10 Branding Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

By Bill Chiaravalle, Barbara Findlay Schenck

Some brands get off to great starts. Some are wobbly from the get-go. Others start well and then lose their way through lack of focus, discipline, and follow-through on brand strategies, brand promises, and reliably consistent brand experiences.

Thinking of branding as a quick fix

The mistake: When business is down, when customer interest ebbs, or when competition surges, otherwise cool-headed professionals begin to believe that a cosmetic fix will remedy all that ails the bottom line.

The remedy: Before you create or alter the face of your brand, be sure you’re creating an accurate reflection of what’s at the base of your brand. Otherwise, a credibility crisis looms large.

Starting with a weak brand identity

The mistake: Weak identities appear in the form of names that limit the scope and success of the brands they represent.

The remedy: Invest the time and money required to develop a strong name and logo when you first establish your brand. Remember these points:

  • In most cases, your name will live as long as your business does, so choose, register, and protect a name that your brand can grow with over years and decades.

  • Your logo will become the immediately identifiable face of your brand, so make it a strong, simple, unique design that reproduces well in all forms of communication.

Forgetting the branding rule of one

The mistake: Businesses that barely have the budgets and staff required to build one brand try to build two or more.

The remedy: Unless you’re sure that you have the marketing budget and expertise required to build and support multiple brands, stick to the Rule of One: Build one brand for your business. Apply the Rule of One by following this advice:

  • Build a single brand that can preside over all your offerings.

  • Introduce each new product or service as an offering under your one-and-only brand.

Failing to differentiate

The mistake: If you can’t tell customers what you do best, they have no reason to choose your offering and good reason to opt for a different, more distinct solution.

The remedy: Find a distinguishing characteristic that causes your offering to excel over alternatives and build your brand around that point of difference.

Failing to launch your brand with fanfare

The mistake: If you fail to introduce your brand with a formal launch you lose a great one-time opportunity to make news about your brand identity, point of difference, promise, and message.

The remedy: Launch your brand from the inside out, bringing every aspect of your business into alignment with your brand promise, personality, and character before you raise the curtain and introduce your brand in your marketplace.

Failing to protect and defend

The mistake: Brand owners fail to obtain or defend trademarks, lock up domain names, write brand usage guidelines, or enforce brand-usage rules.

The remedy: Protect your brand in three important ways:

  1. File your name with appropriate government offices and obtain brand trademarks if your sphere of business crosses state or national boundaries.

  2. Establish, adopt, and enforce usage guidelines so that those within or outside your organization don’t tamper with your brand identity.

  3. Address every brand-usage infraction, without fail.

Believing that what you say is more important than what you do

The mistake: Brands suffer if they don’t live up to their promises.

The remedy: Realize that your brand is either made or broken not by what you say but by what you do. Take these steps:

  1. Identify every point of customer contact within your brand experience.

  2. Evaluate each point of contact to see that you present your brand message, promise, look, and tone consistently and without fail.

  3. Identify and correct any points of contact where the brand experience falls short of your brand promise.

  4. Regularly audit your brand experience to ensure against brand-eroding communication or service lapses.

Losing brand consistency

The mistake: Brand owners get bored. They get tired of their looks and messages, so they start improvising. Just like that, consistency goes out the window.

The remedy: Realize that to build and maintain a strong brand, you have to be consistent. Follow this advice:

  • Insist on uniform presentation of your logo.

  • Put your brand promise into words and make sure it’s kept at every point of encounter with your brand.

  • Define and stay true to your brand character.

  • Create brand-usage guidelines to be followed by everyone.

Asking your brand to stretch too far

The mistake: A good brand extends its name to an iffy product or to a product that contradicts the brand message and promise, confusing customers and eroding the brand’s emotional connection with its loyal following.

The remedy: Extending your brand to a new offering is a smart, lucrative action only if you extend within your brand’s reach, either remaining in your established product category or moving into categories that are very compatible with your brand offerings.

As you consider brand extensions, consider these two cautions:

  • Be sure that any new products that carry your brand identity match up with consumer expectations of your brand.

  • Be careful that your new offering isn’t so similar to an existing offering that customers can’t tell the difference.

Ignoring brand aging signs

The mistake: When brands get stuck in times past, brand owners are often the last ones to notice.

The remedy: On a regular basis, put your brand through the equivalent of a physical. Watch for these symptoms:

  • Major ownership or leadership changes that alter your mission, vision, values, or strategic direction

  • Major changes to your product line or distribution channels

  • Major changes to your market situation, including significantly increased competition or major shifts in customer preferences and behaviors

  • A merger or acquisition

  • A brand that no longer reflects your changed business and market

  • A brand message, experience, or identity that’s become dated and out of sync with customer interests and tastes