep.
Typically, when looking at a website there are four primary criteria to evaluate:
In the first few seconds, will the visitor get the right impression - or will they click the back button. People make judgment calls in seconds on whether they want to do business or trust a company. From there, every page and image is validation.
How easy is it to find what you are looking for. Is it logical? How many clicks does it take? Are calls to action clear and prevalent?
Search drives a lot of targeted visitors when you are ranking for the right terms. Commonly within a website audit, we focus on onsite search optimization tactics to ensure that they are right. This includes coding, site speed, key phrases usage, sitemaps, cross-linking and more.
Design, ease-of-use, layout, messaging and so much more play into conversion, but it is the most important thing to your marketing funnel. Before you pay to send 1,000 visitors to a site or page, you better ensure your conversion rate is 3% and not .1%.
This does not cover every aspect that can be evaluated, but it does depend on how deep or what factors impact your visitors. Some other evaluation criteria can be:
How easy is it for your team to update? Is there a review process? Can you edit everything you need to or create what is needed for upcoming marketing initiatives?
Is your software up-to-date? Do past employees no longer have access? Are you using SSL and other measures to reduce hacking?
This typically fits under user experience, but you may have special requirements here depending on your type of business.
Is the code to modern standards? Is your server delivering the site fast with minimal downtime?
If you have not evaluated your site in a long time, a lot of the answers may lead to the need for a complete overhaul. By doing an audit first though, you can determine the severity of your issues and gaps to create a plan.
Now it is important that a website is evaluated using the criteria suggested in the first chapter -- utilizing both subjective and analytical information, being objective and leveraging experts. One of the greatest tools we have with a website is detailed analytics to tell us everything that is happening - especially when we have tools like HotJar installed that can show us how people move around the site.
Often companies will want to evaluate a site internally, but the question needs to be whether an employee can be objective and do they have right industry knowledge about conversion or user experience to find the biggest pain points.
There are several exercises that can be run to help evaluate various aspects of a site:
There is software out there that do these tests, but in Insivia's audits it can be as simple as identifying an audience to provide instructions and a survey.
The 5 Second test asks someone to visit a page, they get 5 seconds to view it and then must answer questions like "what was the primary message?", "what was the key action on the page?", and "what is your impression of the feel of the company or product?". This test is important because when a real visitor goes to a site they are scanning and moving quickly, but when organizations evaluate they do what is unnatural and spend a lot of time on a page to think about how it is working or being perceived.
I always say it and hopefully it doesn't need to be said, but if you do not have analytics on your site now, do it today. Beyond basic installation, you should be setting up goals and profiles as well to make the data more valuable.
In analytics, it is important to look at a wide range of information. The biggest challenge is interpreting it and developing causal theories related to those interpretations. One example of bad interpretation we always point to is bounce rate. If you look at your overall site's bounce rate, it may be high - but that could be the fact of certain pages like blog posts that tend to have high bounce rates throwing off your numbers. Bounce rate should always be looked at on an individual page basis to interpret what is really happening on that page.
Analytics is too deep of a topic to dive into -- but you can look at things like the visitor's flow path, the number of pages per visit, conversions based on channel and so much more to tell hundreds of stories about how people use and are influenced by your site.
There are so many tools out there like Hubspot's Website Grader and Google's Search Console - not to mention hundreds of others - that can give you massive insight into your website and issues. Like anything, these tools provide great information, but require being combined with other information and proper interpretation as well as knowledge of what to do with the issues found.
Last, but not least, A/B Testing. We love A/B Testing because it is a powerful approach to get real concrete data on what is and what is not working on your site.
With A/B Testing, you can send 1,000 visitors to a page showing 500 of them version A and 500 seeing version B to then track metrics around conversion. Want to know if a red button works better than green? Or if a different image or headline works better?
A/B Testing ties right into User Experience and is one of the most impactful tools in the bag of a smart marketer.
A proper website audit should be a little daunting and that is because it is a large major part of almost any business that has massive impact on our leads and sales. If you start your process by understanding your goals and evaluate the right criteria with a formal process, you can gain insight that will push you leaps and bounds ahead of competitors.
Your brand and website that we previously discussed play a big part in marketing - your brand creates an impression and communicates with the world while a website is a vehicle for marketing and often is the biggest impact on conversion.
From a very high-level, we typically break marketing into three major buckets:
Ensuring people are familiar with your name can be a big impact to conversion, but also hard to measure the ROI on.
As an example, when a person does a search on Google, typically the first result will get the majority of clicks around 34%, the second will get around 25%, and on down to 1% by the bottom of the page. What can impact this is brand recognition. If a searcher quickly sees a company name they recognize further down the list, they will click on that first. This shows the power of how brand awareness typically delivered through sponsorship or traditional advertising can impact our other marketing. Brand Awareness places a mental anchor in people’s head that a result, ad or share has a greater chance of getting a click.
One good way to measure the ROI of Brand Awareness is to calculate our total reach and place dollar amounts on them. If a follower on our LinkedIn page who sees our shared content is valued at $2 and we have 5,000 followers, then our company's LinkedIn network is worth $10,000.
Expand this across our other social channels, segmented contact lists, and sponsorship audiences are calculated, we can associate a value to our brand awareness tactics metrics.
Lead Generation is creating targeted campaigns that is highly targeted and pushes people through the 5 funnel stages: Awareness, Engagement, Conversion, Nurturing & Closing. What often separates lead generation from brand awareness is hyper targeting and having a full end-to-end process setup for the lead to follow into sales.
A Specific Persona: CIOs, Moms, or Business Owners
Vertical or Industry: Manufacturing, Healthcare or Government
Pain: A hacked site, a broken pipe or slow service.
A targeted lead generation campaign might look like a CPA firm targeting CFOs of Manufacturing companies through each of the 5 stages.
Awareness: Ads on LinkedIn targeting CFOs at Manufacturing companies with a message about tax auditing for industrial equipment.
Engagement: A landing page or article about industrial equipment auditing.
Conversion: A downloadable sheet to calculate industrial equipment deductions.
Nurturing: A series of e-mails and remarking ads to schedule an appointment.
Closing: Lead scoring and sales automation for these targeted prospects.
Measuring success in lead generation campaigns can be very specific and actionable for optimization. You should know the number of ad impressions and clicks, landing page bounce rates, download conversion rates, nurture e-mail opens and quality leads produced at the end of the funnel.
With such amazing ability to measure, we also can assess success at each stage to determine what targeting and campaigns are working.
Customer engagement is about influencing upsell, referral and loyalty with your existing customer base.
Even if you have account managers responsible for upsell or referral and the quality of your product/service drives loyalty, you should have marketing campaigns to influence or support those initiatives. We typically look at two areas of customer engagement:
Communications: Communicating to customers should include e-newsletters, targeted e-blasts or direct mail, events and other formalized methods of interaction. Companies often overlook formalizing this communication which leaves gaps. Our customers are one of our best assets and should be nurtured.
Operations: Another area we should look at for customer engagement is operations. Simple things like our labels and box inserts when shipping, customer portals, support processes and more are vehicles to communicate our brand messages to customers.
Measuring customer engagement is much more about tracking and understanding the number of touch points that you have with existing customers over time as well as the level of specific targeting for messages. The more that we can segment to know that customers using a certain service or product are seeing messages that correlate to them, the better our program is.
Marketing should be assessed on a regular basis - typically if you are running a program with a marketing agency then measurement and optimization are constantly a part of the process. A formal, deep audit could be done once a year to really dig in from a high-level across all campaigns and tactics to help dictate your next year's strategy.
Any marketing program starts with metrics and KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) that will be measured and used to determine what adjustments we make to our campaigns. Insivia typically breaks KPIs into for types:
Obviously the most important, but it requires the right tracking systems to connect campaigns or activities to revenue. Often this is called "closed loop" marketing when we can connect the dots from marketing activities to specific revenue.
Conversions are key and when we are challenged to tie direct revenue to marketing actions, we must at least have conversions. Conversion rates can be determined in different ways, but often they tie to specific actions.
As an example, if you have a landing page that receives 1,000 visits in a month with two actions on the page - a download and a form completion - that gets 40 downloads and 20 form completions you would have 4% and 2% conversion rates respectively.
Conversions are typically:
Reach is typically a measurement of how big our contact list is. The bigger our reach, the higher our conversion rates should be to existing marketing contacts we have built.
Examples of Reach metrics are:
Finally, leading indicators are not necessarily success indicators, but should be numbers that influence our reach, conversions and revenue. One common issue we see is companies tracking leading indicators as their primary numbers without reach or conversion - this approach really limits the value of tracking marketing.
Examples of leading indicators:
Often if we are when we track each of these, we should have a good understanding of what we need to adjust for greater impact. As an example, if we have an average conversion rate of 4% on a download, and our leading indicator of number of visits can be increased it should impact our conversion rate and then those conversions increase our reach.
All of these metrics tie together, but breaking them up and working to impact specific metrics is how we develop better strategies. The process to run through assessments is to develop benchmarks, track these metrics over a period of time and then run analysis across months or weeks to understand what changed the numbers in those time periods.
If we run an assessment that looks at these numbers over a year for the high-level and then zeros in on smaller areas, we should see trends and insights to help us drive future strategies. The key here is interpretation and theory development. The last thing that you want to do during an assessment is make a bad interpretation or bad assumption of what might improve the metrics.
This is where expertise and experience can quickly pull out insights that others might miss.
That being said, any smart business understands their market and how their competitors are focusing on their customers.
In our process to determine many of the elements of our brand - such as value propositions - we look at our target audiences to understand their buying factors and then compare our competitors as well as ourselves against that to determine what makes us unique.
The challenge is, our output is only as strong as our input and if we base our knowledge of competitors off conjecture and limited interaction there is the potential for failure.
Competitor and market analysis are very similar and often confused terms. We tend to look at market analysis as everything - your audience, your competitors, external threats and a range of other things while competitor analysis is focused on who you are competing for dollars against.
When looking at competitors in various exercises, we often look to group them to focus less on individuals and more on the types of competition we face. Here are some examples:
Competitors that you see in the room when selling or presenting your product. These are the competition that you know your prospects are making a final decision about. Below you will see we separate out marketing competitors because there may be some companies that show up in search or advertise alongside you, but never make it to the room for various reasons. In some circumstances, we find that sales and marketing competitors are not the same and there are people in the room that you are not aware of.
For B2C, this is easy because it is the product on the shelf next to you or that shows in related products on Amazon.
In some circumstances we break apart marketing competitors from sales competitors. If a sales competitor is someone you know is proposing or next to you in a store, a marketing competitor shows up when your audience is doing research or is on channels you market to. These may be alternatives - described below - or could be options that don't correlate at all, but show up often when you are marketing.
Alternatives are choices your prospect or audience might choose instead of you, but you may not consider a direct competitor. As an example, a car company could consider the biking community or public transit an alternative competitor.
Internal competitors are often a B2B group while in B2C they are often in the alternatives column. For B2B we separate out internal competitors. As an example, an internal IT manager may compete with a managed service or even create their own database to compete with a software development company.
In some circumstances you may pull out specific competitors who stand out, are part of a small market segment or have a lion of market share.
We want to understand their brand - what is the interpretation of their person, what makes them different, how do they define themselves in one positioning statement, and are they consistent. Most of the same rules and processes apply as was described above - how do we evaluate the interpretation, consistency and depth.
Again a key factor here is to ensure that it is objective - your own sales and marketing team will have confirmation bias impact their evaluation. For a competitor's website we can also leverage many of the same processes. Although we do not have access to their analytics and conversion data, we can use Google Analytics' benchmarking feature to have comparison with some competitors that may be similar.
This is where an experienced industry expert can come in to help review their best practices and get a sense of how they are competing. Finally, with marketing there are a wide range of tools out there such as SpyFu, Raven Tools and others that help you analyze what competitors are doing on paid channels and for search optimization. You can find 12 of the top tools in this article.
Many of these platforms can provide a ton of information as well across marketing to understand the frequency of content, topics, inbound links, advertising channels, hidden landing pages and much more. Another great source is industry groups -- like Gartner for technology companies -- that can provide a ton of insight on competitors.
Most industries have groups that rank or evaluate companies as well as produce reports. You may have to pay, but it can give you information that is objective and that you won't get anywhere else.
It is important to know what your competitors are doing and their brand (messaging/feel), but always keep in mind that just because your competitors are doing something it does not mean it is working for them.
I have watched many companies chase competitors and fail. The information should always be used to compare, contrast and open up your view, but not blindly follow.
Jack Ma, founder of Alibaba Group
Download 'The Vision Gap' to understand the challenges a weak Vision can cause and the steps to begin building a smarter Vision to drive a business to success.