The 5 Most Costly Branding Mistakes All Startups Need to Avoid

Cindy Apt

Entrepreneurs who believe that branding starts and ends with a nice logo are missing an opportunity that’s often critical to the success of any company. 

Great branding serves to control the public’s perception of a business and give it a competitive edge. Branding can also humanize a business by giving it a personality, establishing a unique identity, and connecting consumers through emotion. Ultimately, it can foster the kind of trust and loyalty that keep successful businesses running for decades. 

Conversely, mistakes in branding, or an ill-conceived branding rollout, can cost a business dearly. Convincing customers to appreciate a product or service is critical; but when customers grow to care about a business, they’ll go above and beyond to support it. 

I spoke with a group of seasoned entrepreneurs and branding experts to gather their perspectives on the top five branding mistakes they see in the startup world. 

Mistake 1: Rushing to Execute Tactics

Branding expert Robin Albin recommends mulling over two key messaging questions prior to embarking on tactics like website design or buying social media ads: “What is the big idea that will resonate with your audiences?” and “Why should anyone care?” 

The founder of Insurgents explains her 3-part methodology for messaging that gets it right:

  • Detonate – find your “unfair advantage” among the mishmash of competing ideas that confuse your message.
  • Articulate – identify the one-word anchoring theme that will guide all of your initiatives.
  • Activate – take your message to the world across every touchpoint.

Mistake 2: Picking the Wrong Colors

Marketing expertMolly McDermott Walsh says she feels disappointment when businesses mimic the branding colors of competitors. “Another tech company that chose cerulean blue? Wild. Your branding and core palette is an opportunity to tell your unique story – not signal that you are a follower or behind the trend.”

The owner of Three Lines Consulting has this advice for business owners who want to remain unique in their branding: “Remind yourself who your customers are and consider the broader picture of what else is competing for their attention and dollars. What are their other interests? Where else are they shopping and consuming content? What brands do you admire, and how do their colors reflect their values? Then take a walk outside and see what inspires you.”

Mistake 3: Inconsistent Messaging

Rebekah Miel, founder and creative director of Miel Design Studio, says inconsistent messaging leaves customers unclear on what companies do and what problems they solve. “What a company is saying, how they are saying it, and who they are saying it to is even more important than the look and feel.”

Rebekah spends her days advising purpose-driven organizations on all things branding. She has a simple solution for ensuring customers have clarity: “Have a strategy. This means identifying a core audience, crafting a message that speaks directly to them, and designing a branding and communications strategy that best reaches that audience. Once a strategy has clearly-defined priorities, the rest of the pieces fall into place.”

Mistake 4: Misaligned Brand Values

Rahcyne Omatete says that today’s cultural changes have made customers much more in-tune with company values. As a result, companies need to show up as authentic and aligned in order to stay competitive. “Customers now expect brands to take a position on societal issues and the position needs to be genuine and consistent with the brand values.”

She also cautions that poor execution can result in an erosion of trust.  As the CEO of Trojan Health Strategies, Omatete works with life sciences organizations on growth strategies. Her advice is also timely for entrepreneurs in other industries: “Take a clear stand on an issue that is important to your customers and be transparent about progress, involving customers where possible. Changing times may require the brand to evolve, and companies shouldn’t be afraid to take that route.”

Mistake 5: Focusing on “Followers” Instead of Customers

Growth strategist Kemoy Kayan founded her consultancy to help her clients create customer-centric brands. She says entrepreneurs should spend more energy on knowing their target customer’s pain points. “It’s a mistake to focus solely on driving social media engagement instead of ensuring the brand’s message resonates with the target customer.”

She encourages emerging brands to complete customer discovery exercises and to leverage customer data. “As your business grows, remain curious about how to uncover and solve your target customer’s problems. Their pain points will evolve as well their expectations of your brand.”

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

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