If you’re running a business right now, then you understand the importance of building a strong brand. What you may not realize is how many branding mistakes you might be making that are impacting your ability to do just that.
We’ve witnessed our fair share of branding mishaps, typically stemming from lack of vision, inadequate brand leadership, shortsightedness, unrealistic timelines, skimpy branding budgets, and other brand suffocating mindsets.
Branding is not something you do once, it’s a long-term commitment, perhaps even, a labor of love. While not everyone will agree with our points here (they likely share the mindset we’re advising against) those who do agree, will share this post like wildfire.
Here are 8 branding mistakes you’re making right now, and what to do about them:
1. Your brand is thrown together.
Far too many companies operate with a piecemeal approach fueled by disparate thinking, erratic decision making, inconsistent messages, and poorly executed materials. Simply put, the brand is sloppy. You cannot build a strong brand without a thoughtful strategy and sound brand foundation to underpin it. Some companies rush into design without defining their purpose, vision and values, or creating a strategy that directs what they are doing and why. Your branding efforts should be well orchestrated where every detail and choice matters. If a poorly executed brand enters the world, it becomes harder to recover. Save yourself (and your team) the time, energy, and frustration that comes with piecemealing and invest in the future of a holistic brand effort starting now (but only after you read mistakes 2-8.)
2. Your brand does not reflect your culture.
Many times we are brought in to help with a branding problem, and soon realize it’s rooted in a cultural problem. Most often, there’s a disconnect between what’s happening on the inside of the company (culture) and what’s being reflected on the outside (brand). At that point in the business, the air might be brewing with frustration, morale is likely down, and the brand’s identity and direction is faint and unrequited. Your company culture has a powerful influence on your brand. Whether you’ve knowingly defined and shaped your internal culture or not, it is influencing your success right now. In the perfect brand and culture symbiosis, each would support the other to create a unified internal-external brand experience, where what you say, how you act and what you do all align. The new normal for successful branding depends on how authentically your culture and brand mirror each other. People are more likely to connect with your brand if they have a good understanding of your company’s heartbeat, who you are, and what you are all about. Invest in culture and brand workshops and work on creating internal and external brand alignment for a happier, healthier workplace and customer experience that leads to a stronger brand.
3. You’re unrealistic about what it takes from a passion, time and budget standpoint.
I’m not a fan of “the lean startup” approach to branding and I’ll explain why — it inspired thousands of entrepreneurs to rush to market with premature ideas and ill-prepared brands. For every twenty companies wanting to do a comprehensive rebrand and build a custom e-commerce platform in less than 4 weeks with little to no budget (completely unrealistic), there is a handful of educated and strategic companies who understand the value in investing in their brand and the time it takes to build one. Rome was not built in a day and neither will your brand. Those who invest in their brand by valuing the agency or designer relationship and giving it the proper time and money, have far superior business outcomes than companies who are unrealistic, cheap, and demanding. It’s the difference between feeding your body fast food everyday or choosing to eat healthy. Yes, it’s more expensive and it might take longer to prepare meals, but you won’t feel or look bad in the long run. Think of your brand as a body that needs to be fed good nourishment. The infamous lines “I just need to get to market” or “I need to do this fast and cheap” are the worst mindsets you can have. If you want to craft a strong brand, be ready and willing to generously invest. Allow your branding team the time, resources and support to do their best work. If your agency tells you it’s going to take 4-6 months to do what you need to do, you should listen — they’ve built enough brands to know. You can always do it cheap and fast, but as they say, “The bitterness of poor quality lingers long after the sweetness of low price is forgotten.”
4. You’re not choosing your branding partners wisely.
Who you choose to work with on your branding efforts can make or break your brand. From freelance designers, videographers and photographers to branding, digital and marketing agencies, anyone who touches your brand should be vetted wisely. Be sure to research potential partnerships thoroughly and ask for case studies and references. We wrote a powerful article on how to interview brand partners here. Get a firm understanding of what the person or company did for their clients, how they think, and what their role was. We’ve seen far too many companies hire from a portfolio that might look great but isn’t an accurate depiction of their capabilities. We’ve also seen brands fall apart at critical executions, like video work or photo shoots, because the partners chosen to do the work did not understand the brand fully or were not guided properly. Sadly, this usually happens when a company is trying to save money and hire cheap. Stay away from bad decisions and spend the time to find the right talent.
5. You lack vision for the brand you’re building.
Playing it safe with your branding efforts shows nothing but lack of vision. Every great branding effort starts with a clear articulation of vision, so if you don’t have it, things get really messy. On the flip side, having a big, bold, clear vision, can mean the difference in the long-term trajectory of your organization. But having a vision is only half of it. The other half is the execution of your vision. A lot of people think it’s just about sharing your vision and helping others see what you do. That’s true, but it also goes way deeper. It’s one thing to transfer a vision, but in order for the passion to transfer along with it, others have to believe in it to make it their own. As the leader at the helm, you have to set the vision for what you see for the business and the brand and enforce those ideas so that the people around you can believe in it too. Without a greater sense of vision, the brand becomes wobbly and it makes it hard for your team to do an excellent job. If you lack vision, work with an agency or consultant to facilitate this very important conversation so you can surface it and articulate it. A clear vision will provide a greater sense of continuity across the brand as well as overcome inefficiencies, frustrations and confusions that result in not presenting a consistent face to customers.
6. Your brand doesn’t tell a compelling story and lacks personality.
Stories inspire us. They are the emotional glue that creates meaningful experiences between brands and their audience. Stories speak directly to the human condition, to our hardwired emotions and instincts. Of all the key ingredients missing in most brands, it’s a great story wrapped in an engaging brand personality. When we talk about a brand’s personality, we are describing the way a brand expresses itself — the way it speaks and behaves, it’s character traits, attributes, and tone of voice. Imagine meeting your best friend for a drink and she announces that her co-worker Ryan will be joining you. You’re excited to meet Ryan, but Ryan has nothing much to say. In fact, he can be very blunt when he bothers to say anything. He rarely laughs, has no stories to tell and has an air about him that leaves you with a question mark. Now, for the next potential meet-up, are you looking forward to Ryan turning up? No, not really. Why? Because Ryan lacks personality and isn’t interesting. The same thinking should apply to your brand. Great brands spend time cultivating the story, ideas, images and characteristics that shape their brand. Crafting a engaging brand story and infusing brand personality makes your audience lean in a little closer.
7. You’re paralyzed by your competition.
Some of our clients are so focused on their competition that they put themselves into brand paralysis. It’s smart to do a competitive brand audit and take a look at the image your competitors are putting out. For our projects, we analyze 12-15 competitors. That might not be necessary for you, depending on the space you’re in. 3-6 is usually a good number. Check out their websites, read through their content, take snapshots of noteworthy items, watch their videos, and analyze their visuals and messaging and social media. Collect it all and put all together in a document. This provides a good foundation for visualizing your competitor’s brands. But be careful with too much market research, it can lead to mediocrity. Some clients come to us with decks and decks of research on their competitors. It’s helpful, but it’s distracting. If you want to be noticed, you have to raise your hand up a little higher — perhaps you need to identify yourself — what makes me unique? How can I build on that? At some point you have to have the guts to blaze your own path. We have so many clients say, “Can you help us be the next Apple?” Our reply is “There’s only one Apple. The question you should be asking is “How can you be the next you?”
8. You are ignoring fundamental shifts within the business.
Businesses are in perpetual beta. They are always evolving and moving forward. In some cases, business models change and product focuses pivot. This impacts the brand in a fundamental way. When shifts within the business start to take place, you need determine in what way the brand needs to be adapted or reinvented to accommodate a major contextual change. Do you need to go through a rebranding? Does the culture need a refresher? Have you lost some passion for the business and brand? Some business leaders put off looming branding issues, despite the pleas of their internal team. If your brand managers are telling you there’s a problem, you need to listen. If your employees are taking liberties with the brand because they don’t know any better, the business you’re in now is the not the same business you started in, or your brand image has not caught up to where you’re at, then you need to act now. Never ignore the evolution of your business and always be adapting to keep up with those shifts.
Have something to contribute? Please weigh in and let us know what you think!