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Brand Fright: 13 Blunders That Could Haunt Your Company

Two Carved Pumpkins

You spend years building your company’s brand. It’s your north star as you enhance awareness in the marketplace, introduce new products and services, and expand into new markets and geographies.

But if you’re not careful, a branding blunder could haunt you and your business; even venerable companies have learned that lesson the hard way. So, let’s save that kind of scare for the movie theater. Here are 13 branding mistakes you’ll want to avoid like Freddy Krueger.

1. Lacking consistency across channels

Nothing will scare off people faster than a disjointed journey from one touchpoint to the next. Let’s say someone clicks on your Google search ad and then encounters a completely different visual style or tone of voice on your website. They bounce.

An agency can help you figure out where you stand with a communications audit that pulls visual examples of your marketing content like digital ads, social posts, and video screenshots to form a sort of collage. This audit can help you understand the messages that you’re putting out into the marketplace, and how well they reflect who you are as a company. For a deeper dive in this area, check out our ultimate guide to brand consistency.

2. Disregarding your brand guidelines

You have brand guidelines, right? If not, read this right now for a walkthrough of what to include.

Brand guidelines keep everyone in your company on the same page about who you are and why you exist as a company. And they give clear direction on how to represent your brand in art and copy—all the way down to details like specific words to avoid if you don’t want to go headless.

We know it can sometimes be challenging to keep everyone on brand, especially if you’re a large company that works with a variety of agencies and vendors. However, the guidelines are there for a reason and flagrant disregard for them could cause you all kinds of grief.

3. Talking to yourself

Sometimes companies can turn off prospects by taking themselves too seriously. This can come across in jargon-laced copy that sounds like they’re talking to themselves. The cure? Loosen up and write some friendlier copy that accurately describes your brand from the perspective of your customers.

4. Not defining your focus

No company can be everything to everyone. You have to find your competitive edge, whether it’s having the highest quality, most fun, or fewest frills, and then lean into it.

5. Telling a ghastly story

The human mind is wired for storytelling. A good story grabs our attention, stirs our emotions, and compels a response. But too often, a company’s story is limited to a bland recounting of its founding and a few key milestones along the way.

Go beyond that to get to why you’re in business. Be vulnerable in explaining the challenges you’ve faced and the missteps you’ve made. Why? Because authenticity builds trust. And trust rings the cash register.

6. Terrifying customers with a nightmare on PR street

After a security breach at Equifax exposed the data of 143 million Americans, the credit bureau made matters worse by waiting weeks before alerting customers, according to CNNMoney. Then, instead of handling the breach on its own website, Equifax directed potential victims to a separate domain where observers soon found bugs, according to WIRED. Then came some social media gaffes.

So, act decisively if you discover a PR problem. Own up to your mistake and make things right with your customers.

7. Not thinking an offer through

Whether it’s stuffed bears or tattoos, sometimes a clever offer can backfire if you don’t think it all the way through.

At first blush, Build-A-Bear’s “Pay Your Age” campaign seemed like sheer marketing genius: customers could save money by paying just a dollar for each year of their child’s age. Then mobs of parents and tykes lined up for the deal and the company was forced to shut down the event early—causing a social media backlash.

Another fail was launched last year by a Russian franchise of Domino’s. Their Dominos Forever deal promised 100 free pizzas for 100 years to customers who tattooed the brand’s logo on their skin. While this daring deal was supposed to run for months, Domino’s had to cancel it within days and cap it after 350 people got tattoos.

8. Not watching the shot clock

News of the firing of head coach Jason Kidd coincided with the 50th anniversary of the Milwaukee Bucks franchise. So fans wanting more information on this fast breaking news were greeted with balloons on the team’s Twitter feed—making it appear the team was celebrating Kidd’s firing. Unfortunate timing, but still an embarrassing blunder.

9. Losing brand equity with a frightening logo

While a logo is just a piece of your brand, it does attract a lot of attention. Back in 2010, Gap unveiled a new logo that was blasted with criticism. A week later, Gap returned to its blue box logo.

10. Ignoring social media

Remember the #JusticeforBradsWife fiasco? Cracker Barrel failed to respond to a social media post from a man whose wife was fired. The lesson: say something. Even if it’s “we can’t comment on personnel matters.” Silence only encourages the brouhaha.

11. Failing to think globally

Whether you’re dealing with customer segments or new markets, it’s important to take care in crafting your brand message (and how it’s translated). Pepsi launched in China with the slogan “Pepsi Brings You Back to Life,” but the phrase was mistranslated as “Pepsi brings your ancestors back from the grave.” Not good in a land where ancestors are worshipped.

12. Chasing trends like some sort of zombie

Not every hot new technology or design trend deserves your time and attention. This goes back to knowing who you are—what you look and sound like, and what you don’t. It’s okay to test out a new social media channel if you think it’s worth it, but don’t take your eyes off the prize.

13. Attaching your brand to the wrong things

Disney confused its fans back in 2009 when it released Hannah Montana-branded cherries, a product that had no connection to the popular kids’ TV show. So always ensure that your branded products, sponsorships, and events have a clear tie-in with your company and logo.

Find your brand story. Then scare the competition.

Element Three has worked on numerous branding projects with clients in a variety of industries. We can help you find your story and tell it in a way that demands attention—and compels action. Check out the work we did for Purdue Athletics.

Derek Smith Team Photo at Element Three

Derek Smith's skills as a reporter serve him well as a senior writer here at Element Three – and if you need a coach for your soccer team, he's got you covered. He's worked as a content strategist as well as a copywriter, so he's always thinking about the why behind every word and every piece of every campaign.