The word ‘audit’ can conjure shudders and dread, particularly for marketing professionals like me, who intentionally chose a career path in a creative field as a way to avoid numbers and math as much as possible. Fear not, though, the audits we will explore in this article are not about accounting. Today, we’re taking a deep dive into marketing audits – what are they, why are they a critical part of marketing planning, plus a few tips for making the process as painless as possible.  


First Thing’s First: What is a Marketing Audit? 

In his B-school standard textbook, Principles of Marketing, Philip Kotler defines a marketing audit as “a comprehensive examination, systematic, independent and periodic – the company or strategic units – marketing environment, objectives, strategies and activities in order to identify the main opportunities and threats and to recommend an action plan to improve its marketing performance.” 


A more basic way to think about a marketing audit is this: a periodic review of your current marketing strategies, tactics, and programs to determine what’s working and what’s not. Sounds simple enough. Why, then, are so many marketing directors averse to tackling the process, despite the fact that it’s a critical practice for optimizing their marketing initiatives? I’ve put together a list of some common reasons well-intentioned professionals opt to ditch the audit process. While you’re reading the list, think about which of them sound familiar in your own organization.  


  • Time Constraints: Marketing directors often face heavy workloads and tight deadlines. Conducting a comprehensive marketing audit can be time-consuming, and they may feel that they don’t have the bandwidth to dedicate to this process. 
  • Resource Limitations: Marketing audits may require access to specialized tools, data analysis skills, and external consultants. Limited resources – whether in terms of budget, personnel or in-house expertise – can deter marketing directors from embarking on an audit. 
  • Fear of Uncovering Problems: Audits can reveal weaknesses or underperforming aspects of a marketing strategy. Some marketing directors might avoid audits because they are concerned about discovering issues they may not have the resources or expertise to address. 
  • Resistance to Change: Implementing the recommendations from a marketing audit may require significant changes to existing strategies and processes. Marketing directors who are resistant to change may prefer to maintain the status quo, even if it’s not yielding optimal results. 
  • Short-Term Focus: Some marketing directors may prioritize short-term goals and immediate results over long-term strategy optimization. They might believe that the time spent on an audit could be better used for tactical execution. 
  • Lack of Awareness: In some cases, marketing directors may not fully understand the benefits of a marketing audit or may underestimate its importance in staying competitive and achieving long-term success. 
  • Perceived Costs: There can be a misconception that marketing audits are expensive endeavors. While they may require an investment, the potential return on investment in terms of improved marketing performance often outweighs the costs. 
  • Overconfidence: Marketing directors who have experienced past success may become complacent and believe that their strategies are already effective. They may underestimate the need for periodic assessments. 
  • Internal Politics: Organizational dynamics and office politics can sometimes discourage marketing directors from initiating audits, especially if there is resistance from other departments or stakeholders. 
  • Lack of Clear Process: Some marketing directors may not have a clear understanding of how to conduct a marketing audit or may find the process overwhelming. They may need guidance or support to get started. 


Despite a litany of seemingly legitimate reasons to kick the can down the road on the audit process, it’s essential for marketers to recognize the value of audits in optimizing their strategies, ensuring efficient resource allocation, and staying competitive in a rapidly changing marketing landscape. Overcoming these barriers and committing to regular audits can lead to more effective and successful marketing efforts in the long run. 


A Year-End Marketing Audit is Good Business  

Still need a nudge to get past your hesitation to undertake an audit? What if I told you that performing a marketing audit in the last quarter of the year is a strategic maneuver that can reap substantial benefits for your organization? Here are a few reasons why there’s no better time than the present to get started on a marketing audit:  


1. Prepare for the New Year: As I write this, we are just weeks away from Q4. With the current year winding down, marketing directors are tasked with looking ahead to the challenges and opportunities that the new year will bring. A year-end marketing audit equips you with the insights needed to chart a well-informed course for the upcoming year. It’s akin to having a detailed roadmap before embarking on a journey. You wouldn’t set out on an expedition without a clear plan, would you?  
Imagine this scenario: Throughout the year, you’ve been allocating resources to various marketing channels throughout the year, but you’re not entirely sure which efforts have yielded the best results. The marketing audit dissects your past performance, pinpointing the tactics that worked and those that didn’t. Armed with this knowledge, you can make precise adjustments, eliminate inefficiencies, and focus your resources on strategies that promise the highest returns. For example, let’s say that, through your audit, you discover that your social media advertising consistently outperformed other paid channels in terms of member acquisition. Armed with that knowledge, you can allocate a larger portion of your budget to this proven strategy in the new year. This proactive approach allows you to start the year on a strong footing, with a clear plan designed to achieve your organization’s objectives efficiently. 

2. Budget Allocation: Accurately creating a marketing budget that delivers results is no small task, especially when you’re unsure which initiatives are driving real value. The marketing audit acts as a financial compass, guiding you in the allocation of your precious resources.  
Imagine this scenario: You’ve been dedicating a significant portion of your budget to print advertising, assuming it’s a valuable channel for reaching your members. However, upon closer examination during the audit, you discover that your digital campaigns consistently generate higher engagement and conversions. Without this insight from your audit, you might continue funneling funds into print advertising, missing out on the opportunity to maximize your ROI. In this light, a year-end marketing audit becomes an essential financial tool. It empowers you to reallocate your budget intelligently, channeling funds away from underperforming areas and into high-impact marketing initiatives. By doing so, you ensure that every dollar you invest in marketing contributes meaningfully to your organization’s growth and success.  

3. Member Retention: Members are the lifeblood of associations and professional societies, and keeping them coming back year after year is crucial to your organization’s longevity and relevance. The last quarter of the year is an ideal time to address any issues affecting member retention and engagement.  
Imagine this scenario: Your audit reveals a consistent drop in member engagement with your social media channels during the second quarter. Further analysis uncovers that your communications during this period were inconsistent and lacking in personalized content. Armed with this knowledge, you can develop an outreach strategy that includes targeted communication, personalized offers, and engagement initiatives to counteract this decline – and to ensure your members remember the value they gained from your organization long before it’s time to send them a renewal invoice. By conducting the audit in the last quarter, you proactively identify potential retention challenges and devise strategies to address them before they become critical issues. This not only helps in preserving your current member base but also sets the stage for growth in the new year. 

4. Data-Driven Decision Making: At the risk of making your eyes glaze over at the mention of numbers, I would be remiss to leave out the value of hard data in informing future, impactful marketing plans. A year-end marketing audit empowers marketing directors with the data-driven intelligence needed to navigate the complexities of today’s marketing environment.  
Imagine this scenario: Throughout the year, your team has implemented a variety of omnichannel marketing initiatives, including e-mail campaigns, direct mail, and social media promotions. However, without a comprehensive audit, you lack a clear understanding of what’s working and what’s not. You may be making decisions based on gut feelings rather than data-backed evidence. The audit dives deep into your data analytics, revealing which strategies are driving engagement, conversions, and member satisfaction. It helps you identify patterns, trends, and correlations that may have gone unnoticed. Armed with these insights, you can fine-tune your marketing strategies, optimize campaign targeting, and adjust messaging for maximum impact. Furthermore, data-driven decision making extends beyond day-to-day tactics. It guides your organization’s overarching marketing strategy, allowing you to align your efforts with your members’ preferences, behaviors, and evolving market dynamics. 

5. Competitive Edge: In the fast-paced world of marketing, staying ahead of the curve is paramount. Your competitors are constantly evolving their strategies to adapt to changing industry trends and consumer behaviors. To maintain a competitive edge, you need to do the same. The year-end marketing audit provides a comprehensive view of your organization’s marketing efforts in comparison to your biggest competition. Think of it like a game of chess, where you carefully study your opponent’s moves to anticipate their next actions. By analyzing your competitors’ strategies, strengths, and weaknesses, you can position your organization to make strategic moves that capitalize on opportunities in the market. For instance, if your audit reveals that your industry peers have successfully embraced influencer marketing to engage members, you can explore similar strategies to tap into this trend. By aligning your marketing approach with the latest industry dynamics, you not only keep pace with your competitors but also position your organization as an industry leader. 



In essence, a marketing audit at the end of the year empowers marketing directors to transition from instinct-driven decision making to a data-informed approach. This not only enhances the efficiency of your marketing efforts but also positions your organization for sustained growth and success in an increasingly competitive landscape. Ready to get started on your own audit? Check back next week for the second part in this series, where we take a deep dive into the ‘how to do it’ aspects of a marketing audit.  


Have you tackled a marketing audit at your organization? We’d love to hear your insights and experiences. To see more stories like this, join our mailing list and be the first to learn about marketing trends, insights, expert advice, and more.