Have you ever undergone an audit?
Technically, an audit is an “official examination” of something. We mostly know it in the context of the worlds of finance and taxes. We envision a consultant (or several) coming to our office, ripping our files out of our desk drawers, and going through them line by line to make discoveries.
You can conduct something similar for your marketing efforts. Much like a sound home maintenance habit, it’s a good idea to periodically clean house on your marketing efforts to see what you have, what’s still working, and what you should toss. When you audit your marketing, you examine all of your work – your paper and digital trail, your calendar, and the results. You examine your efforts to see what’s working and what isn’t, evaluate where you’re overspending – or, blessedly, underspending, check your ROI, and make some key decisions.
Tax season has come and gone for this year, but as we move into summer – often a slower period, at least for my marketing clients ‒ it’s a good time to do an audit of your marketing content.
Why audit your marketing?
The word “audit” often strikes terror in my heart, as it probably does in yours. I think of tax audits, naturally, and fear the examination of every receipt and every transaction and the need to come up with an explanation ‒ a “why” ‒ for everything.
It’s not that I don’t think I could produce what they need … because I could. It’s that last statement – the question “why?” – that makes me shake in my proverbial boots. To have to justify my actions and explain why I did (or didn’t) do something, well, that gives me heart palpitations.
Whether taxes or marketing, an audit is the time to see what happened – and why.
Tell me: Could you, this quarter, justify why you did the things you did last quarter? Why you used the marketing tactics you did? Why you wrote certain copy? Do the metrics support or undermine your decision?
Similar to an intense job review, this is the ultimate point of an in-house audit: to get to the bottom of what you do and why you do it.
Doing this work – examining your marketing efforts – can yield interesting insights and also help you get to that “why?” When you audit, you have a chance to set up key areas or activities to measure – and use those to justify your jobs or ditch your deliverables.
What should be audited?
Theoretically, everything is fair game, from marketing processes and operations to your content to your data, and even your staff. If this is your first time through, I’d suggest picking one thing – maybe two, at the most – to concentrate on. Start small to get the hang of the process, get used to what you’re looking for, and set up metrics and benchmarks. Once you’re comfortable you can scale this out larger.
How to conduct an in-house audit in 9 steps:
Now is the time to get tactical. Grab a coffee, a good chunk of time on your calendar, and your files. Let’s get to work.
1. To get started, first select what you want to audit. Maybe you evaluate your marketing operations and creative workflow. Are you getting things out the door on time and to budget, or are you endlessly looping on revisions and missing deadlines? You could also look at your content – maybe even a sliver of it, such as your email campaigns.
2. Collect the facts. This is the time to roll up your sleeves and dig into your archives to start to see what’s what. If you’re auditing your content, you could begin by looking through your editorial calendar to see what you did this year. To keep things straight, set up a table or spreadsheet and add a line-item for each effort and the date it ran. The other columns are for you – you may have many or few. For example, maybe you add a column to track if this was a new idea or a repeat effort. Perhaps another set of columns tracks marketing metrics. In order to easily see patterns, try to limit your data here by evaluating just a few key things. Take time to go through all your campaigns and make notes. This could take several days or more, so block plenty of time and devote yourself to the cause.
3. Figure out what you’re looking for. Auditing is relatively worthless if you don’t try to glean insights. What do you want to know about your operations, content, or ROI? Maybe it’s to set benchmarks – to figure out your averages, or to track the highest- and lowest-performing efforts in your repertoire. You may also dive deeper to calculate cost-to-effort ratios, and compare success from one year to the next. If you already have KPIs established for your business, start there. Have those handy and create a chart to track success of these indicators. Be sure to call out the blips and bumps – the extremes on either side of good and bad.
4. Document your methodology. As you’re tracking the facts, it’s also important to document your steps. Write down what data you looked at and how you calculated your numbers. This will come in handy in the future so that you have a record of what you did – so you can recreate it.
5. Analyze your findings. Once you have all the facts in place, zoom up to 10,000 feet to get the lay of the land. What stands out as good, bad, or strange? What patterns emerge? This is where I like to look at data side by side, with a pen and notepad to jot down findings and questions that need further exploration, such as: “All email campaigns worked well in Q1, then dropped. Why?” Come back and answer those questions.
6. Write up the results. Pretend you had to file a report on your findings. What would you say? Type up high-level notes as well as granular examples that illustrate your points. This can be used as an executive-level summary once you’re done, as well as a reference point for yourself the next time you conduct an audit.
7. Make it visual. Once you document your findings, make it visual to easily identify patterns. Consider using graphs, colored infographics, or other visual tools to create a dashboard.
8. Make hard decisions. Once you have all the facts and data and have analyzed patterns, it’s time to take action. What efforts didn’t perform super well? Do you want to retry them, or is it time to give them the axe? Also, don’t forget to note what your bread-and-butter marketing efforts are – those go-to’s that keep working, year after year. Note that you probably don’t want to do this clean-out-the-clutter exercise in a vacuum. Call in your coworkers or your boss to help. Review your organizational process and strategy. Determine bottlenecks, find where repeatable processes can streamline productivity, and cut tasks that aren’t adding value.
9. Rinse and repeat. Put time on the calendar once a month, quarter, or year to re-evaluate how you’re doing. You may wish to audit during slow times, or just before the end of a quarter or fiscal year. Like any metrics measurement, it’s wise to capture data at the same time each cycle – for example, if you audit in July, audit next July too – so you’re comparing apples to apples.
If you think of an audit as a way to reconnect with your organization – to get to the heart of what works and what doesn’t – it can be a lot less daunting … and even enjoyable. You’ll know that your efforts aren’t merely an exercise in file cleaning and number crunching, but an investment that should set you up for success. You also may find that you’re able to revisit and reuse these findings during your next performance review and help you save time when you plan your editorial calendar.