Get Your Story Straight

A Brand Audit Can Help

It's important for a chorus to convey messages through marketing communications that are consistent with the brand conveyed through its musicmaking. A periodic brand audit—conducted either by a consultant or done yourselves following the simple steps below—will help bring you into alignment.

I have a terrible poker face. This has been true of me since birth—an attribute for which my Mom is grateful. She could always tell when I was lying. This was partly because she was my Mom, and mothers have superpowers in this area. But, it was also because I don't have good control over my facial expressions. While I intended to convey what I was saying, I was clearly communicating something very different with my face. I learned some hard lessons about consistent, truthful communication, and I bet I'm not alone in this.

My mother's admonishment to "Get your story straight, young man" also applies to young women and organizations of any age. Like your chorus.

Clearly, a chorus communicates through the art of musicmaking. This elemental communication is profoundly effective. It touches both mind and spirit. This emotional connection is why many of us got involved with vocal music. And, choruses work very hard to ensure what we perform is of the highest quality—that we convey what we intend musically to our listeners. But this cannot be the sole focus of a chorus's communications program. It is a necessary but not sufficient component of managing your chorus's brand.

Your brand can be thought of as the perception people hold about your chorus as a result of their accumulated experiences and interactions with your organization. Some of the most important experiences will likely be from attending concerts. But they are not the only brand experiences your audience has with you. Among other things, your advertising, promotional materials, program books, logo, online communications, recordings, fundraising appeals, board materials, and personal interactions all contribute to your brand impression. What you want to achieve is similar to what my Mom taught: consistently conveying the same message with your face (or marketing communications) as you vocalize through your music. And both should feel true to your strategic mission.

What you want to achieve is similar to what my Mom taught: consistently conveying the same message with your face (or marketing communications) as you vocalize through your music. And both should feel true to your strategic mission.

One way to go about this is to conduct a periodic brand audit. Chorus America recently completed such a review of our communications to judge their consistency, clarity, and alignment with our mission statement. You can do this too—either by working with a branding firm, or by acting as your own consultant. The trick to doing this successfully on your own is to be brutally honest in your appraisal. It might help to recruit a couple of people to work with you on a brand audit team who are not part of your chorus and can be more objective. This team should then:

Determine your target audiences. By "audiences" I mean the different constituencies with whom your chorus communicates. These will include concert attendees and your musicians, but may also include prospective donors, board members, future concert attendees, opinion leaders, etc.

Poll some people in each target audience.  First ask them general questions like: what do they know about your chorus, what do they feel about it, and what does it mean to your community. Ask them what your music communicates about your chorus. Then show them a few of your major communications and ask them what these pieces convey to them. Your brand audit team can split these interviews up so that it's not too much of a burden—just ask the same questions and keep good notes.

Assess your communications materials.  Gather your brand audit team and spread your samples out so everyone can see them. Then read your mission statement together out loud. (You have one, right?) Next comes the brutally honest part—does each piece convey the essence of your mission in sound, words, and/or pictures? Is it clear what the audience is supposed to do as a result of being exposed to the communication? Do the materials look like they come from the same organization?

Don't fall into the trap of thinking consistency in branding is somehow uncreative. It is the communicator's responsibility to make it easy for the audience to understand what is being conveyed, and by whom. Consistent logo, colors, type treatments, and layout all give quick visual clues about who is speaking. Use your judgment to ensure that your materials feel "of a family" rather than simply cloned. Set the outliers aside to address in your action steps.

List your action steps.  Have the team review the findings from the interviews and your materials assessments to determine changes that need to be made to improve your chorus's brand impression. These might range from adjusting the copy tone in your promotional materials, to simply using your logo consistently.

All that's left is actually following through on your to-do list. But believe me, it's worth it—a periodic brand audit will help ensure that your chorus's voice and face are in concert.

This article is adapted from The Voice, Summer 2008.