This is a guest article contributed by Claire Newton.
Branding is chronically misunderstood.
From people operating under the impression that branding is something that can be “done” in an afternoon to companies ignoring it altogether, it’s a key area that can make or break your business, especially in the long run.
Today, we’ve gathered together 20 of the biggest and most common branding mistakes made by small and medium businesses like yours. The intention isn’t to scare or depress you – it’s to let you know where the potholes are and show you how you to avoid them.
Do you know what the biggest branding mistake of all is, though? Doing nothing!
Branding doesn’t evolve by itself. It’s a blueprint for how you want the world to see your business and blueprints are planned and researched documents. Brand yourself and then show the world, and don’t let the world do the branding!
20 of the Most Common Branding Mistakes
1. Failing to grasp the meaning of branding
What is branding? We mentioned it above – it’s a blueprint for how you want the world to see your business. Take time to really understand the concept and find an explanation or understanding that suits you and what you do. You need to wholly understand what branding is to apply it to your business, so don’t skimp on your own education.
“Your brand is the set of perceptions people have about your company. But branding is the set of actions you take to cultivate that brand.”
2. Confusing marketing and branding
Ooh, this one’s a doozy. Branding is defining who or what your brand is – and marketing is making other people aware of it. They’re closely related and there’s a lot of crossover, but not being clear on the differences means you can’t do either effectively. Still confused? Here’s a pro tip: take care of branding first, then tackle marketing second.
3. Skipping professional help
Sure, some of us lucky entrepreneurs have a solid understanding of psychology, graphic design, fonts, and copywriting, but even more of us don’t. Branding is significantly more complicated than it first seems, which is why we think you should always hire a professional.
4. Equating branding to a logo
There is a lot more to branding than the design, even though sometimes people equate the two. Branding is bigger than one or two brand assets, like business cards or even a logo (and don’t get us wrong – logos are important), but branding is the conceptual act of defining your business, not just making some pretty designs in the company colors.
5. Being too edgy
Some businesses, especially younger, more digital brands, try hard to differentiate themselves from the competition. This is a good thing – it’s hard to stand out if the public can’t distinguish your brand of beard oil from the next. More than one company, however, has crossed a line in their quest for uniqueness and it’s ended badly. Interesting is fine or even positive – just don’t accidentally stray into questionable. It can take quite a bit of legwork to return to the land of the respectable!
6. Playing too safe
On the other end of this spectrum is the business that plays it too safe when it comes to branding. If there’s nothing interesting, unusual, or unique about your brand, it’s going to be really hard to carve out market share. You can combat this with lots of competitor research – it will help you find a niche and root out gaps in your competitor’s offering that perhaps you can fill. Don’t swing too far the other way in this search for a differentiator, but at the same try, do try to find something that will allow you to stand on your own two feet.
7. Forgetting brand guidelines
Once you’ve passed the major milestone of creating your brand, make sure you take out the insurance that is your brand guidelines. As well as helping ensure consistency and authenticity across people, departments, channels, and material in-house, they’ll be a major help to any 3rd party professionals you employ to help with marketing, content, graphic design, product design, and more.
8. Lacking consistency across channels
Once you’ve got branding in place, you really need to ensure that it is represented similarly across all the channels your business is present on – print, the company blog, TV, video, social media, events, PR, etc. Being inconsistent sends a mixed message to the public, and the one place you really need to hold fast is your brand. Your brand guidelines, if you create them effectively, will help with this.
9. Lacking consistency across collateral
It can be surprisingly easy to ensure consistency in the really obvious places and forget about it in situations or events that happen less frequently. Make sure anything that is issued by your business – from compliment slips to invoices – is just on-brand as your Instagram account. As well as those brand guidelines (see how useful they are?), take steps to ensure that a culture of brand loyalty and awareness is present in all employees, from c-level to mailing room.
10. Refusing to admit mistakes
Branding mistakes? Yup, we’ve seen a few and so has pretty much everyone else on the internet. Even the most experienced brands mess up sometimes, but if you do, the only way to claw yourself back some reputation is by owning up to the error, apologizing, and looking contrite. Admit your mistake early and you’ll hopefully be in with a chance to remedy it. Even some of the most heinous brand faux pas can fade into the background if they are graciously handled.
For example, Ikea once removed all the women from its catalog in Saudi Arabia. It caused outrage at the time, but an apology soon followed and, 7 years later, most people would be hard-pressed to even remember the event.
11. Being too trend-driven
Becoming a fashion victim can happen to both new brands and old hands, so everyone needs to stay aware. Every year brings hot new trends in design and, while it’s ok to use them for inspiration or as a base, copying them verbatim or going all-in can look desperate and age fast. Jumping from trend to trend is also a no-no – it’s a type of inconsistency like we discussed above. Better to find a happy medium that will last the distance because, hopefully, your brand will be around for quite some time to come.
12. Alienating your origins
Here’s a tip for the well-established brands. It can be hard to get the balance between old and new just right, but if your brand has been around for a while, at least consider that you may have plenty of fans who love you for your traditional, familiar, and comforting brand. Updates that stray too far from origins like this can sometimes fall flat, so tread carefully and do lots of research before you refresh your classic brand. Most rebranding fails can be rescued eventually, but it tends to cost lots (and lots) of money!
13. Thinking too small
Local company? Possibly not as much as you think. Sure, some online businesses are very local, but an increasing number of companies have a global reach, even without trying. Make sure your branding doesn’t offend any of your international clients by employing a professional and doing your due diligence before making any changes. Even if you don’t make any terrible faux pas, sometimes tiny details can make the difference between international clients feeling fine – or just slightly uncomfortable.
14. Attaching your brand to the wrong things
Even though the result of this can be both baffling and hilarious, be really careful about what you allow your brand name to be attached too. For every association that brings in new business and extra revenue, there are 10 more that just leave customers scratching their heads, which is never a good sign for business.
15. Forgetting about copy
Branding is a very visual endeavor, but don’t make the mistake of forgetting about the text when you concentrate on graphic design. Even though copywriting may play a lesser role in your branding, it’s hugely important and worth examining professionally. Core messages, mission statements, tag lines, and content are all essential brand elements – and they all rest on the written word. Great copywriting not only increases sales and conversions, but it also has a major impact on how people view your brand in terms of authenticity, reputation, and trustworthiness.
16. Stripping all personality
We’ve extolled the virtues of consistency and we stick by that, but never varying from the strictest confines of your brand guidelines can make for a very boring brand. Once you are intimately familiar with your company’s branding, use that familiarity to inject a little personality and character into your brand actions. Adding personality through humor is for experts, but even brand noobs can add a little character by telling stories or adding a touch of nostalgia to their (on-brand) content. This article is aimed at personal brands on Instagram, but the advice holds true for all kinds of businesses.
17. Neglecting the update
If you’ve already got your branding done and dusted, set a reminder to take a look at it on an annual or bi-annual basis. Sure, we don’t want our brand to be molded by every passing trend, but we also want to avoid it looking tired, old fashioned, or irrelevant. Getting the balance right can be hard, but it’s a balance you’re going to need to perfect.
18. Trying too hard
Trying too hard looks desperate. Unfortunately, it’s a problem that comes across loud and clear when it contaminates branding. Aim to let your brand develop naturally and organically, and avoid the temptation to shoehorn it into a cool trend, ready-made identity, or newsworthy role. The same goes for trying to be clever, or attempting to get involved in too many things – the public can smell inauthenticity a mile away, and it never turns out well.
19. Attempting to appeal to everyone
Today we’re talking branding, but the concept stands in lots of circumstances – you cannot be all things to all people and neither should you try. Attempting to appeal to more people by toning down certain elements of your brand or ramping up others won’t help you attract more customers – it will leave your existing customers confused and repel new ones who are finding it hard to identify with your wishy-washy brand. Embrace your brand and walk the walk – this clarity will help your people find you.
20. Skipping the branding deadline
For many businesses, branding is still a work – or a refresh – in progress. That’s ok – solid branding takes a bit of effort and isn’t something you can finish in a weekend. That said, always set yourself an end goal and a deadline to wrap everything up. Some companies are never quite happy and continue poking their brand to “get it just right”. A brand that’s always in motion can never grow roots, and it’s those roots that are key to your brand being the foundation your business is built on. Think of them like the foundations of a house – if they’re missing, everything else you build will be shaky.
So there you have it. 20 common – but avoidable – ways that businesses mess up branding and hinder their growth. Some of them are riskiest in the planning stages, but many can steer your brand off course after years or even decades in existence. Keeping these mistakes at the forefront of your mind should keep your brand safe now and for many years to come.
When you employ a branding professional, the person or agency will be the ones looking out for these possible pitfalls. If you’ve decided to take care of branding yourself, well, you’ll have to personally remain alert. Branding already involves juggling many balls, which is why we recommend getting help, but if you’re determined to go it alone you should, at the very least, know what you’re facing.
Branding isn’t easy and it’s often not quick, but if you keep your eyes open and your head down, you should emerge victorious on the other side of the branding process with a strong brand that can pilot your company well into the future.
Author Bio: Claire is a marketing executive with Design Wizard. When she’s not at work you can find her keeping up with social media and walking her dog Storm.