How to Conduct an Image Audit
Posted by Ashley Brumbaugh on September 17, 2013
To those who have filed their taxes in the past, the word “audit” might not be a pleasant word. IRS audits aren’t fun by any means, but, they do serve a purpose. With the IRS, audits are an examination of a company or an individual’s accounts and their finances. These are done to make sure that any reported information is being done so correctly and accurately.
The same idea can be taken and applied to an image audit.
What is an Image Audit?
An image audit in marketing is a useful exercise to unveil information about a company’s image, or the way that it is perceived. The research that an audit, when done properly, reveals details the hidden perceptions of those who work for the company (internal stakeholders), and of the media, consumers, authorities, and general society (external stakeholders). Hidden perceptions are the thoughts and opinions of individuals that are, more often than not, kept secret. (Hence the “hidden” part.)
Image Audit vs. Market Research
At our Orlando marketing firm, the information gathered by both an image audit and market research use similar methods of research, e.g. surveys and questionnaires. Market research is typically conducted for consumer products. The target audience, in this case, wouldn’t be reserved or apprehensive about expressing their views on the product openly.
With image audits, it isn’t that simple. The target audiences of image audits are the employees, and the research is being conducted to figure out their true and honest opinions about the company for which they work. Due to the reasonable fear of a possible repercussion, i.e. being fired, an employee might not be as forthright about their perception of the company as a whole, or even of the management department. With market research, anonymity isn’t an issue. However, with image audits, the identities of each participant need to be kept completely confidential due to the sensitive nature of the situation.
Steps to Conduct an Image Audit:
1. Determine the Purpose — What’s the purpose of the audit? Is it a general “check-up,” or is the organization having internal/external issues?
2. Know the Audience — Are the employees the target audience? Customers, authorities, suppliers? Figure out the target audience, and the hidden perceptions that need to be collected. For example, if the employees are the target audience, the purpose of the audit might be to understand the employees’ views and opinions of the company, or to ensure that there are no communication issues.
3. Preliminary Research — Create a survey or a questionnaire that is geared toward the audit’s purpose. Following the example above, a detailed questionnaire could be designed with specific questions about an employee’s feelings, their thoughts on possible changes that need to be made, or if they believe that management isn’t being attentive to the employees’ nor the consumers’ opinions/requests. Then, use this questionnaire on a test group to make sure the questions are direct and appropriate.
4. Target the Audience — Gather the target audience together and administer the questionnaire or the survey. Ask the audience to not identify themselves when answering questions, and ensure them that their identity will be kept confidential.
5. Collect and Analyze — Be sure to collect the responses in a way that allows each individual to remain anonymous. One method is the use of a submission or a ballot box. Once all of the answered surveys/questionnaires are submitted, analyze and interpret carefully. Use more than one pair of eyes to go over them so there’s less of a chance to make a wrong conclusion.
Beyond image audits, at our Orlando marketing and advertising agency, an image matrix has proven to be another helpful exercise. It is a useful tool to determine the needs of your image audit and aids in creating a plan of action to follow the results that the research yields. The following chart can be used as an example of an image matrix.
Once a plan of action is made, someone needs to be put in charge of each task. If an action will be one of cost, a budget should be determined as well.
In this particular case, an image audit was conducted to reveal the hidden perceptions of a business. As shown above, phone etiquette played a significant role. If clients and customers aren’t greeted in a kind and professional manner, it can hinder a business’ success and burn bridges. All employees and staff must be mindful of the image they are portraying with the way they communicate with their clients and consumers, for it can affect the corporate brand.
For example, if a staff member answers the office phone in a rude and disgruntled tone, nor shows any initiative to assist the caller in any way, the chances of that person maintaining interest in the company are slim to none. Similarly, if a client hired a company for various services and submitted payment, a staff member could go the extra mile to send an email thanking said client, and include that it was a pleasure conducting business with them. It’s courteous, polite, and shows good character on the company’s behalf. This type of interaction can inspire clients to spread good reviews. “Word of mouth” can be a powerful marketing weapon to help your business prosper, or aid in its downfall.
With the proper use of image audits and matrices, management teams (or those at the head of their companies) can use the collected research to their benefit in many ways. These companies can come to a better understanding of the hidden perceptions of their employees, affiliates, and/or customers. By doing so, management teams can create strategic plans to enhance communication between themselves and their employees or the public. With proper communication, relationships and trust between everyone can grow and strengthen, which in turn promotes a healthy atmosphere in the workplace.