How to Conduct a Brand Reputation Audit for Your Business

March 11, 2021
Contributor: Rupal Bhandari

Given today’s competitive sales and marketing landscape, a positive brand reputation is essential to improve recognition among B2B buyers.

B2B buyers screen out businesses without a positive brand reputation, and 64% of buyers would pay a premium for brands they feel connected to (full report available to Gartner clients). 

So how does a business build a positive brand reputation and ensure it remains in the buyer’s good books? The answer is to conduct a timely brand reputation audit. But first, it is critical to understand that brand reputation encompasses more than brand messaging. 

Brand messaging vs. brand reputation 

Brand messaging is the language, visual imagery and actions that a business deliberately uses to showcase its differentiated values. But brand reputation is the image of the business that exists in buyers’ minds based on what they hear, see and experience. A reputation audit will help marketers understand how buyers perceive the business and how the marketing strategy should be updated or improved.

What is brand reputation example

Three key elements of brand reputation audit

A business’s brand reputation stands on three critical elements: resonance, differentiation and credibility. While a business can control some parts of these elements via the brand messaging it puts out, ultimately, factors such as customer reviews and market conversation are out of the business’s control and will contribute heavily to the brand reputation. 

During a reputation audit, evaluating the three key elements can help a business understand if its brand reputation is in sync with what it wants to tell potential buyers. 

3 key elements of brand reputation audit

Resonance

Brand values are the outright promises businesses make through their brand messaging, such as taglines, key marketing campaign assets and other marketing materials. It is important that these promises match what buyers seek. 

For instance, a software provider could highlight lower-priced plans as a brand value; however, buyers might be more in need of zero downtime or rapid-response customer support. A mismatch of those value propositions can lead to a business’s brand reputation not resonating with the buyers and thus leaving a gap. 

A good way to evaluate resonance is to reach out to current and past customers and ask what they valued about their experience with the business. Pay close attention to the language they use and try to pick exact phrases or expressions if possible. 

If those expressions or phrases more or less match the current values promoted by the business, the brand reputation does not require adjustments. But if there is any gap, realignment is in order.

Differentiation

Only one in four stakeholders can discern differences between competing brands (full report available to Gartner clients). This means that unless businesses manage to set their brand reputations apart, prospective customers won’t likely remember them or may even confuse them with competitors. 

A good way to evaluate differentiation is to conduct brand recall surveys. Reach out to a broad group of potential customers and ask questions such as:
  • Do you know about our company?
  • What kinds of products or services do we sell?
  • What comes to mind when you think of our company?
  • When was the first time you heard of our company?
  • Do you usually pay attention to our ads or social media posts?

If brand recall surveys indicate that the brand does not stand out in the marketplace, it is time to refresh brand messaging. Messaging around values such as trustworthy, customer-focused and innovative are so common that those terms no longer distinguish one brand from another. Instead, businesses should look for ways to ground brand messaging in the unique benefits or capabilities they offer to a client. 

Credibility

Credibility is perhaps the most difficult element of brand reputation to evaluate. That’s because it relies entirely on how buyers view the brand. In the software industry, a business’s credibility depends largely on what users have to say about specific software products and services. 

Nearly 52% of small and midsize businesses looking to buy software reference websites with user reviews as one of their first resources to assess options. Reviews from industry peers may validate features and benefits referenced in the software provider’s marketing and sales materials. In fact, an average buyer reads at least 10 reviews before buying software and 76% of software buyers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations. 

To evaluate credibility, looking at reviews on third-party websites can be the first step. Businesses can comb through their social media profiles to find customer reviews. They can also explore any product reviews published by third-party media outlets.

Businesses that discover they do not have market credibility should prioritize building it from scratch. Businesses that find they have strong or sufficient market credibility should focus on highlighting it in their marketing materials, by showcasing a positive review as social proof of their value.

Common brand reputation pitfalls to avoid

Resonance, differentiation and credibility are the key elements to evaluate during a brand reputation audit. However, businesses can also use the opportunity to watch out for common pitfalls.

Common brand reputation pitfalls to avoid:
  • Not focusing on the benefits brought to customers

Ask questions such as: Is the business’s brand reputation centered too much on values and aspirations? or Are there any more areas or ways the business can highlight the tangible benefits buyers get? Incorporate the tangible benefits brought to customers into the brand messaging, as opposed to only focusing on aspirations and values the business holds. 

  • Ineffective employee communication

Businesses often fail to involve employees in a brand rollout, missing the opportunity to turn them into advocates. Watch out for any gaps in employees’ understanding of the brand by talking to them and evaluating the brand messaging they share across social media. 

Rupal Bhandari

Rupal Bhandari covers sales and account management markets. She received her master’s degree from the University of Delhi, India, and has created content for some of the world’s leading technology products and companies. Connect with Rupal on LinkedIn.

Get the Gartner Digital Markets Newsletter

By clicking the "Subscribe" button, you are agreeing to the Gartner Terms of Use and Privacy Policy.