By Brian Lischer?, founder & CEO of Ignyte

Most company leaders know how their business is performing. The majority could, off the top of their heads, give you a rundown on which divisions are meeting or exceeding their numbers and which need to step up their game. But how many company leaders do you know who can tell you how their brand is performing?

In my experience, not many, which is shocking considering that your brand is how your company is perceived by your customers, your shareholders, your employees and the world. In an increasingly media-centric world where perception is reality, your brand is your company's most valuable asset.

How do you track the performance of that asset? With a brand audit. Conducting regular brand audits allows you to gauge your brand's performance relative to the competition. Here's what a brand audit entails, why it's so important and how you can conduct one.

What is a brand audit?

A brand audit is a detailed analysis of the current state of your brand and its position in the marketplace. This analysis gives you an understanding of what's currently going right with your brand and, more importantly, what's going wrong. With this understanding, you can create an action plan to address your brand's critical issues.

A brand audit looks at both the visual and verbal language of your brand and its top competitors and analyzes touch points including websites, sales and marketing collateral, internal communications and more to assess positioning, cohesiveness and consistency. The upshot is a detailed report outlining key findings and recommendations for improvement.

Why is a brand audit so important?

A brand audit allows you to get a clear, objective understanding of your brand's strengths and weaknesses. It also gives you an in-depth understanding of your competitive landscape.

By understanding how your competitors are positioned, you can discover opportunities for differentiation. Insights like these are critical to maintaining an effective brand.

How do I conduct a brand audit?

There are six steps to a brand audit.

1. Identify the competition.

Assess your brand's competitive landscape, and identify your top five competitors. You probably have a sense of the companies this list should include, but the task is easier for some brands than others. If you find it difficult to identify five competitors, select brands that are similar to yours.

2. Gather assets.

With your list of your top five competitors in hand, begin collecting relevant assets for each brand, as well as for your own brand. Relevant assets include anything that conveys a brand's visual identity and/or verbal language, including websites, sales and marketing collateral, internal communications and packaging. Collecting assets begins with search engine research. Spend time on websites and social media pages, subscribe to newsletters and download guides and other content. During your research, collect the best samples by copying and pasting or taking screenshots, and then organize them in separate folders for closer analysis later.

3. Analyze visual identity.

Go through each brand's assets and examine their logos, colors, typography and other imagery. Visually group and segment items so you can see any patterns that emerge. By identifying patterns, you can find opportunities for differentiation within the competitive landscape. Ask yourself what each brand's visual identity says about its personality. Is it cohesive and engaging or haphazard and confusing?

4. Analyze verbal language.

You can get a good sense of a brand's verbal language by looking at a cross-section of messaging from a variety of sources. The goal is to come away with insights about each brand's voice, including messaging, style and tone. Messaging is the information you come away with after reading the language, style is the way in which the messaging is crafted and tone is the emotion with which it's delivered.

5. Determine positioning.

Once you've analyzed the visual identity and verbal language of each competitor brand along with your own, you can make some conclusions about positioning. What are the strategic intentions of each brand? What unique segment of the competitive landscape do they claim as their own? How differentiated is each brand from the pack?

6. Compile your report.

Compile your findings in a brand audit report. This document should outline your brand's performance within the competitive landscape, as well as a range of opportunities for differentiation. The actionable insights within your report can be implemented by those responsible for brand management.

Regularly conducting brand audits ensures that your company's most valuable asset is always at peak performance.

Brian Lischer? is founder & CEO of Ignyte, and an author, speaker, brand strategist and healthcare branding specialist.