And How to Avoid Them
Based on my experiences helping to develop and launch many new brands, the following is my list of the four most common branding mistakes made by entrepreneurs.
- Thinking It’s All About the Product and Not About the Brand
Perhaps the most common mistake entrepreneurs make is to love the product instead of the brand. I understand why this happens. Many entrepreneurs come from the world of product development and the product is their “baby.” This is especially true for more technically sophisticated products built by engineers. But what many entrepreneurs fail to recognize is that it’s ultimately the brand that stakeholders will come to love and value. The product is a starting point. Mergers and acquisitions achieve premium valuations based not on functional product features but based on the brand. Perceptions, emotions, beliefs and attitudes are the hallmark and purview of the brand rather than the product. Another reason it is easy to fall into this trap is that brand development typically follows product development, and by that point entrepreneurs have nurtured the product for a year or more and are rushing to get to market. Building a strong brand for the product is now seen as a barrier and seems more artificial because the entrepreneur knows and loves the product inside and out.
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- Thinking of Branding as a Cost and Not as an Investment
This tendency is the second most common problem among entrepreneurs looking to launch into the market and is clearly related to mistake No. 1. Entrepreneurs often cut corners to get the brand name, logo and visual identity developed for as close to free as possible, often without concern for having a solid brand strategy in place. More often than not, the thinking is that the product will sell itself once it gets to market. Alas, that rarely happens. As mentioned above, the brand is the vessel that holds economic value. Giving short shrift to your brand creates a potential obstacle to market adoption. I like to remind entrepreneurs that a brand is the only business asset that does not automatically have to depreciate with time. A brand that is treated right can continue to increase in value.
- No Messaging Discipline
I’ve worked with clients who would use more than 10 tag lines in their day-to-day marketing operations without distinguishing between high-level brand messages and individual product attributes. There was neither a cohesive brand story nor a coherent hierarchy of messages. Everything we know about human information processing tells us that communications are far more effective when they are hierarchical and build up to a relatable story. Therefore, I always recommend that entrepreneurs create a “messaging blueprint” that defines the core story of the brand and identifies the primary and secondary brand messages along with the most appropriate format and support points. This tool prevents messaging from going off strategy during the frenetic speed of startups and from being dilutive rather than accretive to brand value and market success.
- Ignoring the Power of Quality Images and Video/Animation
Attention spans have dropped below eight seconds in this information-saturated digital world of ours. People are loath to read anymore, whereas visual stimuli are a particularly powerful and dominant means of communicating emotional and complex information both quickly and efficiently. Yet many entrepreneurs far too often go to market with stock imagery and amateurish video/animation. This is because their focus is on functional communication while ignoring what I call implicit communication. Implicit communication relates to derived judgments people make about your company and your offering that were not the primary focus of your communications piece – things like credibility and trustworthiness, innovation, quality, safety, status and so forth. A stock image or amateurish video or animation, even if it communicates exactly what was intended functionally, may cause the viewer to make unfavorable, implicit judgments about the product or company based on these implicit cues. Why create visual assets of suspect quality when you’re trying to put your best foot forward? Quality video footage can be edited into a multitude of individual pieces, and a photo shoot, while costing more upfront, will yield wholly owned brand assets that you can use for years to come.
So this is my list of the top four branding mistakes entrepreneurs make. Fortunately, these mistakes are relatively easy to avoid by moving branding and marketing up earlier in the timeline and by relying on branding and marketing professionals who can help the entrepreneur launch with an optimal brand name, identity, visual assets and messaging.