7 Mistakes to Avoid When Building Your Brand
And the solutions to ensure a strong brand
According to Comparably and Glassdoor at the time of writing, Brand Directors at Nike and Disney make an average salary of $240,794 and $162,670, respectively. Now, why are they earning such high salaries for managing brand direction? Because building a strong brand and reputation is valuable and multifaceted, and branding mistakes are costly.
Though most people starting a business from scratch are not creating a brand at the level of Nike or Disney, the principles remain the same. Branding is more intricate than you might realize, and it’s easy to make mistakes — sometimes without even realizing you’ve done it. This guide offers you straightforward tips to avoid seven of the most common mistakes that happen when developing a brand.
Branding mistake #1 — Building the brand only for yourself
Even if you’re building a personal brand, you still need to connect and interact with your audience (i.e. your customers). This doesn’t mean you should approve a brand you don’t love — in fact, I wouldn’t advocate for that. However, it does mean your brand should communicate your values and your mission in a way that resonates with the clientele you seek to attract.
You could start by looking at your company’s Instagram account, or another social platform you do have. What posts and types of content already attract your ideal clients? Which posts manage to make you stop scrolling to take a closer look? If you wouldn’t stop scrolling for your own post, then the odds are high that your target audience and preferred followers won’t either.
I had a client who wanted to update their company brand and website to increase their customer conversion rate and win more clients away from competitors. When the new brand guide — built from consumer and competitor research, design trends, and best practices — was presented, the client struggled to put their personal preferences aside. Everyone on their team supported the revised brand and website except for the stakeholder, who disliked a small background design element. The client sent new examples and asked for multiple iterations without being able to communicate what they did or didn’t like specifically. Ultimately, the seemingly small preferences significantly pushed back the launch date and increased the project cost.
You’re hopefully not the only person looking at your website or profile. To build a more successful, far-reaching brand, put yourself in the user’s shoes and become the expert on your ideal customer. Know their habits, shopping patterns, likes, and dislikes. If they’re old-fashioned and prefer vintage styles, your brand shouldn’t focus on all things modern. To really get to know your customer demographics and what they want, consider building an example buyer persona. This customer-first framework will help guide the brand-building process.
Now, despite that focus on customers, your brand should still reflect you and your business goals. Much of building a brand is identifying a business’ personality, so make your brand designer aware of any personal tastes that might be relevant. Tell them about that shade of red you hate because it reminds you of your high school cafeteria; describe the homey feeling you get when watching a favorite TV show. Clearly define the brand’s personality, even if it takes a bizarre metaphor to do so.
Branding mistake #2 — Starting with the colors
Choosing colors and fonts may be what excites you most about branding — and it should be exciting! I wholeheartedly believe you should like (if not love) your brand because your passion will shine through to potential customers. However, if you recall mistake #1, it’s key to remember that your personal preferences shouldn’t be the only thing feeding into your brand’s foundational identity. I often see new entrepreneurs get so excited about creating their colors, fonts, and logos but then, unfortunately, don’t think through the other details of their brand and quickly get frustrated or burnt out on their initial idea when it’s time to bring it all together.
The heart pumps life-giving blood to the rest of the body. Your brand’s core — its mission statement, its vision, and its identity — should do the same. You really can’t succeed in building the rest of your brand if you don’t first know what you’re about and what you’re trying to accomplish with your products or services. Understanding how a brand functions at this level provides the necessary building blocks that will help inform your decisions on colors and everything else related to the brand.
Let your company’s vision and personality lead you and your designer to the best brand colors. If you get stuck, refer back to your audience: what personalities and character traits are they drawn to? Again, use the customer persona to guide branding decisions.
Is your typical customer more reserved and shy? Then bright neon colors probably won’t attract them to your products or services. Or maybe they’re outdoorsy and gritty, which would likely mean a clean-cut and business professional brand won’t resonate with them. Design decisions should be backed up by reason, which leads to my next point…
Branding mistake #3 — Being inflexible
I learned early in my design career to never be too attached to my work. My UX training later reinforced this, as everything we designed was backed by extensive research about what customers want and need. Instead of trying to convince people that my designs are great because I love them and am biased, it’s better for me to show them the data about how a specifically placed button on the website mockup produces higher conversion rates. It’s important for both me as the designer and the client to be open and flexible when it comes to discussing what’s best for the brand. Typically, clients best understand their audience, and designers best understand industry trends and standards. Neglecting either perspective can reduce the brand’s overall impact on the target audience, which can lead to fewer conversions and sales.
There are too many opinions out there for anyone to please everyone. A well-versed brand designer knows this and will present an art direction that is based on research and best practices, working to create the best mixture of everyone’s ideas and thoughtful strategy. The final brand guide might not be the direction either you or the designer originally imagined, because research and multiple revisions led down a better branding path. Being flexible throughout this process allows your brand to evolve with your ever-changing audience in a way that will ideally produce more engagement and sales in the long run.
Branding mistake #4 — Being vague
Weak brands are like zebras: technically each one has its own stripes, but can you actually tell the differences between each one when looking at the entire herd? Consider, for example, when you’re looking for a new shampoo. What do you notice when you peruse the shelves? Many of the products will have a similar design, look, and even font. But you immediately notice and consider the products with different bottle shapes and colors.
Your brand is meant to differentiate you and draw customers away from competitors. Therefore, you need to articulate what makes you stand out and how your specific offering meets the needs of customers in a unique, compelling way. Templates for social media posts, websites, and email outreach have their place, but you should avoid looking like everyone else who’s using those same templates. If your competitors built their websites on Squarespace, make sure your developer can custom build on Squarespace so a user stops and connects the design with your specific brand instead of forgetting you because you blend in with other websites.
Be descriptive when talking about your services or products. Keep asking yourself “Why?” and “So what?” until you reach the core of what you’re doing and how it impacts customers. Let’s use Mane as an example:
- Mane is a branding & web design agency. Why?
- To help movers & shakers make an impact, uninterrupted. Why?
- In order to put people and the planet above profit, difference-makers are often stretched thin and don’t have enough time to dedicate themselves to each aspect of their business fully. The many directions they’re pulled in are often distracting, thus reducing their ability to concentrate on any one task. Why?
- They typically need to be a jack-of-all-trades in order to accomplish the bare minimums on their overwhelmingly long to-do list. So what?
- If projects are rushed, tasks slip through the cracks, mistakes are made, and finished projects are simply good instead of extraordinary. This can lead to lower conversion rates and fewer sales.
Articulating your reasons through a detailed question framework not only acts as your own north star in decision-making, but it also shows your customers what you do, why it matters, and how it relates to them personally.
Branding mistake #5 — Thinking branding isn’t that important
Your customers interact with your brand at every touchpoint: from the first ad they see on Instagram that leads them to sign up for your newsletter, to the first email you send them with a website link where they buy the product itself. Each of those checkpoints is determined by how your brand presents itself.
You wouldn’t cut corners when building the foundation of a house, so don’t skimp on the foundation of your business. Building the structure may seem like a ton of work, but the upfront effort makes decisions moving forward much easier. Should we post a picture or graphic on Instagram? What color should we use for the text and the background? What celebrity should we ask to endorse our fundraising campaign? Simply review the brand guide for your answers.
Branding mistake #6 — Not considering technical and logistical aspects
Think back on our discussion so far, about how branding affects every touchpoint with your customers and how strong brands are built with the audience in mind. Now, how would your brand answer the following more logistical questions:
- Are you okay with settling for .org or .net for your web address if .com is already taken? Will a quick Google search land your company on page 1 or page 100?
- Is your preferred social media handle available?
- Are your selected fonts easy to skim on the website? Are they easy to read in a direct mail brochure?
- Do your selected colors pass WCAG accessibility guidelines so a color-blind customer can browse your website?
Ensuring that people can easily and quickly find you is key and yields a higher ROI. Maintaining consistency across the name of your social channels — for example, www.maneimpact.com and @maneimpact on Instagram — and seeing you on the first page of Google increases the chances of someone finding and interacting with your page no matter the platform. Your answers to these questions can reduce potential friction with users that might turn them away from becoming paying customers.
Quickly Google the brand name you’re planning to use and notice what appears in the search results. You don’t want customers to have to look for a needle (you) in the haystack (the internet), so it’s important that you find ways to stand out even with your brand name. Start by reading the name aloud: can it be misinterpreted? How does the name look with the fonts you’ve chosen? And so on.
As for accessibility, Coolors has a great tool for checking color contrast against WCAG guidelines. Designing for accessibility doesn’t mean you have to get rid of the shade of pink that your heart was set on, but it can help you decide which brand color is best used as text on that pink background so that any user can read its content.
Branding mistake #7 — Not setting a budget
Where you spend money speaks volumes about what you value. Your brand is worth investing in, and that might mean reconfiguring your budget to prioritize building a successful brand. Many people don’t understand how much work goes into building a brand or have any baseline for how much brand development should cost, so they’re quick to balk at the price tag and back out of the project before it ever begins. They quickly forget that branding directly impacts ROI. Consumer behavior studies have shown how people’s purchase decisions are influenced by their emotional responses and loyalties to a brand. One Forbes contributor put it this way: “Strong branding attracts customers who may be willing to pay more and buy more often at a lower cost per acquisition.” The intricate and thought-out branding is based on psychology and human behavior that is meant to both attract and retain customers, which has multiple financial implications.
Whether you build your brand in-house or hire an agency like Mane, provide your team with the budget and timeline before discussing further details. This sets clear expectations from the start and allows both your company and branding teams to move forward on the same page. Having a branding budget ahead of time also allows your designer to allocate resources to the most important parts of the project and work with what you have.
Maybe you don’t have the budget for an entire rebrand, but you know copywriting is your weakness; if that’s the case, work with a team who can articulate your vision and mission statement. Or perhaps you already have a logo sketched, so you work with an agency to bring it to life graphically and integrate the best colors and fonts instead of requiring them to create it from scratch. You might be surprised by how many agencies are willing to work within your budget if you are clear about what you need from them and when.
Building your brand for long-term success
The path to developing a brand is not a matter of right versus wrong but instead of better versus worse. If you feel overwhelmed or daunted by everything that goes into branding, finding an experienced designer may be a better alternative than trying to strategize alone.
Ready to increase your impact? Contact Mane today about our custom branding and web design services.