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Branding Mistakes to Avoid

By Carlos Tribino —

Thought Leader

From startups to Fortune 500s, we’ve seen many a company make branding mistakes with high price tags paid in lost sales, employee turnover or even valuation. Here are some common mistakes to avoid that can save your company a lot of headaches and even more cash.

Over promising: Marketers love to shock and awe their customers with ambitious messages. You can and should think big, but unless you’re Astrobotic, don’t promise the moon. If you can solve a relevant enough issue and over deliver on it, you will go much further than an unrealistic, overachieving message. Customers can smell a promise full of hot air and you will lose all credibility.

Self-centered: OK, so you have a killer app all your engineers are rightfully proud of. But it’s not all about you. Understand the trends, the cultural insights and how your app becomes relevant in that context. In a self-centered vacuum your app can be OK or tank. With the proper strategic context, it can be a runaway hit. Airbnb’s “belong anywhere” messaging resonated with the cultural trends of people wanting to belong wherever they traveled, and Airbnb delivered that; not a hotel room, but a home where you can belong anywhere.

Compromised Values: Once a point of differentiation, culture has become an entry-level requirement for all companies. And values are at the core of culture. Make sure they are authentic and that leadership can stick to them come hell or high water. When the market tanks, or God forbid we’re hit by another pandemic, it’s no time to compromise your values. If you do, expect your top talent to run for the exits.

Friends & Family: Would you trust your cousin Ed with your company’s cash flow statement? Then don’t trust him with your brand either. Unless Ed has an MBA from Kellogg, don’t ask him for advice. To this day I’m surprised how many intelligent, competent professionals continue to ask friends and family for brand opinions and trust their input. At best, they will be either overly critical or overly complacent. But more importantly, they won’t know what they’re talking about. Cousin Ed doesn’t think different. He never “got milk.” And he doesn’t “just do it.” So please don’t ask him.

The customer is always right: Sorry, no. Not always. Remember Henry Ford’s quote? “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” Exactly. Companies spend millions on focus groups, surveys and questionnaires. If you’re trying to sell 2% more toothpaste, go ahead and run a handful of focus groups. If you’re breaking new ground, you’re wasting your money. Much worse, you can kill a great idea. Back in 2000, if you had asked consumers how much they would pay for an MP3 player, the iPod may have never seen the light of day. Consumers think they know what they want, but they don’t until they experience it. If you’re innovating, they haven’t experienced it.

Online logo designers: Sophisticated AI-powered algorithms have managed to write baroque pieces for chamber orchestra that rival the works of Bach or Handel. I am confident that at some point machines will be able to design amazing logos too. Until then, please stay clear from online logo design portals. Most of these are unskilled amateurs from Bangladesh to Bolivia, with no cultural context of what works in America, who are using cheap software to knock out 36 logo options overnight for a few bucks. It’s your company, give it some love, spend a little.

Learn from others’ mistakes, don’t repeat them. A strong brand adds tangible value in numerous ways. Build it and treat it with care, and it will pay dividends for years to come.