The 3 Biggest Mistakes Brands Make

by | Feb 21, 2024 | Branding, Marketing

Brands can and do make mistakes that can dramatically impact their reputation and, ultimately, their success. Brand reputation, like a person’s reputation, is built over time but can be lost very quickly. Here, we explore some of the biggest mistakes brands make, along with some examples.

Going too far/breaking faith with the brand’s established image

The first mistake brands are sometimes seduced into making is driven by some combination of competitive pressure, unrealistic growth goals, or thoughtless innovation. As a mental construct, brands are the domain of perceptions, emotions, beliefs and attitudes. That means they hold a certain place in people’s minds. When a brand does or says something that is clearly inconsistent with that mental space, dissonance occurs in the brand’s faithful…and it rarely ends well. For example, while fashion brands are generally given more leeway to push the brand image envelope more than most other brands, when Balenciaga’s 2022 holiday campaign depicted children holding teddy bears dressed in BDSM paraphernalia, the repulsion and rejection were immediate and severe. Social media denounced the brand as pushing pedophilia and child exploitation, and sales tanked—a crisis from which the brand is still trying to recover. In 1985, Coca-Cola broke faith with fans of Coke when they introduced New Coke, which led to outraged brand fans besieging the corporation until New Coke vanished nearly as quickly (but definitely more quietly) as it appeared.

Of course, the undeniable “winners” in this category of going too far are the brands that deliberately lied and committed outright fraud, like Theranos, Enron and VW (dieselgate), but it’s hard to label these apparently intentional efforts to deceive as “mistakes”.

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Failing to innovate/keep up with changing tastes

The other side of the coin of going too far is not changing enough, or even at all. To stay relevant in a world of changing technology, behaviors and tastes, brands must adapt to grow and prosper. The list of brands that have failed this need to innovate over time is truly long, but a few that come to my mind include Nokia, once the dominant mobile phone brand, and Kodak, a brand that owned photography. Many other examples exist across various product and service categories. See this post for details.

Milking the brand

A third major mistake brand owners make is trying to cash in too aggressively on the value the brand has created in the market. This can take different forms. In one, a brand is tempted to skimp on quality control and rely on its legacy for the sake of getting product to market more quickly and making sales. A current example of that seems to be Boeing with their back-to-back Max 8 and Max 9 problems. Another is Panera, where long-time fans of the brand have noticed and reacted negatively to the apparent decline in product quality and customer experience with a simultaneous increase in prices after private equity purchased the brand. In an example of overpromising but underdelivering, Equifax, the credit monitoring brand, not only got hacked and compromised the private information of 140 million people, but bungled the response by not reporting it to authorities and those affected in a timely manner…and then tried to charge those innocent customers for credit protection resulting from the exposure.

A short-term business focus at the expense of long-term brand-building efforts, if carried on for too long, will inevitably erode the brand’s place in the market and its financial value.

If you need help in avoiding or recovering from these or any other brand-building mistakes, Six Degrees is here and ready to help.

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Frank Schab
An experienced marketing and branding strategist, Frank has been helping clients optimize the value of their brands through insightful analysis and effective strategy for more than three decades. Along with holding positions at General Motors and Pfizer, Frank served as a Managing Partner at Interbrand New York and VP of Global Brand Research at Opinion Research Corporation before co-founding Six Degrees. His brand-building work in various sectors including hospitality, medical device, pharmaceutical, automotive and technology has taken him to 17 countries on four continents. Frank holds a doctorate in psychology from Yale University and speaks fluent German.

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