Hey friends! One of the most popular questions I get asked from my clients and my course participants is: “How do I build a sustainable and authentic brand?” This is a loaded question, and in order to answer it effectively, we’ll need to peel back the layers through a series of posts. To get us started, I want to kick off this series by first addressing some of the most common mistakes founders make that undermine their company’s image.
Behold, a well-known example of epic brand failure – Colgate Toothpaste. In the early 80’s, a frozen food craze swooped through the United States and many big brands were creating frozen entrees in response to a seismic shift in American family-dining culture. Gender roles played a huge part in this, with one of the reasons being that women were staying longer at work and participating more in the workplace. At the time, the growing ready-to-eat dinner market seemed like a great space for a successful brand like Colgate to expand in to. Except, there was one major problem: their brand.
Colgate was already a well-established toothpaste brand, and the introduction of a ready-to-eat meal product under their globally-recognized name and logo (brand identity), did not sit well with customers. Colgate had spent years branding themselves as a toothpaste company, and the new product wasn’t consistent with their existing image. Perhaps if they would have created a sub-product or an affiliated brand that operated under the Colgate brand, they may have had a different result. (Totally my speculation).
At any rate, they were trying to sell a food product under a brand identity that was associated with toothpaste and it was an epic failure. I love to use this example because it illustrates the immense impact a company’s brand has on their external image, which in turn effects how their products are received by customers.
Wanna know some common branding mistakes that are sure to undermine your company’s image? See below!
6 Branding Mistakes That Undermine Your Company’s Image
1. Inconsistency Across Platforms
The first cardinal rule of building a strong brand is consistency. Surprisingly, this oftentimes gets overlooked and at the end of the day, is really quite simple. Understand your audience, know which type of content is valuable to them, and then deliver that content consistently. Something I teach in my course is that it’s far better to post less content, consistently – then to post erratic, unreliable content. For example, one blog post a month, if that’s all you can realistically commit to, is far better than 3 blogs one month, 0 blogs next month, 1 blog the month after that…etc. Delivering a consistent identity and message to your audience fosters brand trust and authority, and it goes a long way in building an easily recognizable image for your customer to remember.
When you’re inconsistent in your brand delivery, it takes much longer for your audience to build trust in whatever your platform stands for. So, remember, building a brand is a marathon, not a sprint! Stay consistent and show up.
2. Straying too far from your core business model
Ah yes – this is what I like to call, “shiny ball syndrome.” As entrepreneurs, we are always looking for ways to get our business seen in front of new customers. We look for partnerships, affiliates, and various ways to differentiate our revenue. While this is a business’s biggest asset, it’s also a major pitfall for a lot of founders. Once you figure out what your core business model is, and therefore, your core customer base, it’s really important to continue to serve that customer throughout your evolution as a business. I once worked with a global nonprofit organization that had been around for 30 years and they needed to significantly shift their business to catch up with other innovative companies in their space. So, as we considered their rebrand, this was something we thought very carefully about – how do we change the brand in a way that attracts new customers, while not alienating our current customer base? These customers, by the way, had kept the organization in business for the past 30-years so we felt it a major responsibility to make sure that we continued to serve them. Perhaps a more public example of a company who made this mistake was the Gap. In 2010, the clothing retailer ditched their classic square logo in favor of a fairly drastic and minimal direction for their first-ever rebrand. (Image source: Medium)
It was their first redesign in 24 years and their customers’ reactions were swift, unequivocal, and bad. According to a Gap spokesperson for the rebrand, the design shift was intended to transition the brand’s image from “classic, American” to “modern, sexy, cool.” The backlash against the rebrand resonated throughout the internet, and with less than a week after, they decided to go back to the original logo design.
All of this isn’t to say that you should be fearful of rebranding or expanding into new markets. Just beware of straying too far from your business model and alienating your core customer base in the process.
3. Team & employee alignment
A big one that a lot of founders don’t think about. Team and employee alignment are huge! Your team (even if it’s you and one other person) is a manifestation of your brand’s core values. A big mistake founders make that undermines their company’s image is not understanding how their hiring process (even if it’s an intern!) effect how their company is perceived. For example, my brand and the way I communicate my message radiates with female empowerment and leadership. So, when I am considering talent, whether it’s male or female, I consider how the candidate aligns with that core value. I want people on my team that personally and professionally care deeply about what Sohuis stands for, and you should too.
4. Chasing design fads
This is a really hard one at times because user-experience and design are two disciplines that all brands must get a handle on at some point. In addition, it’s imperative that forward-thinking brands present their company in a fresh and contemporary way. However, there’s a fine line between modernizing your brand over time and slowly losing your core identity in pursuit of the hottest and newest design trend. Another topic I teach in my course is that “great design is enduring.” And if Gap’s story isn’t a perfect example of that, I don’t know what is. It’s so easy to get swept up in what looks “cool” at the moment, so when you’re considering design elements for your brand, just remember that your brand will likely need to weather multiple waves of design trends over the first few years of taking off and establishing your core identity. By committing too heavily to a design trend that turns out to be a momentary blimp in the greater design landscape, you risk that your brand will look outdated – too fast. Remember, “great design is enduring.”
5. Mis-guided brand affiliation
This is very much related to the former point, straying too far from your business model. Remember when your mom used to warn you in high school that you are a reflection of those who you hang around, so therefore, you needed to choose your friends wisely? (No? Just my mom, I guess.) Here’s another popular saying, “guilty by association.” When you attach your brand to something, it should reflect your brand values and be compatible with your brand’s vision and voice. So, when a company partners with another company or product that doesn’t directly relate or mesh when with your brand’s message, it could come across inconsistent and untrustworthy to your customers. The goal here with brand affiliation is to be strategic and smart about who you align your brand with. Maybe you’re thinking, “Jess, that’s not relevant to me because I don’t really have any followers right now so I’ll take everything I can get.” WRONG sister! You may not have very many followers (yet), but you will someday and who you affiliate your company with will matter.
6. Selling over storytelling
The infamous Seth Godin recently stated, “Marketing is no longer about the stuff you sell, but the stories you tell,” and he nailed it. Of the 6 branding mistakes that undermine your company’s reputation, I would say this one is the most important, with consistency coming in at a very close second. If you want to hop on a speed train that leads you directly over the proverbial cliff, oversell everything. In a marketplace where consumerism dominates, customers are tired of aggressive and sales-driven marketing tactics and especially, millennials, which will account for 75% of the global workforce by 2020, see right through it. Today’s most successful brands tell a story – their story. They exist to speak to a higher truth and use their platform as a place to tell meaningful stories. And it’s through those meaningful stories that customers start to create an affinity for your company because they’ve become emotionally connected to that story. With affinity comes trust, and with trust, comes sales.
Stay tuned for my next post in this series about how to build a sustainable and authentic brand, ta-ta for now!