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    the 7 deadly sins of branding

    The 7 Deadly Sins of Branding

    One of the interesting things about updating blog content, or writing fresh blogs, is that sometimes the guts of the topic don’t change. Matt Hillman, our former long-time creative director, wrote about the seven deadly sins of branding a few years ago, and guess what? There are still seven of them and they’re still DEADLY to businesses and brands. And any one of them can tank your marketing efforts.

    Buckle up and let’s re-visit those sins to see if you commit them, even though you know they’re bad news.

    1. Wrong Message

    Quick review: The image, value and worth of any brand exists in the mind of customers and consumers. To go full academic, a brand is a psychological construct held in the minds of all those aware of the branded product, person, organization, or movement.

    Brand management is the work of competently handling these psychological associations. To simplify, your brand—and its message—is carefully built by you and your marketing team, but your target audience creates the meaning and value around it. Companies that find success develop a brand that reflects and speaks to the aspirations of the people to whom they market.

    But if you’re not in tune with your current customers and surveying your prospects, your message will be all about whom you do know—you. You have a quality product that’s delivered by a team of top sales and service people. Great. But how does that translate to your audience? Don’t answer that with “they get a quality product that’s delivered by a team of top salespeople and good customer service.”

    To simplify, your brand—and its message—is carefully built by you and your marketing team, but your target audience creates the meaning and value around it.

    Your understanding of your brand, products and business doesn’t translate if it creates a curse of knowledge that you can’t break through and demonstrate to customers and prospects why it matters. You may love all your brand offerings, but you can only see them from your perspective, so your messaging ends up directed at you and not your customers.

    What’s in it for your audience from their point of view? If you can’t answer this outside of your list of product features, you need to ask your audience.

    2. Wrong Audience

    Messaging the wrong audience is usually the result of rushed research or we-know-this thinking. A former client I worked with used to be a fan of broad, sweeping audience profiles, such as “moms.” And every time I would need to remind him, “My mom is a mom. Are we talking to her?” Of course, we never were, but you can see how this happens. In the moment, you and your sales team think of possible audiences, such as all homeowners or all landscape contractors.

    Maybe you narrow by geographics, but you may not give much thought to psychographics. A large audience may have a slice of the right audience, but you’re going to waste time, effort and money trying to talk to all those prospects.

    How do the members of the audience you want to engage with spend their time, energy and money?  Someone with a lower household income may be committed to shifting resources so he or she can get that top-of-the-price-point material, or someone who wants an ADU may place more value on accessibility if the unit is for an older family member than someone who wants a party space for stay-over friends.

    Maybe your audience is multilayered, and you have to understand all the audience members from the initial contact to the final decision maker. Know all you can about those with whom you want to talk. It makes for cleaner and clearer communication.

    3. Wrong Channel

    (The following comes from the original blog post because it’s so spot-on as an example. Why mess with perfection?)

    One of the best cautionary tales comes from experience marketing to building products dealers. When offered the option to select their preferred method of receiving marketing communications, what do you think topped the list? Email? Direct? Text? How about…fax.

    online news graphic

    That’s right, in our world of high-speed connectivity and mobile devices, the lowly fax was the leading way dealers wanted to receive information. Why? Because it fits how most small- to mid-sized dealers operate, with the fax machine right next to the main bulletin board.

    (Back to the current post.) Again, survey your audience. Ask questions. Your audience members will provide insights to help get you the right channels to reach them. Or do a little research and find insights based on cohorts or age.

    For example, according to researchers, millennials are so comfortable with bots that 62 percent of them agreed they would rather interact with a bot than a human, but baby boomers are 24% more likely than millennials to expect good performance from chatbots. Hum…good to know.

    Don’t waste effort on the wrong channels.

    4. Wrong Voice

    Again, research is the key to cracking the voice code and connecting with customers and prospects. You may groan at the use of slang and poor grammar in some social posts and emails, but research may have shown those brands that their audience appreciates and responds to that voice. Voice can be a key piece for engagement, but do a little work to get it right. Start by asking these questions:

    • What does your company or brand stand for?
    • What makes you stand out from all the others who are after the same audience?

    Your qualities make your culture special, and these are what help develop your voice. They will help to represent your brand and shape what you write, particularly for social media and other digital consumption. Write it down and look at it often, but keep it concise. It may or may not be a slogan or tagline. For example:

    • Patagonia: Build products that cause no unnecessary harm and use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis
    • Jet Blue: Inspire humanity and adventure – both in the air and on the ground
    • Sacramento Bee: Question local power and politics (Bee curious)
    • Netflix: We help you watch

    If you are customers, or engage with these brands, you probably hear the voice that has become embodied in these brands because they know themselves, their services and their audiences.

    5. Wrong Focus

    The brands that see the greatest strength in the marketplace are the ones that offer more than just a product or service—they build relationships with those who select and purchase them. Through content offerings, customer experience design, website functionality, social media strategies, sponsorships, and other interaction-based methods, the strongest brands take on a personality well beyond something being sold to buyers.

    These brands can have conversations with the public, growing and evolving through the choices made in messaging and positioning—all without changing what’s being produced or delivered.

    6. Inconsistency

    There’s always someone on the marketing or sales team who wants to shift the message and chase the newest technology—or whatever—to nail a trend or push a popular idea. We admire curious and fresh thinkers as much as anyone, but there’s fresh thinking and then there’s discrepancy and contradiction. Embrace a single message (at least for a set time).  

    Deliver it consistently (but test and measure it as you go) and align it with customer experience. If your branding is inconsistent, the best-case scenario is you appear inattentive and maybe a little incompetent. The worst-case scenario is you lose customers’ trust and business. Ouch.

    7. No Differentiator

    Your brand needs what people in the advertising business call a unique selling proposition. Maybe it’s not unique, but it should be a differentiator—something to make it different from the others. Identifying what sets your brand apart—and staying true to that differentiation.

    two people in warehouse looking at tablet, one is holding a cardboard box

    It’s what will speak to an appreciative audience. If you find that what sets you apart is a product or service feature, make sure you connect it to a benefit for the audience.  Otherwise, you’re back to the sin of the wrong message.

    Bonus sin! Name + Logo = Brand

    We’ve all been in the discussion where people want to “develop a brand” and they point to a flashy logo or brand colors.  Those aren’t a brand. The worn-down vehicle with your logo on it: that’s your brand. The customer left waiting hours for a delivery with no updates: that’s your brand.

    The defensive response to a highly critical customer review on Yelp: that’s your brand. The product that arrived dented: that’s your brand. Even your logoed bottle or cup thrown on the curb: that’s your brand. As Amazon founder, Jeff Bezos, said, “Your brand is what people say about you when you’re not in the room.”

    We highlighted this earlier with the reminder that others determine your brand. You just try to manage the brand elements the best you can. A brand is about expectations and experiences. Yes, your name and logo have meanings and they should not conflict with what you say and do as a brand. But remember that a brand is:

    • an intangible, but valuable, asset
    • a promise that conveys who you are, what you do, and why that matters
    • a snapshot of the persona of a company that represents its soul or essence
    • what is projected, but also what is perceived
    • is a source of efficiency because it acts as a time-saving device, providing a shortcut in the decision-making of potential customers, partners, and collaborators

    And the success or failure of a brand depends on understanding:

    • issues confronting your company, business or industry
    • desires and needs of your consumer or business base
    • the competitive landscape, with all its potential for good or bad for your brand
    • your business goals and aspirations for your brand

    If you recognize any of these Seven Deadly Sins associated with your brand, have hope: Every one of them is escapable and repairable with honesty and effort. Remember these points:

    • Take nothing for granted.
    • Don’t assume.
    • Conduct research.
    • Accept that your buyer isn’t whom you think and may not think of your brand the way you do.
    • Look up.

    Frequently Asked Questions

    What are the 7 Deadly Sins of Branding?

    The 7 Deadly Sins of Branding are: Wrong Message, Wrong Audience, Wrong Channel, Wrong Voice, Wrong Focus, Inconsistency, and No Differentiator

    What is lack of focus in branding?

    Lack of focus in branding refers to trying to appeal to everyone and not having a clear understanding of your target audience. This can lead to a diluted message and a brand that is not memorable or differentiated.

    What is inconsistency in branding?

    Inconsistency in branding refers to not having a cohesive message or visual identity across all marketing channels. This can confuse customers and lead to a lack of trust in the brand.

    What is overcomplication in branding?

    Overcomplication in branding refers to making the brand message or visual identity too complex, which can be overwhelming for customers and make it difficult for them to understand what the brand is about.

    What is inauthenticity in branding?

    Inauthenticity in branding refers to presenting a brand image or message that does not align with the brand’s values or actions. This can lead to a lack of trust in the brand and damage its reputation.

    What is failure to adapt in branding?

    Failure to adapt in branding refers to not keeping up with changes in the market or consumer preferences. This can lead to a brand becoming outdated or irrelevant, and losing its appeal to customers.

    About The Author

    Elton Mayfield

    Elton's career spans media, production, digital and building industry expertise. His diverse experience makes him nimble, innovative, and curious – always pushing the envelope to create extraordinary work that delivers real results for our clients.

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