Here's Why Your Branding Strategy Isn't Working

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Branding is the image your company creates in the minds of customers. Many popular companies convey images that you probably know well, even if you don't use their products. The marketplace is littered with other offerings that have muddy brand images. They don't seem to stand for anything or anybody. If your product is in this category, there likely are reasons why.

Branding looks easy until you try it. Major corporations spend millions making sure their message is just right. While few businesses have those resources, you can examine your product, your competitors, and your target audience. Whatever you do, be methodical in your approach and make sure you're satisfied with what you want to say before you ever present it publicly.

Learn how to identify problems and address them appropriately.

Missing Your Audience

Branding that conflicts with the wants and needs of your target audience won't bring results.

If you design and sell elegant wristwatches for business professionals and for formal occasions, a logo, slogan, or advertising campaign that emphasizes active lifestyles would be missing the mark. Ways that branding efforts miss the target often are more subtle than this, but the fundamental lesson is that the company, the customers it is seeking, and its branding all need to align.

In the consumer food industry, Smucker's has a wholesome family image for its line of jelly, jam, and preserves. Branding comparable to that of companies that sell male-oriented energy drinks wouldn't work. Smuckers knows its product and its space in the market.

The Wrong Look

In all forms of media, the company logo and the overall look of advertisements are as important as the look of the product. Select fonts and colors carefully because those decisions communicate a lot about your brand.

Media companies usually update their looks regularly, to be seen as fresh, high-tech and trendy. There's a look to the USA Today newspaper that's much different from The New York Times. Neither paper could adopt the other's look without causing a major disruption in what their readers expect to see.

How often companies change their look can say a lot about their brand. Long-standing conservative brands have steady logos, changing rarely and only in small ways. Edgier products change more often to keep up with the times and trends.

Take a page out of the book of Google, Yahoo, or Microsoft. When these companies update their corporate look, it is subtle. All three companies have billions of dollars in resources to change their logos if they wanted, but their executives know that isn't the correct strategy. Consider the consequences if you undergo a dramatic overhaul.

An Inconsistent Message

Beyond your logo, your company probably has a tagline that's used to represent everything you stand for. Popular examples include "Just Do It," "Breakfast of Champions," and "Finger-Lickin' Good." These standard examples are effective largely because they accurately define Nike, Wheaties, and KFC.

Taglines are short statements designed carefully to best define a company's image. They differ from slogans in the sense that slogans are less permanent and often tied to a single marketing campaign. Taglines are designed to last.

However, if you have a tagline that doesn't fit your company's place in the market, it's unlikely to be memorable no matter how catchy or clever it might be. For example, a classic rock radio station won't be successful with "The Sounds of the 70s" as its tagline if it also plays rock hits from the 60s and the 80s. If anything, a tagline so inconsistent with the actual product would most likely confuse customers and damage your brand identity.

Impatience

You may be tempted to change your logo or tagline regularly to stay fresh, but you risk not giving your audience enough time to digest what you're saying before you say something else. Your energy would be better spent on spreading the logo and tagline you already have instead of starting over.

To have this patience, it's important to understand the difference between branding and individual marketing campaigns. Branding is about overall image and consistent with a company's mission. Marketing campaigns often are designed to have a short-term impact, while branding defines companies for generations. Nike has multiple marketing campaigns every year, and they can be abandoned or expanded on short notice. The swoosh logo and the "Just Do It" tagline, however, were given time to take hold and have lasted for decades.

Sometimes, dramatic change is hiding a bigger problem. A struggling company might view a rebranding as a quick fix when money and time would be better spent on market research, product development, or staff training.

Lacks Excitement

A lack of excitement might be the hardest problem to overcome. You want your branding to be creative and excite your audience, but you're probably scared to push the boundaries too far, especially since you don't want to totally throw out your logo or do anything to upset your current customers.

By playing it too safe, you may not turn off anyone, but your branding could bring yawns rather than interest. A campaign that says, "We're the One" would probably have customers wondering about "the one that does what?" A vague statement that can be applied to anything won't resonate with customers because they won't connect it to anything specific.

The food industry is full of classic branding strategies that work. Burger King's "Have It Your Way" campaign from decades ago is simple, easy to remember and was put to music. It worked by highlighting a specific service that was different from other burger chains, which did not take special orders. Apply branding principles that give your target audience a reason to see how and why you are different from the competition.