Top 10 Branding Mistakes and How to Avoid Them
January 06, 2022
Todd Henderson

Top 10 Branding Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

The big moment has come. You’ve taken that next bold step in your company’s evolution and are ready to invest in a brand refresh. You’ve made the executive decision that your old brand is history—it no longer reflects the ethos and values of who you are today, and who you will become tomorrow. It’s time to redefine your brand.

For many, this process is fraught with obstacles that, if not properly navigated, can spell certain disaster, costing your firm valuable time, money and risking loss of internal support. Fortunately, these mistakes can be avoided, and we’re here to help. With 15 years of experience and over 300 clients under our belt, it’s safe to say that we’ve nearly seen it all. We’ve compiled a list of the Top 10 Branding mistakes we’ve seen firms make over the years:

1. Defining a brand in tactical terms

A new logo or website may be a vehicle to convey the new image of the brand, but should not be confused with the most critical aspect of branding: Strategy. Branding lives and dies with strategy: What makes your firm unique? Why should your target audience care? How are you uniquely positioned amongst your peers? What do you stand for? What tone of voice do you carry? How do you solve your customers’ problems? How do you want them to feel when doing so? Not only answering these questions, but supporting them with defendable research is the first critical step to a rebrand. Creative is certainly important, but should exist to support strategy—in order to effectively tell a truly compelling and defendable story.

2. Focusing on features over benefits

It’s not about you or the impressive features your product/service offers to the world. It’s your ability to meet the needs of your audience, solve their problems and ease their various pain points. Stop speaking in terms of features, speeds, and feeds. Instead, get comfortable speaking in terms of emotional triggers or benefits.  Show a strong commitment to the value you are bringing to your consumers.  There will be a variety of features that will no doubt change and shift over time—all should be in support of the way you want your audience to feel.  

3. Discounting internal champions

Branding involves input and support from key influencers across the entire organization. Welcome those perspectives early for broader buy-in and smoother sailing.  Recognize that every stakeholder in the organization is a potential ambassador for the brand—within the organization itself as well as externally. That shared sense of ownership will help broaden the reach and ensure faster adoption. Mastering the fine art of knowing who to involve and when to involve them constitutes the difference between a successful deployment and becoming bogged down with too many cooks in the kitchen.

4. Failing to tell a compelling story

Automation and AI are phenomenal tools for optimizing many aspects of your business, but humanizing a story and telling it with conviction is what gets prospects to engage.  At the core of all of us is our innate human desire for a good life, a good world to live it in, and our need to connect within our tribes. Audiences gravitate towards brands that pull them into the story in their world, connect them to the value of the story—and that tell a story that truly resonates. Capture their attention and captivate them with a relatable and authentic story that enriches their lives and they’ll keep coming back for more.

5. Thinking that research is merely academic

Your customers’ voice is the most important—in telling you what they want and what they need, as well as what they think of you.  Brand perception—the good, the bad, and the ugly—is critical to intimately understand as you go about redefining your brand. Personas are great but can change over time, so do your homework. Talk to your target audience. Gather qualitative insights and quantitative data. Invest the time and the resources to fully understand your audience’s pain points and how your product or service can make their lives better. And build in the feedback loop for them to provide you with real-time input on what is working, what is not, and what they need moving forward. 

6. Failing to launch your brand internally

Your brand is a living, breathing aspect of your business that reaches far beyond the deck in which it was presented. All stakeholders need to live, breathe and believe the brand ethos in order for it to take root.  As noted in point 3, employees are the living, breathing ambassadors for your brand.  What they know, what they believe, and how they behave defines the brand in aggregate. Are the brand promises aligned with the shared values of the organization? Are they believable? If so, you’re well on your way.  

7. Holding on to the past

Your existing brand may be your baby. You may have founded the company, designed the logo and believe in the mission statement…but do your employees, your investors, your customers? Let go of past biases and let the brand evolve as needed.  Origin stories are powerful narratives to embrace, but you need to tell your future-forward story in a way that connects with and empowers your various stakeholders so the transfer of emotional ownership can take place. Only then can a brand thrive—when a brand is owned by many, not by the few. Take a bold step forward and don’t look back.

8. We can do this on the cheap” 

The old adage “you get what you pay for” is never more relevant than here. Brand decisions made today will last years, if not decades…so hold off until you can give this investment the proper resources, funding and attention it deserves to ensure your new brand is built on a strong and defendable foundation.  This will be one of the most important investments your company can make, so invest what is needed to do the job right—resist the urge to compromise. Eliminating research, failing to get broad internal buy-in, skipping straight to execution, hiring inexperienced freelancers—these are all ways that good intentions can lead to lackluster outcomes. The stakes are too high for mistakes and mediocrity.

9. Seeing it as a destination and not a journey

Great brands are living things…they can’t be created, wrapped, and completed in a few short weeks. A great brand is the lifeblood of any organization and requires attention, nurturing, and commitment. Settle in and commit to the journey. Cherish the opportunities you have to make a difference in the lives of the consumers you serve. Know that this process will take time to plan, time to launch, time to nurture, and time to evolve. Remain committed to the long-tail journey.

10. Resist the urge to DIY

Your internal team is talented but is busy serving your own customers—and can sometimes be too close to the company to see it objectively. Bring in seasoned professionals who possess a unique perspective to work alongside your internal team for healthy collaboration.  Internal teams are often stretched thinly; you need external partners who can bring their experience and creativity to the table and implement—quickly—helping you to avoid the above pitfalls.

At INK, we’ve had the privilege of helping countless companies embark on this remarkable journey. We’ve been in the trenches alongside founders and new employees alike, conducted thousands of interviews, presented to hundreds of executives, and taken great pride in every new brand we’ve helped create. If you’d like to learn more about our branding services or discuss a few pitfalls that we may have overlooked, we’d welcome a chat. It’s what we love to do.