September 18, 2013

Branding 101 – The 4 Most Common Branding Mistakes

Branding 101 – The 4 Most Common Branding Mistakes

Here are some of the most common branding mistakes that can spell doom for any product.  Avoid these mistakes and chances are you will build a strong brand.

1. Trying too hard to make your customers a part of your brand

The point of branding is to differentiate your company and your product from the competition; that’s the basic way of looking at it. However, many large corporations have taken it upon themselves to create brand identities so all­-consuming that the responsibility of promoting the brand is foisted upon the customer.

This isn’t new; elite products and companies have been around since time immemorial. However, the last time it was truly acceptable to target your brand and your product towards a specific demographic and deliberately alienate everyone else deemed unworthy was during the Taft administration. Nevertheless, after all of our struggles to create as much of an egalitarian society as practicable given our free market economy, we still have corporations that are targeting certain people and condemning others as not being in keeping with their branding strategy.

We don’t want to name any names, but certain brands have made a point of wooing a certain class (and size) of patron. It isn’t enough that a certain company’s line of athletic wear is outrageously overpriced, this organization only wants a certain type of person to be seen wearing it, and in so doing makes an effort to create an inhospitable retail store environment for customers that do not meet the brand’s standard, according to former shop employees. Another popular retailer, which is occasionally in the news for manufacturing clothing that seems to endorse pedophilia, makes a point of hiring sales representatives based exclusively on looks, and actually declaring that their brand is solely for “cool, good-looking people.” Now, it isn’t a retailer’s responsibility to create products for every single type of person, but are we, as consumers, going to allow corporations create their own kind of social aristocracy?

2. Creating a brand identity that has nothing to do with the products sold

Sometimes a branding strategy involves creating an identity that addresses a heretofore ignored segment of the population. The key to doing this in a successful manner is to maintain the integrity of the product and company itself, while not patronizing a potential customer base.

Power tools are, for the most part, used by people who know how to build things. People who know how to build things want certain features, are looking for a particular level of quality and want a product that will help them build excellent and durable outdoor decks. The need for quality tools, let us stress, is genderless. Nevertheless, available for anyone to buy is what is called a “Pink Lady Power Drill.” This brand is, we imagine, meant to speak to the Paris Hiltons of the world, who might be interested in putting up some cabinets if only they could find a drill that had sufficient bling. Power tools aren’t cute, nor are they feisty or fashionable – they are serious business that can seriously injure someone who doesn’t know how to use them appropriately. Should anyone whose first power tool criterion is that the tool be pink be allowed to own a power tool, for the safety of the world in general? Maybe that’s for whom overly obvious food labels were designed.

3. Brand personalities created out of whole cloth

In high school, many of us misguided losers tried to create a persona that would ensure our social acceptance and eventual popularity. More often than not, we succeeded in making ourselves look like idiots.

Why? We tried so hard! It was because we were unable to sustain the veil of coolness; our own flawed and awkward personalities always burst through. Shame.

It may be juvenile, but companies are guilty of this, too. There has been far too big an emphasis on “brand personality.” One of the most popular is the brand as humorist – Groupon, Zappos, Eat24, to name a few. Of course, everyone likes to laugh, but creating a desperately funny brand character isn’t sustainable unless funny is what you’re selling. Would anyone really trust a whimsical orthopedic surgeon?

Brand personality evolves over time. Once it’s known why a certain product is being used and who is using it, the brand personality can take shape (and here’s what that looks like). The important thing is to not get married to an idea of what a brand is or isn’t – the public will make the final decision.

4. Thinking social media has all the answers.

Every company wants an online presence, but an extreme online presence can cost you dearly.

What do we know about the cyber world? That it’s largely anonymous and filled with people who love to make Twitter and Facebook mischief. Even those mischief makers who aren’t hacking corporate accounts and spreading vicious rumors are monitoring your Twitter feed and pointing out every questionable or poorly thought out turn of phrase, making your brand look callous, idiotic or both. Heed the warning: the Internet can make any seemingly minor blip turn into a snafu that never entirely goes away. We’re not advocating abstinence here, just caution when it comes to your brand.

And there you go, a few pointers for fixing branding mistakes. If you find yourself identifying with one of these, it’s not too late, just got and fix it. Life doesn’t always give us second chances, but when it does, take the opportunity!


by Kevin Smith
SmashBrand helps brands create, optimize, and launch successful products, services, and customer experiences. Our data-driven process is the key to accelerating sales and minimizing risks.

We use a strategic combination of market research, design, and consumer testing to solve complex brand problems more effectively, create differentiation, and forge more meaningful connections with customers.

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