Branding should be based upon common sense, but sadly, we see so many pitfalls awaiting the unwary – or the un-prepared. Pitfalls that are easily avoided, and brands and brand identities that can deliver great rewards for their businesses.
So, we’ve assembled the 7 deadly sins of branding – the most common failings – yet among the most straightforward to address. We’ve also compiled some, hints, advice and guidance how these traps can be avoided.
It’s understandable that when you’re undertaking an exciting new venture or project – you’re impatient to get started. You want to see your new brand in the flesh – and you want to see it now.
The result is you cut a few corners, or miss out some steps that you think will slow you down. People often skip a little research, or perhaps employ the first supplier, rather than shop around.
It’s also tempting to go with the first approach that looks as though it may work – but then, after a little time, have second thoughts and go back to the start again. No time-saving there.
Often that careful checklist or plan you created at the start, simply gets neglected. It’s not just impatience to see results that’s the problem. Impatience can lead to accepting results that fall short of your required standard.
Avoiding the first deadly sin.
- Allow time to think. Thinking time is working time. People sometimes feel guilty when sitting and thinking. They believe they should be ‘doing something’. Don’t confuse activity with working.
- Allow time to plan – but also allow time to follow the plan. Allocate a realistic time for an activity in your plan and stick to it. If you have allowed (or been advised to allow), say two weeks to research and develop a brand name – use that time. It will be time well spent.
- Use your external advisors. They don’t just know what to do, but also how to do it, and how long it takes to do it properly. Delegate the tasks and work to the timescales they recommend. Then get on with something important yourself.
- Bring in trusted third parties to help and assess progress. They can objectively comment on results and provide important reality checks. It can help put your impatience in perspective.
- Remember what it’s all about – not just results – but the best possible results.
The dictionary definition of parsimony is; “Extreme unwillingness to spend money or use resources“. Your brand and branding is not just a side issue. I often see businesses using an intern to handle their branding. Others buy in services from Fiverr, or PeoplePerHour to create brand identities.
Let’s be very clear – your brand is your business and your business is your brand. Whatever you invest in your brand, you are investing in your business – and vice-versa. What you are prepared to spend on branding does not just reflect upon how much you value branding, but how much you value your business.
This is one of the most common of the 7 Deadly sins of Branding, and it’s understandable why. Of course it’s tough, especially for a startup, to fund growth. But when you create your business plan and launch budget, if you’re looking for savings, don’t automatically look to branding and marketing. You may think; “Of course he’d say that. He’s a marketer and brand specialist”. That’s true, but look down the line – your brand is where real value lies in your business. If you put a lot of work into your business over the years, it is the brand that holds the value. For most SMEs, unless you have very valuable fixed assets, or perhaps patents, any potential buyer of your business will be buying the brand.
Avoiding the second deadly sin.
- Be realistic about your budgets. Look carefully at the tasks you want to carry out. It may be best to just concentrate on the essential actions and spend what’s necessary to do them properly.
- Speak to real specialists to obtain an assessment of the true, commercial cost of what you want to achieve. Use these as benchmarks for your budgeting. Of course you will to buy as keenly as you can. If a reputable supplier has told you an action should cost, say, £2000 you may realistically be able to shave £100 or more off the price. But if somebody offers to carry out the same work for £300 – avoid them.
- Be honest with your suppliers – consultants, designers, writers, developers etc. – about what you want to achieve. Don’t assume you know the abswer, and ask for a specific solution. Explain your objective and your budget, and your supplier may suggest an alternative, less costly option that you had not considered.
- Consider alternative payment options. Barter – offer some of your goods or services in whole or part payment. Equity payment – offer your supplier a share of the business in exchange for their services. If it’s somebody who you can see being heavily involved as your brand grows, such as a consultant, it makes sense for them to have a real interest in it’s success.
Your brand is not your personal toy. There may be many people relying upon its success – customers, staff, suppliers, investors and their families. Of course, building a successful brand and be engaging, exciting and fun, but it should not become a vehicle to indulge personal whims or interests.
You’ll no doubt be employing specialists to work on your brand. Avoid the temptation to interfere. Don’t lean over their shoulder and give unfounded input. For example, if a designer suggests blue for your brand colour or packaging, they’ve done so based upon training and years of experience. Don’t just say ‘I want it red, because that’s my soccer team colour’. Wait until they’re finished and let them explain their reasoning,
It can be difficult for the solo-preneur not to get sucked into this trap. It’s your business and the place you spend your working day. Separating business and personal interests and enthusiasms can be difficult.
Avoiding the third deadly sin.
- Be clear about your brand objectives. Write them down and refer to them constantly. Check that whatever steps you take align with the brand strategy.
- When you’re working with your team, add another brief agenda item to every meeting; “How will this affect the brand?”
- If you are a sole owner or director, find an impartial friend one you can trust to be honest with you. Regularly ask their opinion of any projected developments, brand extensions, changes or diversifications.
4. Lack of research
Research is critical. So far as your brand is concerned you can’t have too much. You need to know your market – current or proposed. Who are your customers – current or proposed. What about your competitors – who are they, how many, what are they doing?
What is happening in your market place? Often called PESTLE analysis – PESTEL reflects the names of the six segments of the general environment: (1) political, (2) economic, (3) social, (4) technological, (5) environmental, and (6) legal. If you are not aware of what’s happening in these areas, your brand cannot respond.
It’s amazing how many businesses don’t have this basic level of information. They rely on ‘gut-feel‘ and unsolicited feedback.
For brands, emotion is a powerful factor. Emotions like trust, respect, approachability, attractiveness, loyalty etc. Going to market with no idea what people think and believe about your brand (or your competitors’ brands) is serious omission.
Avoiding the fourth deadly sin.
- Simply, do the research – it’s not difficult.
- Do your PESTLE analysis – all the data you need is easily available online.
- Identify who your key target customers are – create personas to help identify them as real people not just figures. Then make an estimate of how many there are in your catchment area (your market size).
- Identify your main competitors and learn as much as you can about them.
- Find out what current and potential customers think about your brand. Just ask them – and they may tell you!
- Keep repeating the above. Markets are fluid and constantly changing. Make sure your brand is relevant and aligned to current customer needs.
5. No plan
In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.
Dwight D. Eisenhower
That seem’s paradoxical, but what General Eisenhower was saying is that as soon as you put a plan into action, the situation changes. However if you have been through the planning stages, you will have considered all the possibilities and be prepared to respond to such changes. You should not be caught off guard
A brand plan or strategy should be a simple thing. It identifies where your brand is now, where you want it to be, and how you’re going to get there. The key point is ‘where you want it to be’. Your brand objective. Without it you may just stumble from day to day. It’s surprisingly easy to fall into that trap – because you’re busy, seeing no further than the tasks you have in front of you.
Often the problem is that people have a business plan, but not a brand plan. They have the classic financial plan, which is fundamental for any business – but no mention of the brand. The brand and business are two complimentary strands, each dependent upon the other. But if the brand’s direction is not planned, sooner or later the direction of the business becomes confused.
Avoiding the fifth deadly sin.
- Start with the objective – where should the brand be going? It’s as simple as that.
- Create a brand plan or strategy alongside your business plan.
- Build your plan with your team – all your team. Not just your top management or marketing team. The act of planning is a powerful collaborative process – it gives you all a helicopter view of the brand and the business.
- Regularly check that both plans are aligned – are business and brand heading in the same direction.
- Review you market place regularly. What’s happening out there? Do you need to adjust your plan?
6. Where are the values?
Critical to any business are its brand values. It’s vital that everyone knows what the organisation stands for. If you look at any successful brand you will find that its values are evident to all. Not in some snappy ‘mission statement‘, but in what the brand and business does and how it does it.
Just as you can assess a person’s values by how they behave, the same is true for the organisation.
For a sound business the brand values should be implicit. But to allow the brand to plough ahead without clarifying them can lead to confusion and conflicting messages being sent. The most valuable assets for conveying and demonstrating brand values are you and your people. From CEO through every role in the business – whether that’s 2 people or 2,000 – every one must understand and what the brand stands for, and how and why it goes about its business.
The trap is that too often, senior management are so busy getting on with the job, that they don’t articulate the values, and don’t communicate them. Day-to-day decisions are made without considering whether these align with the brand’s purpose and standards. Little wonder when the outside world has difficulty understanding or engaging with brand.
Avoiding the sixth deadly sin.
- Start by identifying and articulating the values. This is not an easy task. Forget all those meaningless mission statements, and write down honestly why the organisation exists, and the values you aspire to in the day-to-day operation of the business.
- Communicate, communicate, communicate. Talk about values within the business. Don’t be afraid of expressing values in external communications.
- Use values as a selling point.
- The best way to communicate values is not by ‘saying‘, but by ‘doing‘. Run the business and the brand by its values.
Sadly many businesspeople undervalue their brand. It may be seen as a nice add-on – something to look at some time in the future. It’s seductive to concentrate on the easy-to-see aspects of the business, rather than what’s just under the skin. Business owners often think that the brand is just a marketing concept – not particularly valuable in the real world.
But the brand is a living thing. As we noted in Sin #2, brands are valuable assets. Accountants have formulae for calculating the worth of brands as ‘intangible assets‘.
Back in 2010, when Kraft foods bought Cadbury for $19.5bn, they were not just buying some factories in Birmingham, or a stack of chocolate producing machines – they we buying all those very valuable brands.
Whether or not our brands reach those eye-watering values remains to be seen. But just as we might keep our home in good repair and not allow it to look neglected or become dilapidated and lose value, we should take care of our brands.
Avoiding the seventh deadly sin.
- Keep an eye on your brand equity – this is about how customers prefer your brand to those of others. Work on the things that can enhance it. Brand equity contributes to brand value.
- As an exercise, try to do a rule-of-thumb valuation of your brand. There are a number of ways to do this. A simple but rough method is cost-based valuation. Look at all the costs you incur creating and building your brand. Advertising, licensing, trademarks, sign-writing, social media, printing promotion etc. – and don’t forget staff time. Okay, it may not be a great amount in your first year, but multiply it by 10 years. This is the cost to replace or rebuild the brand, but it’s not really the true value of the brand. Other methods such as income based valuation (revenue attributable to the brand) or market based valuation (what similar brands have been sold for) may be more appropriate. However, such an exercise does focus the mind on brand value.
- Quite simply, look after your brand – if you avoid the 7 Deadly Sins of Branding – you’ll build and maintain a strong, desirable and valuable brand.