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One of the keys and biggest challenges with building premium brands is maintaining a healthy balance between growing the business and maintaining consistency in your brand communications program. That's because premium brands, by their very nature, have a way of taking on a life of their own.

When you first position your brand, the people behind it become engaged. They take ownership and get down to business. The competition reacts. The category evolves. Over time, staffs come and go. New players aren't always adequately initiated. Experienced staff members are often too busy to take notice or simply forget why staying true to the brand is important.

That's why we recommend that once a year top management step back and take a look at how the brand is holding up. It's not that difficult to do, and it can be an illuminating and energizing experience. Depending on what you discover, it can help you sleep better at night or set your branding priorities for the coming year.

This annual review can take several forms. There's the full-blown brand audit, which in many cases is complete overkill. Unless there are obvious signs that your brand is underperforming, we recommend a quick checkup before committing to a more comprehensive brand audit.

The Annual Brand Checkup

A great way for top management to get a quick read on how well the brand is performing is a simple exercise we call the Annual Brand Check Up. It's easy to do, doesn't require much of a time commitment on the part of your staff, and it's relatively inexpensive.

Here's how it works:

Approximately 10 people are chosen at random for an informal conversation. Some are from your company—we recommend including one person from sales and one person from marketing (but not the directors). And others are customers, end users, and, if you can identify them, non-users of your brand but users in the category.

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Mark Shipley ( is Chief Thinker and cofounder of Smith & Jones (