The 5-Step External Marketing Audit Process

Christy Walters


November 16, 2022 (Updated: October 26, 2023)

person in orange jacket holding a clipboard conducting an external marketing audit.

Even if you feel like you and your team are in complete control of your marketing efforts, you’re not. We’re sorry to say it, but outside forces like the competition or the government have just as much influence over whether people want to buy your products and services as your marketing messages and strategies do. But how do you account for things you can’t control within your marketing plan? Today, we’re looking at how to run an external marketing audit to discover what outside forces work for and against your brand, and what you can do about them:

What Is an External Marketing Audit?

An external marketing audit is an analysis and research process that looks at factors outside your organization that affect your marketing efforts. Most companies conduct an external analysis before an internal one to look at the factors they have little or no control over. By understanding what can change your marketing plans from your outside environment, you can better decide how to adapt or change marketing influences under your brand’s control. When conducting an external marketing audit, look at how all the outside influences affect:

  • Products or services your brand sells
  • The target audience you’re selling to
  • How you market and promote your products or services
  • When you choose new marketing methods or strategies
  • Why your business exists in its current market

Related: What Is a Marketing Audit? (And Other Audit FAQs)

Why Should You Conduct an External Marketing Audit?

Auditing your marketing efforts can be a time-consuming process. But it’s worth it. Audits like this help your team understand what’s working for and against your brand when marketing to the target audience. The more you know, the more informed decisions you can make about better allocating your time, money, and other resources throughout your marketing campaigns. Other benefits of running an external marketing audit include:

Highlighting the Right Path Forward

Running an external marketing audit—or any marketing audit—allows you to realign your strategies with your goals, the state of the industry market, and the world. When you better understand the current climate and future conditions that may affect your brand, you can make smarter marketing decisions. For example, if you knew an economic downturn was coming, would you ramp up marketing efforts for your top luxury services? Probably not. But without an external marketing audit, you could be caught unaware of these economic changes and make that mistake.

Digging Up Dirt on the Competition

As much as you wish your brand was the only option and obvious choice for a solution in its niche, it’s not. You’ve got both direct and indirect competitors everywhere just itching to get their content and messages in front of your same target audience. External marketing audits let you take a sneak peek at what the competition is doing to pull in new leads or woo away your loyal customers.

By looking at their unique selling propositions (USPs), content choices, and brand messages, you’ll get a better understanding of what your brand needs to do to be more appealing to the audience in relation to the companies around you.

Related: When Is the Right Time To Run a Competitive Analysis?

Saving Time

Audits are time-sucking to run, but they actually save you more time in the future. When your team has a clear plan and focus for its marketing efforts, and you’re aware of all the potential obstacles in front of you, you won’t hit as many roadblocks. Knowing all the external factors working for and against your brand gives you insights on how to adjust your internal assets to work more smoothly. This shift allows you to distribute your resources more efficiently, and see more beneficial returns than you would if you kept plugging along in the same way without insights.

How To Do an External Marketing Audit

Use these steps to conduct your external marketing audit, or follow along as a third-party organization runs one for your company:

1. Set Your Audit Focus

Before diving into the research and analysis process, you first have to know why you’re conducting the external audit. At a minimum, yes, every external audit looks at the outside factors that affect how your brand markets its products and services. But do you need to put a heavier focus on some areas rather than others? Maybe you want to learn more about how your competitors earned such a large following. Maybe your marketing relies heavily on technology and you want to see how new inventions could change your game.

Even if you cover more than just your focus area in your audit, knowing exactly what you want to get from the process allows you to locate the right resources. It also lets you conduct an analysis that’s most beneficial to your brand at any given time.

2. Record Marketing Goals

Your marketing analysis should help you align your brand goals with your marketing efforts. That’s why it’s important to record your marketing objectives at the beginning of your external audit. When you reach the end of the audit, you’ll use the data you collect to find out if any external factors help you meet, or stand in the way of your meeting your goals.

The analysis phase also provides insights on how to update or rework your current marketing strategies to better account for changes in your industry environment. The better prepared you are, the faster you can reach your brand goals.

3. Collect Data

Collecting data is the most crucial step in any audit. Without data, there’s nothing to analyze at the end of the process. Data collection is also the most time-consuming task in the audit. You may be tempted to skimp on resources or skip sections to save time. But do you want the audit done, or done right? The more information you collect, the better you’ll understand your industry climate, and how the outside world affects your brand. Use a variety of data programs and sources to collect information in the following areas:

Competitor Data

Competitor data looks at exactly what you’d expect: how your competition is doing its marketing and connecting with your audience. When analyzing competitor data, remember, the information you collect should be relative to your own brand, products, and services. For example, if your competitor sells a wide range of products, but only two that are similar to your offerings, narrow in on the marketing messages and strategies for those two. To collect competitor data during your audit, ask questions like:

  • Who are your direct competitors?
  • Who are your indirect competitors?
  • What products or services does this competitor sell?
  • Who is this competitor’s target audience?
  • What marketing messages does this competitor share with the audience?
  • What marketing channels does this competitor use to share marketing assets with the audience?
  • How do your keyword rankings compare to competitors?

If you’re looking for a head start on competitor auditing, request your free content marketing analysis report from CopyPress. This document looks at how your content pieces compare to your top three competitors. Compare keyword rankings and positioning, and find gaps in your keyword strategy to stay more competitive.

“CopyPress gives us the ability to work with more dealership groups. We are able to provide unique and fresh content for an ever growing customer base. We know that when we need an influx of content to keep our clients ahead of the game in the automotive landscape, CopyPress can handle these requests with ease.”

Kevin Doory

Director of SEO at Auto Revo

Political Data

Political data looks at how governmental factors affect your business and marketing. It’s closely bound to legal data that you also collected through an external marketing audit. The difference between the two is that political data cares more about the regulatory bodies themselves rather than the decisions they make. When searching for accurate political data for an audit, ask questions like:

  • Which government bodies create legislation and rules for your industry or business? These may include local, state, national, and international organizations.
  • Who are the representatives or contact people for each organization?
  • Is there talk of creating any new regulatory bodies for your industry? What areas would they cover?
  • Are there other non-government groups, like associations or political action committees (PACs), that affect the operations of your business or industry?
  • Who serves as your brand’s legal counsel? Does your industry have other legal representatives available, too?

Economic Data

Economic data looks at how the local, national, and international economies affect your industry and brand. You may look at things like currency conversation rates for doing business in other countries. Or, you may look at taxes imposed on your industry by the government. When looking for economic data, consider questions like:

  • What is the state of the current local, national, and international economies that affect your brand?
  • Is your industry or company subject to any specific tariffs or taxes?
  • Is there any current legislation pushing for an increase in tariffs or taxes on your industry?
  • What trading bodies affect your industry or company?
  • What are the current interest rates for loans or lending that affect your industry?
  • Do you know the currency conversion rates for other countries where your brand does business?

Sociocultural Data

Sociocultural data focuses on the behaviors and mindsets of your audience and the world at large. Cultures, attitudes, values, and beliefs all affect how people make purchasing decisions and how they interact with different brands. Creating client personas or audience profiles are ways to help you understand the sociological and psychological motivations of your audience. When creating these documents and conducting sociocultural research, ask questions like:

  • Where do your target audience members live?
  • What are the ethnic, cultural, and socioeconomic backgrounds of your audience members?
  • What do your audience members do for a living?
  • How do your audience members label themselves, such as by race, religion, sexual orientation, marital status, generational grouping, or other factors?
  • What attitudes do your audience members have toward your industry or business?
  • Do your audience members value certain beliefs or virtues more than others?
  • What current events, issues, or trends affect your audience?

Technological Data

Technological data focuses on innovations in the world and your industry. The development of new technologies may affect how your brand produces products, connects with its audience, and markets its products or services. To collect data about technologies that affect your brand, ask questions like:

  • What are the latest technological innovations in your industry?
  • How has the technology in your industry evolved since your last external marketing audit?
  • What technologies affect your ability to market to your audience successfully, such as new content marketing channels?
  • What technological advancements affect your brand’s ability to produce and distribute its marketing messages, products, and services?
  • Are there new, beneficial technologies available that your brand isn’t using?
  • Are there any outdated technologies that your brand or industry uses that may soon have replacements?

Legal Data

Legal data focuses on the laws, regulations, and rules your brand and industry must follow to do business in certain locations. Though similar to political data, this category differs by focusing not on the people that make the laws, but on the laws themselves. When searching for legal data, ask questions like:

  • What pricing, trade, and tax laws affect your brand or industry?
  • Are there government regulations on the types of products and services you sell?
  • Do the laws regulating your money or products and services differ by geographic location?
  • Do the laws affecting your brand change based on the company size or income level?
  • Are there any new potential bills or laws working through the government that may affect how your industry or brand does business?
  • How do any regulatory laws affect your audience?
  • Are there any new laws with sociocultural bents that may affect how your audience views your brand or industry?

Environmental Data

Environmental data focuses on how natural elements affect your brand marketing. This could include natural resources, natural disasters, or conservation efforts. When collecting information about environmental influences, question things like:

  • Does your brand or industry focus on the conservation of resources or protecting the environment?
  • Does your audience value environmental protection or care about your brand’s response to the issue?
  • How do natural resource availability and reserves affect your brand or industry?
  • Have any natural disasters or weather patterns affected your brand or industry since your last external marketing audit?
  • Are there any laws regulating how your brand or industry handles environmental issues, such as lowering your carbon footprint or handling waste disposal?

4. Draw Conclusions From the Data

After you’ve collected all the necessary data, it’s time to put everything together and look for patterns and outliers. Organizing all your information in a spreadsheet or analysis software program makes it easier to draw conclusions about the research you did. It also helps you align current industry or market conditions with your strategies and brand goals.

This step, especially, highlights the benefits of working with a third-party service to conduct your external marketing audit. Though your team may have a good grasp on your brand and even the industry, spotting potentially beneficial or harmful patterns that could affect your strategies is a good job for the experts. No matter who’s running the audit, make sure the analysis takes an unbiased look at the data. Try to stay as objective as possible when drawing conclusions.

Related: Analyzing Marketing Data: What Works and What Doesn’t?

5. Develop a Marketing Plan

Now that you have a map of your industry landscape, what are you going to do with it? Take what you’ve learned about the external forces working on your marketing and compare them to how your brand markets internally. Look at ways you can apply this knowledge to adjust your campaign strategies, workflows, or messaging to better reach your audience. Create a marketing plan document that reflects everything you’ve learned. Then work to implement it with your team to shift your marketing mindset.

External Marketing Audit FAQs

Do you still have questions about the external marketing audit process? Here are answers to a few additional FAQs to help clarify the process and why it matters for your brand:

How Can a PESTLE Analysis Help With an External Marketing Audit?

The acronym PESTLE stands for political, economic, sociocultural, technological, legal, and environmental. You’ll notice each letter represents a kind of data you collected during the external marketing audit. The PESTLE analysis is one of the most common tools used to evaluate the external marketing landscape for audits.

Each component shows an area that could affect your marketing and allows your team to discover where your brand stands in the market in relation to these factors. A PESTLE analysis also lets you see how these factors affect your industry as a whole rather than just your business. This tool is to an external audit what a SWOT analysis is to an internal one. It lets you look at all influences objectively and determine how they affect your marketing decisions.

You could also pair a PESTLE analysis with a SWOT analysis to determine which pieces of information from your external environment may lend themselves to new opportunities for your marketing, or threats to your growth and success.

How Will We Know If the External Marketing Audit Is Successful?

person in orange jacket holding a clipboard conducting an external marketing audit.

Image via iStock by @NattawitK

A successful external marketing audit provides enough information to make informed decisions about how you should rework or updates your marketing plans to make them more effective. The “success” of each audit is going to look different for every brand, and it may even look different every time you run a new audit within your own department. Any audit is successful if it meets the following criteria:

  • Objective: The group or individual running the audit can look at the factors unbiasedly to provide accurate results. For this reason, we recommend working with a third-party auditing group that doesn’t have a stake in your brand.
  • Comprehensive: The audit is in-depth and covers all potential external marketing issues that could affect your brand.
  • Strategic: Your team has a goal for the audit and a plan to follow that keeps the process streamlined and organized.
  • Periodic: Your audits follow a regular, timely schedule to highlight changes in fast-moving external areas. You haven’t waited for a crisis before you decided to run the audit.

What’s the Easiest Way To Do an External Marketing Audit?

If you’re looking for an easy way to run your external marketing audit, here’s the good news: there are no rules. Okay, maybe that’s a lie. There are rules to help you collect the right information. But there aren’t any set guidelines for the process. You can’t or won’t “mess up” if you conduct the steps out of order or if you skip one that doesn’t matter to your brand. Your company’s external marketing audit process won’t look exactly like another company’s because your brand is unique.

If your team runs its own external marketing audit, create a template for the process the first time you do one. In the document, account for all the external factors you want to review and the process for examining them. This could include resources to explore, interviews to conduct, or other strategies. Creating a checklist for your template may help, too. As you conduct future audits, you can revise the template to better reflect the focus of each new process.

Even easier than conducting the audit yourself, work with a third-party consultation service. These groups run audits all day, every day. They’re pros. They know exactly what your brand needs and where to find the right information. Your team can stay hands-off, providing information if needed. Then you can dedicate your time to other marketing projects. Plus, an outside source has a better chance of being objective when looking at the factors that affect your marketing goals and plans.

Is an External Marketing Audit Better Than an Internal One?

Neither an internal audit nor an external one is better than the other. If you want the most comprehensive overview of your marketing landscape, it’s best to do both together, or one right after the other. Many companies often do their external marketing audits first, to see how the outside factors influence their business. Then they conduct internal audits to see how those outside factors affect elements within their control.

Related: How To Do an Internal Marketing Audit in 4 Steps

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Author Image - Christy Walters
Christy Walters

CopyPress writer

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