Here's Why Your Branding Strategy Isn't Working

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Branding is the image your media company creates in the minds of viewers, listeners or readers. MTV, Cosmopolitan magazine and The Wall Street Journal all convey an image that you probably know well, even if you don't watch or read them.

The media industry is littered with other offerings that have a muddy brand image. They don't seem to stand for anything or anybody. If your media product is in this category, these are the likely reasons why.

You're Missing Your Target Audience

You must know your target audience. If you're branding conflicts with the wants and needs of your customers, then it won't bring results.

If you publish a magazine, you probably have a specific group of people who read it. That's your key demographic. If your readers are women ages 25-54, they may be turned off if you design a branding campaign that only appeals to 18-24-year-olds.

True, you always want to be thinking of engaging tomorrow's readers, but not at the expense of your loyal readers of today. You can't decide to be ultra-modern and edgy overnight if it doesn't match your product. Looking at the consumer food industry, Smucker's has a wholesome family image for its line of jelly, jam, and preserves. It can't adopt the tone of a male-oriented energy drink. You have to know your product and its space in the market.

Your Product's Look Is Wrong

In all forms of media, the look of the product is important. Start with these steps in designing a media logo. Your font and color choice shouldn't be made on a whim, 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.

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 totally change their logo if they wanted, but their executives know that isn't the correct strategy. Consider the consequences if you undergo a dramatic overhaul.

Your Message Isn't Consistent

Beyond your logo, your media company probably has a tagline that's used to represent everything you stand for. "Classic Rock Hits from the 60s and 70s" might be the line a radio station uses.

If that's who you are, then it's hurting your brand identity if you throw in music from the 80s and 90s. That's because you're telling people one thing, then doing another. A radio program director knows that playlists are critical in establishing a station's position in the market. The program director can't just decide to play his own personal favorite songs if that music doesn't match the radio format.

Your slogan should stand for something specific that the audience understands. A radio station that says it "plays the hits" isn't saying anything. Those hits could be oldies, hip-hop or country. Your tagline should be short so that it's memorable, but make sure those few words convey meaning.

You're Not Sticking With Your Message

You may be tempted to change your logo or tagline regularly to "stay fresh". The problem is that you're 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 slogan you already have instead of starting over.

A local TV affiliate may call its newscasts "NBC 7 News", only to change to "Channel 7 Action News" then to "NewsCenter 7." Usually, a name change means a new logo, new news music and a new anchor desk in the studio. That's a huge and expensive undertaking.

Sometimes, such a dramatic change is hiding a bigger problem. It's likely that Channel 7 isn't doing well in the Nielsen ratings, so this is the quick fix. However, money and time would be better spent on deciding if viewers like the product, such as the stories and the anchors in the newscast, rather than this window-dressing.

Your Approach Is Boring

This is the hardest problem to overcome. While you want your branding to be creative and excite your audience, 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 would bring yawns rather than interest. A TV station that launches a campaign that says, "Channel 4, We're the One" would probably have viewers wondering about "the one that does what?" You didn't say you're #1. You didn't say you're the one for breaking news coverage. You didn't say anything but something meaningless.

The food industry is full of classic branding strategies that work. One example is Burger King's "Have It Your Way" advertising campaign from decades ago. It's simple, easy to remember and was put to music. The reason it worked is that "Have It Your Way" was designed to highlight that you could custom-order your hamburger any way you liked, which was different than other burger chains, which automatically gave you ketchup, mustard, and pickles and wouldn't let you make a change.

Branding looks easy until you try it. Major corporations spend millions making sure their message is just right. While you likely don't have those resources, you can carefully examine your product and where you want to position it versus your competitors. 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.