10 Unforced Branding Errors

Branding is hard. Great branding is even harder. However, many marketers make their jobs more difficult through a wide range of missteps—however well intentioned their purposes may be. The following are examples of some common branding errors.

  1. Changing or shifting your brand’s positioning often. It’s often tempting to make changes to brand elements if sales results or feedback aren’t immediately positive. But positioning needs time to take hold and be fully understood by audiences. As it represents what your brand stands for and how it differs from the competition, there shouldn’t be any rush to change the positioning frequently. If anything, see if your messaging is clearly articulating your positioning; if not, adjust it accordingly.

  2. Restricting the definition or scope of your brand. Struggling brands often fall into the trap of seeing themselves only within the confines of a product category or function. Effective brands know that shared values with their audiences are what truly make them meaningful—and that the reach of those values can be applied to products and services that go far beyond the original product or service carrying that brand.

  3. Having too many points in your brand messaging. People can remember one unique thing about you. They might remember two. Beyond that, forget it. Do what you need to do to identify the most important aspect of your brand and make that the focus of your messaging.

  4. Defining your target audience too broadly. The more you seek to widen your appeal across age, interests, income levels, and other factors, the more you have to dilute your brand message and increase the risk that you appeal strongly to no one. Your positioning and core brand message needs to be based on a precisely defined set of customer personas so that you can effectively communicate to your primary audiences.

  5. Not getting full buy-in from senior leadership. More often that not, company CEOs tend to come from paths outside of marketing. They may not have a full understanding, or even interest, in how much branding can impact market success and often make decisions that can weaken brand supports in communications and purchasing channels. It’s important to ensure that top leadership knows and appreciates all aspects of how the brand is connected to its audiences and what operational functions can affect them.

  6. Falling short on your brand promise. Nothing makes consumers angrier than feeling that you are not truthful to them. Your brand is based on what you promise to customers, and not delivering on that—within reason—will guarantee lost sales. So don’t base your brand messaging on benchmarks or claims that you can’t consistently meet.

  7. Ignoring or being lax about brand standards. A brand identity that is presented inconsistently leads to customer confusion and lack of trust. Create a brand standards guide document that provides a thorough exploration of how to properly treat logos, imagery, typography, color palette, and key messaging terms, as well as examples of what to avoid.

  8. Extending a brand into markets outside your core audience. What’s valuable and affirming to one market can be meaningless to another. Unless research shows that your brand has legs up market or down market, it may be better to establish a new brand with a product that more comfortably fits the expectations of the audience you’re targeting (e.g., Toyota/Lexus or Gap/Old Navy).

  9. Relying on previous brand success. Even if you have tremendous brand recognition and loyalty, you still need to be up on the latest trends and innovations that interest your audience. Brand dynamics are shifting and changing faster than ever, and even loyal customers can be tempted away by agile newcomers that are more innovative or can show greater value than what you offer.

  10. Prioritizing product qualities over brand benefits. While this distinction should be learned in Branding 101 by anyone in the marketing and branding industry, many professionals still mistakenly believe that noteworthy features of a product or service need to be highlighted above all. A smart, relevant brand understands that its value is always tied to how it impacts customers’ lives—not its product qualities. In other words, you buy a hammer because you want to put a nail in the wall to hang a favorite photo that brings back memories of a great vacation or a loved one—not because you admire the woodgrain of its handle.