The 5 Most Common Brand Blunders


Originally published in INC. Magazine on July 30, 2013

Is your brand failing to live up to your expectations? An advertising expert shares some of the most common brand blunders and how to avoid them.

In my tattered copy of “A River Runs Through It,” there’s this great line on a dog-eared page with a pen-inked underline: “Many of us would probably be better fishermen if we did not spend so much time watching and waiting for the world to become perfect.”

It’s true of fly fishermen and it’s true of marketers: we’re always waiting for the perfect set of conditions in which to catapult our brand to the next level. But here’s the thing: There is no perfect time and there is no perfect set of circumstances. The great brands that we all know and admire have their own set of challenges, pressures, and distractions; they just find a way to rise above the madness of the day-to-day and not let imperfect scenarios inhibit their pursuit of brand excellence.

Like most things, building brands is as complicated or simple as you want to make it. After two decades of working on brands across the marketing spectrum — from motorcycles and children’s shoes to insurance and, yes, fly fishing rods — we’ve identified a few common areas where brands go wrong. To wit, here are five “brand blunders” for your company to be on guard against.

1. No Focus

Sad, but true — many brands are rudderless ships, guided by inertia. Why does your brand exist? Who is its primary target audience? What is its personality? Yes, these sound like basic questions but many brands suffer at this most fundamental level and fail to meaningfully define these essential building blocks.

2. No Differentiation

If your brand disappeared tomorrow, would anyone miss it? When your brand sits beside its competitive set, what distinguishes it from its peers? If your brand isn’t in some way uniquely enticing, it is fast on its way to becoming the next Oldsmobile.

3. No Relevance

Having something unique to offer is great…provided that your differentiation is rooted in something that people actually care about. And so: What does your target audience actually need, want, or crave? And how does your brand deliver on that in a meaningful way? Unfortunately, the streets are littered with brands touting features and benefits that people just don’t care about.

4. No Consistency

Without a doubt, building a brand today is more difficult than it was even just a decade ago. There are more channels, less control, and higher expectations; quite simply, there is nowhere to hide. Great brands consistently execute across every point of contact — from advertising and social media to sales and customer service. Those who fail in even just a single area are only as good as their weakest link. And with a wealth of alternative offerings at the ready, impatient consumers have little reason to stick around for further disappointment.

5. No Values

In the “good old days,” brand equity used to be based primarily on an equation of differentiation, relevance, and price. Today, it’s not just about what you provide — it’s what you stand for. In the participation economy, every brand must have clearly defined values and must not just talk the talk, but walk the walk (and do so consistently). Brands that fail to understand this suffer the consequences in real-time for all to see (customers, prospects, and competitors alike).

In sum, we’re talking blunders of a very basic nature here — the failure to define the most fundamental of assumptions about a brand, or to have the systems and discipline to consistently deliver on the brand’s essential vision and values.

So ask yourself, what’s standing between your brand and greater meaning with your customers and prospects? Where are you perilously close to falling into a “brand blunder”? And what are the distractions (or excuses, or desire for a more “perfect world”) that are keeping these issues too far down on your priority list?