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What is a Marketing Audit (and How to Do One)

What a Marketing Audit Is (and How to Do One)

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March 10, 2023

By Aaron Lyles

As marketing has become far more measurable in recent years, the demand on marketing to show quantifiable results has increased so leaders can rationalize their plans and investment. But how do leaders know they’re measuring the right thing, and how can they tell what really needs to change when plans fall short? A marketing audit can answer these questions before tough conversions are needed.

What is a Marketing Audit?

A marketing audit is a systematic, objective review of an organization’s marketing function to verify marketing systems are accurate, relevant, reliable, and aligned with defined processes and best practices. This review helps marketers determine whether marketing strategies, tactics, systems, or processes should be adjusted to improve marketing results or operational consistency.

A common misconception is that a marketing audit is synonymous with or similar to a planning process. It is not. However, it should inform marketing plans and may even trigger marketing planning.

A well-conducted marketing audit will highlight areas that are performing well and those that are not up to par. Ultimately, a marketing audit enables marketers to base decision-making on objective evidence rather than gut feelings. We call the marketing audit systematic because it is both objective and methodical.

The breadth and depth of a given marketing audit can vary based on relative priority. It can be as broad as covering an entire marketing function. Alternatively, it may be a smaller targeted audit of a specific area, such as a content audit or an SEO audit. For reference, in this article, we’ll review the fundamentals of a complete audit of an entire marketing function. 

What’s the Difference Between a Marketing Audit, Marketing Analysis, and Marketing Assessment??

Unfortunately, too many marketers casually conflate the term “marketing audit” with “marketing analysis,” when in fact they aren’t necessarily synonymous. I myself was guilty of this before I knew better. Generally, I would use whatever term felt right at the moment without much thinking. This type of mix-up is understandable, but it should be corrected as early as possible. Marketing is far too critical to organizational success for key players not to be perfectly aligned on purpose, plan, and process.

By definition, analysis is the breaking down of a whole into its component parts in order to better understand how they work together. In the case of an environmental analysis, we break down the various factors that define the competitive environment of an organization’s industry. In the case of a gap analysis, the whole that is being broken down is the collective difference between a current state and a desired future state.

An environmental analysis and a gap analysis are generally conducted at the start of a marketing initiative or when marketing planning to determine the current state of the marketing function and where it falls short of best practices, benchmarks, goals, and objectives. Specifically, a gap analysis defines the difference between what we have and what we need. A gap analysis is often part of a larger assessment along with additional analysis, evaluation, and recommendations.

Audits, in contrast, verify conformity: whether claimed facts are true, whether best practices are being adhered to, whether plans and processes are being executed as documented, and the results (performance) of that execution. Gaps and conformities may naturally be uncovered through an audit, but they are not necessarily analyzed further or corrected as part of the audit.

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Who Is Responsible for Conducting a Marketing Audit?

Typically, a marketing audit is best conducted by a third party who is not a member of the organization. This eliminates any inherent biases and often results in the most constructive audit of the organization. Regardless of who actually conducts the audit, however, a few things should be top of mind. 

Components of a Successful Marketing Audit

  • The audit needs to be comprehensive. Marketing audits should cover all areas of marketing, not just areas where a problem is already perceived or areas in which the team knows they excel. A holistic audit is the best way to uncover opportunities and can highlight previously unknown areas of strength. 

    That said, it often makes sense to structure the auditing of the broader marketing function as a series of smaller, more focused marketing audits (e.g., a digital marketing audit, an event marketing audit, a marketing automation audit, an SEO audit, and so on).
  • The audit needs to be systematic and objective. To ensure your audit is unbiased and doesn’t overlook fundamental flaws, your marketing audit should follow a predefined structure tailored to the specific scope of the audit. For example, a system audit (e.g., HubSpot) should follow a documented process. 
  • The audit needs to be regular and recurring. A marketing audit shouldn’t only be conducted once problems or deviations become self-evident. Conducting periodic marketing audits enables your team to discover problems early and solve them quickly. Remember, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. 

How to Conduct a Marketing Audit

The specifics of how you conduct your marketing audit will depend on your industry, business maturity, culture, and specific scope of the audit. However, there are common best practices when it comes to conducting a marketing audit and specific areas we always want to ensure are accounted for (e.g., goals, results). 

Once scope has been established, the following steps can serve as a guide for conducting your own marketing audit.

Step 1: Confirm Marketing Goals and Objectives

Confirm that all key marketing objectives are documented in a standard, accessible location along with at least one associated goal for each objective. All objectives should be definitive or directional. Some examples of key marketing objectives include:

  • Increase return on marketing investment (ROMI)
  • Increase customer lifetime value
  • Reduce customer acquisition cost
  • Increase brand recognition
  • Become profitable
  • Increase market share
  • Decrease customer churn

Also verify that all marketing goals are specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound (SMART). These goals must also be well documented and clearly aligned with key marketing objectives. Example marketing goals are below:

  • Generate 250 percent return on investment for all clients by Dec. 31, 2023
  • Increase average monthly MQLs 20 percent by June 30, 2023
  • Generate $2 million in marketing attributed revenue by March 30, 2023

At a minimum, goals should be defined for the short term (1-3 years). Also note whether medium-term (3-7 years) and long-term (7-10+ years) goals are defined and prioritized because if they aren’t, this can alert decision makers to the possibility that their planning is strategically short-sighted. Shorter sub-term goals (e.g., quarterly or monthly) should also be defined.

It’s important to explicitly confirm with decision makers and staff whether these objectives and goals continue to be relevant and accurate. That is, not only should goals be relevant, but they should also be known by people and teams tasked with achieving them.

Attainability is a key attribute of SMART goals, so it's crucial to accurately verify whether goals are indeed attainable. Unfortunately, attainability is typically considered last or given the least amount of attention when it generally requires the most attention to define a goal that is achievable but challenging.

For companies with a track record of their performance, a good rule of thumb to gauge attainability is to determine whether the goal falls within the historical range of performance. A challenging goal would be an extreme positive value within that range or following the established trend of that range. A trend is a minimum of three sequential occurrences.

So, if the max sales you’ve ever closed in a quarter is $5M, and that was two years ago, then your goal next quarter should probably not be $10M. However, if the $5M quarter was the most recent quarter in a trend of three successive quarters of doubling sales, then $10M might be justified.

For newer companies without sufficient historical internal data or for longer-term goals, historical industry data for similar-sized firms can serve as a benchmark. Has a company your size in your industry ever doubled sales from $5M one quarter to $10M the next quarter? If not, then that goal should probably not be considered attainable. If it has happened, is that common? If doubling sales is not common, do we understand what the similar company did differently to achieve their results? If not, the goal may not be realistic.

In addition to goals, it’s important to confirm what leading or key performance indicators (if any) are linked to those goals. As a reminder, leading factors are metrics that predict how likely we are to hit our goals.

Here are some example marketing KPIs:

  • Sales qualified leads (SQLs)
  • Marketing qualified leads (MQLs)
  • Appointments held
  • New opportunities
  • Average deal size or transaction value
  • Customer acquisition cost (CAC)

Step 2: Determine Current Performance and Gaps

Current performance and performance gaps should also be verified. How performance is tracked and how performance data is accessed should be understood or referenceable by all key decision makers. Each data point should have a single agreed-upon source of truth.

There’s no requirement that anyone memorize this data, but everyone who needs to refer to it does need to know how to quickly find answers to these questions and have the power to do so independently. There should be no data silos or black boxes.

You also want to learn whether there are any concerns about the quality of marketing data. If so, it’s important to note those concerns, the rationale behind them, and what, if any, plans there are to address those concerns. After all, accurate data that no one trusts has little value because it can’t faithfully and reliably inform decision-making.

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Step 3: Confirm Key Marketing Processes and Procedures Are Documented

After goals and performance data, we must verify the processes and procedures responsible for achieving goals and delivering performance results. It does us little good to meet or exceed our marketing goals if we have a poor understanding of how and why we hit those goals. Without this insight, marketers can’t reliably change what doesn’t work and scale what does.

Note that not every process or procedure must necessarily be documented—only those linked and critical to delivering results and achieving goals. There is, however, certain process documentation that marketers should absolutely maintain at a minimum.

Standard Marketing Documentation

Below are standard marketing documentation we recommend all marketers maintain. However, in some industries and in cases such as a need to comply with ISO 9001 requirements, this list may be even more extensive.

  • Goal and KPI setting and monitoring: If a company never hits its goals, it is possible the problem is with goal setting, not execution. How can we know whether there’s a problem with goal setting if we don’t know how we set our goals? This conundrum is why we also want to keep records of how goals and KPIs are set. That is, if your revenue goal is $20M, you should know where that number comes from. Key documentation includes formulas, spreadsheets, software, and key assumptions. If a goal is arbitrary, that should be explicitly noted.
  • Performance monitoring: How will performance be tracked? All tracking tools and/or records should be specified so we know how to determine how close we are to hitting goals—and we know when we hit them.
    Sales and marketing service level agreements (SLAs): The best sales and marketing talent in the world fails when their purposes are not aligned. SLAs help everyone know who is responsible for doing what so that marketing and sales can maximize their collective potential.
  • Product design and development (if applicable): In businesses in which products must pass through engineering, appropriate records should be created and maintained. However, in some service businesses, the product is a service designed with the customer during the sales or customer onboarding process.
  • Customer input monitoring: One could argue that customer feedback is the single most critical input there is. After all, the only truly sustainable way to grow a business is to keep the customers you have while adding new ones. The key to both is proactively monitoring and addressing customer needs and wants.
  • Talent qualifications: These may be maintained by Human Resources.
    Nonconformity management: A nonconformity is any instance in which an output or a process fails to meet documented minimum standards. There are two primary ways we manage nonconformities. Preventive actions are documented processes for monitoring for catching nonconformities before they’re created or at least before they directly impact the customer. Corrective actions are processes we follow after a nonconformity has been identified.
  • Nonconformity documentation: When outputs critically fail—falling short of internal or external specifications—the incident should be recorded. Included in the log should be a description of the nonconformity, a description of the corrective actions, any customer concessions in accepting the nonconformity, and the internal authority determining correction actions. That same authority’s determination of whether the corrective action was effective should also be noted. 

Highly Recommended Additional Marketing Process Records

  • Market intelligence
  • Competitive research
  • Market demand and analysis
  • Ideal customer profiles (ICPs)
  • Buyer personas
  • Offers and promotions
  • Pricing
  • Communications
  • Search engine optimization (SEO)
  • Media formats
  • Channels
  • Content map
  • Content scheduling

Again, the above should not be secret knowledge known to only one person and undiscoverable by anyone else. Note that performance data should be used to inform continuous improvement efforts such as developing or modifying processes and procedures as necessary to ensure better and more consistent future results.

That said, it’s also important to confirm that documentation accurately represents actual marketing processes and procedures. One vital part of an effective marketing audit is confirming that we do what we say we do and things are what we say they are. Otherwise, we can’t reliably troubleshoot and improve the way marketing is done.

Note that documentation does not need to exhaustively cover every nuance and detail of a process, procedure, or event—it just needs to cover enough for those responsible for executing or overseeing execution to understand how things should be and are actually done. However, if there’s disagreement or debate over how to interpret documentation or apply it, that’s a red flag that it may need to be revised or expanded. 

Be sure to verify the accuracy and application of inputs and outputs for processes. Remember the saying: garbage in, garbage out. For example, buyer personas are both critical outputs of the persona development process and inputs to market messaging and content creation. Not only should they be complete and accurate as outputs, but they should also be referenced as inputs during content creation. Are they?

Ideal buyer personas should include things such as:

  • Job titles or functions
  • Industry
  • Geographic location
  • Company size
  • Demographic
  • Beliefs such as motivations, objections, and aspirations
  • Behaviors such as what media channels they frequent and what they currently do to solve their problems
  • Persona quotes

Lastly, it’s important to understand that documentation and records do not need to be in any specific media or follow any specific format or naming convention. They simply need to be accessible and understandable.

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Step 4: Verify Marketing Plans Are Sufficiently Budgeted and Resourced

Far too often, marketing goals are not hit simply because marketing plans are under-resourced. So it’s vitally important to verify that plans have dedicated budgets. Your budgeting records don’t need to be overly complex, but the budget should be accounted for within the broader organizational financial budget.

There is no single right way to create a budget for a marketing plan, but there are a few rules of thumb and red flags that you should consider. 

All market share and sales goals should take into account the invested dollar per goal unit. A goal unit is simply the smallest single whole measurable quantity of a goal. If your objective is to acquire more customers, then your goal unit is a single customer.  If your objective is to increase sales, then your goal unit is a single sales dollar. Your budget should be evaluated against this same standard.

That is, if your goal is more customers, then you should know how much you’re willing to invest to get a single additional customer. If a customer is worth $100 over a typical three-year lifetime, you need to know up front the max you’re willing to pay today for that $100 over time. Keep in mind that many companies big (e.g., Amazon) and small (e.g., mom-and-pops) are willing to spend a multiple of the value of the first transaction. That’s vitally important to know before you begin to plan content, offers, or promotions. 

Step 5: Summarize and Make Recommendations

At this point, you should have a pretty clear picture of your company’s standing. Note areas in which you’re falling short as you evaluate each section of your marketing audit. Keep detailed notes about any shortcomings or red flags you uncover as well as areas of excellence (i.e., going above and beyond minimum requirements of the audit in a way that adds value to the organization).

After reviewing your marketing audit, you can make informed recommendations about where the company may best focus its continuous improvement efforts and what specific action plans it should consider. 

Here are example recommendations for common gap areas.

  • Update buyer personas with fresh persona interviews or surveys.
  • Create a content plan for addressing gaps in existing content.
  • Develop sales enablement collateral for each persona/opportunity combination.
  • Document sales and marketing service level agreements (SLAs).
  • Address all website SEO penalties, such as broken links and 404 errors.
  • Resolve analytics tracking issues. All metrics that matter should be tracked and validated.
  • Identify specific opportunities for conversion rate optimization.
  • Update the brand messaging matrix.

Step 6: Confirm the Plan for the Next Marketing Audit

Marketing auditing is an ongoing process, not a single event. Whether carried out as one comprehensive audit or a series of mini-audits, the next step or iteration should either already be scheduled by a specific auditor or be scheduled before concluding the audit.

With a comprehensive marketing audit under your belt, you’ll be ready to develop strategies, tactics, and processes that align with your marketing goals and business needs. 

Frequently Asked Questions 

1. What are the 3 elements of a marketing audit?

The type, breadth, and depth of your marketing audit will depend on your industry, business maturity, culture, and goal(s). However, broadly speaking there are three main elements:

  1. A SWOT analysis 
  2. Competitor research 
  3. A market analysis 

A SWOT analysis looks objectively at an area of your marketing (e.g., SEO, content, or your overall strategy) to assess your strengths, weaknessess, opportunities, and threats. Taking a critical look at these elements compared to your competitors (and companies you admire) can provide valuable insights and help to establish future targets for your marketing plan.

Competitor research, or competitive analysis, is a component of SWOT in which you identify competitors in your industry and evaluate their marketing strategies. 

A market analysis is an industry-specific, in-depth look at your business’s target market and competitive landscape. Deep knowledge of your target market allows for a more comprehensive understanding of your place in the competitive landscape, and it is an important aspect of setting goals when historical data is not available for comparison purposes.

2. What is the role of a marketing audit?

Marketing audits, no matter what areas are being assessed, serve to verify  conformity, such as:

  • Whether claimed facts are true
  • Whether best practices are being adhered to
  • Whether plans and processes are being executed as documented
  • The results (performance) of that execution 

Gaps and conformities may naturally be uncovered through a marketing audit, but they are not necessarily analyzed further or corrected as part of the audit.

3. What are the types of marketing audits?

There are many different types of marketing audits, including:  

  • Marketing environment
  • Organization
  • Strategy
  • System
  • Productivity
  • Process/functionality
  • Content
  • SEO
  • Competitor

Remember: Marketing audits need to be regular and recurring. A marketing audit shouldn’t only be conducted once problems or deviations become self-evident.

Conducting periodic marketing audits enables your team to discover problems early and solve them quickly. 

4. How do you conduct a marketing audit? 

The specifics of how you conduct your marketing audit will depend on your industry, business maturity, culture, and specific scope of the audit. However, there are common best practices when it comes to conducting a marketing audit and specific areas we always want to ensure are accounted for (e.g., goals, results). 

Step 1: Confirm marketing goals and objectives

Step 2: Determine current performance and gaps

Step 3: Confirm key marketing processes and procedures are documented

Step 4: Verify marketing plans are sufficiently budgeted and resourced

Step 5: Summarize and make recommendations

Step 6: Confirm the plan for the next marketing audit

For more details on each of the steps listed above, read more here.

5. What is a marketing audit checklist?

A marketing audit checklist can be a useful tool for getting started on a marketing audit. It can serve as a starting place to evaluate the effectiveness of all your current marketing efforts or be specific to one area. It doesn’t matter whether you complete your marketing audit in many micro-audits staggered throughout the year or you tackle them all at once during one intensive assessment period, as long as your audit plan includes recurrences for maximum efficacy.

There are many marketing checklists that can help you get started, such as this assessment offered by SmartBug Media. It is also possible that your organization will have a standardized checklist for each area of your marketing strategy as a place to begin your efforts.

Final Thoughts on Marketing Audits

Marketing audits are a powerful tool for ensuring marketing goals, plans, and processes are developed with objective intention, sufficiently resourced to achieve marketing objectives, and resilient to withstand errors and noncompliance. With a detailed marketing audit under your belt, you can pursue sales and marketing goals with confidence. 

This blog was originally published in October 2019 and has been updated since.


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