Bad branding: 16 critical branding mistakes and how to avoid them

February 26, 2021

Branding mistakes and how to avoid them

Believe it or not, running a successful business, for the most part, is nailing the branding. So you’d think that business has evolved since the dawn of trade, but the bad branding examples we see daily claim otherwise. 

What’s even more startling is that the number of branding mistakes hasn’t dropped with the rise of the Internet. In fact, the access to unlimited resources worsened things. Nowadays everyone thinks they can create a logo or even build an entire brand only with the help of Canva and its likes.

And for things to be worse, the consequences of bad branding are more evident than ever and quickly turn into never-dying memes spreading with the speed of light online.

Jump directly to:

 1. Attaching the brand to the wrong products

 2. Focusing only on visuals

 3. Not considering SEO 

 4. Jumping from plan to plan

 5. Inconsistency and conflicting messaging

 6. Not being specific

 7. Dismissing the importance of trademarks

 8. Being company-centric

 9. Loss aversion marketing

 10. Overlooking the internal team view

 11. Getting a cheap logo

 12. Spending on fancy print marketing

 13. Associating with the wrong brand

 14. Greenwashing

 15. Buying stock photos

 16. Not understanding the meaning of branding

16 branding mistakes you want to avoid

To save you the trouble of rebranding or becoming a memefied internet sensation (although if you’re smart enough you can turn the publicity to your advantage) we made a list of the worst branding mistakes businesses make.

Attaching the brand to the wrong products

Brands attaching their name to products that don’t align with how their company should be perceived is a common branding mistake we see at Powerhouse Prints. 

We recently came across a prime example when we were approached by a technology firm to make custom perfume tubes that they would infuse with a scent and give to their clients. The foundation of the idea could easily lead to a negative representation of the company as the “thoughtful gift” could have a scent that caused their customer displeasure. 

We shifted our clients thought process towards gifting custom bottles of unscented sanitizer with a carabiner. The much more neutral product was easy to carry, put the companies name in front of their clients faces, and served an important purpose during the Covid-19 pandemic. 

Evan Rosenberg, Founder and CEO of Powerhouse Prints

Focusing only on visuals

The biggest branding mistake I see is thinking that their slogan, logo, colors, physical appearance, etc. are their brand. Branding is actually about creating a positive impression in the prospect’s mind. So the visuals are certainly a part of that, but the bigger part is how they experience you. If your walk doesn’t match your talk, your branding does more harm than good.

As a green/social entrepreneurship profitability consultant, speaker, and author, I look at how branding can amplify regenerative businesses: I help develop and market profitable products/services that turn hunger/poverty into abundance, war into peace, racism and other kinds of othering into equity and catastrophic climate change into planetary balance.

Shel Horowitz, Transformpreneur at Going Beyond Sustainability

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Not considering SEO when branding your business

It is bad branding not to consider SEO in the era of Google. You should always take into account how your brand and brand name will positively or negatively impact your business rankings online. Using major keywords in your business name or punch line will help you in the future rank better for important keywords. Keeping the impacts of your branding on your SEO will help you rise above your competition as this is frequently not considered.

James Watson – Owner and Director of Marketing at Omaha Homes For Cash

Jumping from plan to plan

One big branding mistake businesses make is jumping from plan to plan. The first piece of advice new entrepreneurs are given is to make a plan, but if the plan isn’t taking off immediately and our enterprising individual isn’t as stalwart as the need to be it may be tempting to change the plan to something else. Having no plan would be preferable to jumping around because you’re basically wasting your money.

You need to remember that most effective marketing plans require a long look. They take time before seeing the inevitable payoff. Test your marketing first and then build out the rest of your strategy based on the results of your testing. Each marketing campaign should be built upon the success of the previous campaign; and over time, you will see your results improve. Marketing builds on itself, so the more you market, the better results you’ll get.

Wendy Young, Marketing Assistant at Bootstrap Local

Inconsistency and conflicting messaging

One of the biggest branding mistakes that I see businesses make is that the messaging on all marketing materials and consumer touchpoints are inconsistent or conflicting. Incongruent messaging leads to consumer confusion and can negatively impact sales.

Kristin Marquet, Owner at Marquet Media

An example of bad branding I see most commonly, especially from new and fast-scaling businesses, is a lack of consistency. Consistency is everything. Your brand messaging, logo, tone of voice, color schemes, straplines – everything needs to be rock solid and consistent for a long period of time to build equity around the brand.

Consider the most significant brands in the world right now. McDonald’s has used the same golden arches for nearly 60 years; it’s impossible to use the word swoosh without thinking of Nike; and most adults in the world would be able to identify Apple’s advertisements even without the brand name being used because of its logo and signature use of white space.

Matt Caspell, Founder of Lumo Digital

Not being specific

One branding mistake businesses often make is not being specific about who they are and who they serve in their branding. They think if they brand themselves as a one-stop shop for every person in the world that everyone will want to shop there. 

The opposite is actually true, and the more specific you get with your branding, the more your ideal audience will feel you created your product specifically for them, making them more likely to buy. Then, once you have traction, even people outside your ideal branded audience will start to buy, so being specific in branding won’t hold you back long-term and it will help you get ahead when starting out.

 Stacy Caprio, Marketing at Renuw Skincare

The biggest branding mistake I see businesses make is that there’s often a disconnect between who the brands think they are, and who the audiences think the brands are because of poor communication. 

Brands and businesses aren’t typically crystal clear on who their target audience is, and they market and brand in a way that doesn’t necessarily translate to the audience, so a millennial product Brand, for example, thinks they’re talking to their ideal target when in reality they’re reaching 50-somethings instead who aren’t buying. 

The best way to avoid this is to research, listen to your audience and before being clever in your content, to get to know your audience’s pain points, understand their language and THEN speak to them in a way that’ll resonate. Your message won’t get lost in translation and what you want to transmit will align with what they understand about your business. When in doubt, be clear rather than clever.

Sabrina Scholkowski, Owner at Sociouse

Dismissing the importance of trademarks

Not all businesses see trademark protection as important to a branding strategy. The likelihood of businesses becoming less competitive increases if their name is similar to another business and there are limited options for recourse. Trademarks can be helpful tools in mitigating this issue. Trademark protection creates brand value, builds customer base and helps to diversify the business’s portfolio. 

Another related mistake is inconsistent use of registered marks in consumer markets, or a complete non-use of the registered mark. This may happen more often if the business owns a family of trademarks. Trademarks can be cancelled for non-use, thereby impacting the brand’s reputation. How to avoid this mistake: Ensure that there is a market for and actual sales for the product/service that bears the registered mark; have a foolproof branding strategy at play – don’t register marks that you will likely not lose.

Marsha S. Cadogan, Lawyer and Consultant at MSC Intellectual Property

Being company-centric

The biggest branding mistake any company or organization can make is being company-centric. No doubt it’s essential to have a clear brand identity, but the importance of being customer-centric should not take a back seat. At the end of the day, it’s the customer we are serving and facing. The brand needs to make the customer the hero of the story instead of concentrating on themselves. 

The secret of success of small brands is their closeness to the voice of the consumer. When deciding the value proposition or branding strategy, keeping the requirements of the customer is essential. A brand should have a clear and consistent character on different social media platforms. If a customer meets a different persona on different social media platforms, there is a good chance that they can get confused and back out.

Avinash Chandra, Founder and CEO at BrandLoom

Overlooking the internal team view of the brand

One key branding mistake businesses often make is overlooking how their internal team views the brand. If your employees aren’t on the same page about what your brand stands for, exactly what your business offers, and who you are targeting, then that uncertainty will impact their work — and leave your customers confused and unmotivated to take action.  You can’t have an impactful external brand without a strong internal understanding of the brand.

Abby MacKinnon, Content Creator at HDco  

Failing to build brand advocates from within is definitely a bad branding move.

While it is important to know how the business’ product/service is valuable to consumers, failure to train and empower employees to live out the essence of the brand will lead to a weak brand presence.

A salesperson solely motivated by meeting a quota will not effectively convey to a consumer how the transaction is more than an exchange of money for a product and/or services. That consumer will end up looking for a cheaper or better solution somewhere else.

Business owners/leaders need to help their employees understand why what the company is doing matters. They need to empower team members to flesh out that vision through their own individuality, going beyond fulfilling a job description and selling a product/service.

Vincent Lee, Owner of Can You Brand Me

The biggest mistake business owners make when they are just starting out is believing they can get by with just a logo and getting one made cheaply from Fiverr or similar. Creating a logo without any brand strategy behind it is doing a disservice to your business. Your brand is so much more than just a logo – it’s every single touchpoint your customer has with your business and should be carried throughout your customer’s entire experience.

Emily Messing, Owner of EJM Design

Spending on fancy print marketing

I started a branding/marketing firm 19 years ago and recommend NOT spending money on things like fancy brochures/letterhead/business cards. Until you know your business is launched put your budget into things that help fill your pipeline with customers. 

Getting your URL/website up and running is key. I created online stationery for proposals/invoices, ordered my cards online and made downloadable materials as leave-behinds for people looking for more information to help me find clients more quickly. You need to look professional and have a website to be taken seriously but embossed paper/watermarks/heavy card stock is not going to accelerate your sales cycle. 

I know many business owners who spent thousands of dollars on these things and found it was a waste of money. Find reference customers quickly, use them to get testimonials/referrals. There’s plenty of time later to dress things up!

Paige Arnof-Fenn, Founder and CEO at Mavens and Moguls

Associating with the wrong brand

I heard of a self-development event company looking for sponsors for their event and they are looking at $250,000.

After 3 months of asking for sponsorship, they only received about $100,000, and 3 weeks later is the event date. A few days later, a cigarette company offered them a million-dollar sponsorship, to have their brand banner up during the event all the time.

The event company owners were tempted as the event’s date draws near. But they decided not to go ahead as it would hurt their company brand. Just less than a week before the event, another company decided to sponsor $150,000 for the event.

The owners did not give up till the end and did not associate with the wrong brand.

Cyrus Yung, Director of Ascelade

Greenwashing

Sustainability has become such a hot keyword in businesses big and small. Because it’s so trendy, it’s sad to see companies take advantage of such a value and attempt to rob others blind by lying about these important credentials. “Greenwashing” is the act of corporations advocating for environmentally friendly practices and branding, but in reality not operating by the same standards that they talk about.

This is especially rampant in industries of fashion, food, and traveling, which are big contributors to pollution and waste. If the company undergoes a green “rebrand,” displays vague facts and figures about their sustainability performance, and continues unethical employment and operational practices, these are red flags that display they don’t mean any of the words they advocate.

Sharon van Donkelaar, CMO at Expandi

Buying stock photos

One of the branding mistakes a business can make is buying stock photos to use on its website. Those photos are often used by hundreds of other websites and they become the classic visual cliche rather than serving as a visual aid to the message the business is trying to convey. The stock images may also break the trust that the business is trying to establish with their clients. 

For instance, using images that show offices and environments different from where a business is operating would signal dishonesty and may result in losing business. If the branding image is as essential to the business as the quality of their service or product then the business should hire a professional photographer who would give a more honest and creative image of the business brand.

Sam Fatima, Lead Photographer at Sam Headshots

Not understanding the meaning of branding

.The single largest branding mistake businesses make is not understanding what actually a brand is. Most often, they think it is a logo like the Nike swoosh or Coca-Cola Spencerian script and curved bottle. Sometimes they think it is about a sale or promotion, like Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Sale and Parade. Those are not brands. A brand is a company’s character and it lets customers know what to expect each time they interact with a business.

For instance, Eddie Bauer’s brand used to be comfortable and rugged outdoor gear and clothing. The quality was so good, they even had a lifetime warranty. Unfortunately, they destroyed their brand by removing the quality. Patagonia has not done this, which is why their brand remains intact and Eddie Bauer has been losing market share for years.

Another great example is Microsoft versus Apple. Microsoft was known for Windows and Office, but these were not what made the Microsoft brand. Microsoft has name recognition and a solid product line, but they lack a brand. Apple, on the other hand, has name recognition and customers know what to expect when they buy an Apple product. The products will be cutting edge and integrate various design elements that make them pleasing to look at, touch, and use. Apple’s brand has allowed them to build a loyal customer base. Microsoft never fully established a brand and had to switch to SaaS billing to create a steady cash flow.

Another great example is Walmart versus Target. Walk into any Walmart and you never know what you will get. Some look old and decrepit, even if they have implemented the latest signage. Worker uniforms at some are neat and clean, but old and worn at others. Shelves will be organized at some and messy at others – bad branding! Target, on the other hand, provides the same experience regardless of the store you visit.

Your brand lets your customers know who you are as a company and what they can expect every time. There is uniformity, regardless of the number of locations. For instance, Nike will not make cheap shoes, because that would undermine their brand. Nike wants to be the Lexus of athletic wear, so they won’t make a crappy shoe. Compare that to what other retailers like Eddie Bauer have done to their brands.

The number of times I have to talk executives out of accidentally destroying their brand would amaze you

Anthony Babbitt, MS, MCSE, Founder of Babbitt Consulting

Conclusion

We know it’s easier to pull off bad branding than it is to avoid making any of the branding mistakes listed above. However, that doesn’t give you the right to make a disaster of your brand. If you don’t know how to build a brand you better hire a professional who knows what is doing. It will be an investment in the long run.

More must-read stories from Enterprise League:

  • What startups should know about GDPR.

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