By Mary Moore, copywriter at Shakuro

Branding holds the promise of propelling your venture to new heights, capturing hearts, and securing your place in the market. Yet, it’s a double-edged sword. When wielded with precision, it can be your greatest asset; but when mishandled, it becomes a costly liability.

For startups and product owners, the stakes are high, and the path is treacherous. The last thing you need is to stumble into the abyss of bad branding, a place where countless others have lost their way.

If you’ve ever felt the pains of uncertainty or the fear of wasting precious resources, then read on. In this article, we’ll uncover the common branding mistakes that have haunted both enterprises and small ventures. More importantly, we’ll provide you with the insights to navigate these treacherous waters successfully.

SELECT Branding Process by Shakuro

Mistake #1: Neglecting market research

Market research is the North Star of branding. It illuminates your target audience, their pain points, and desires. Neglecting it is like setting sail without a map, yet many beginner captains throw it away.

Why this usually happens:

  • Overconfidence: Entrepreneurs often fall in love with their concepts. They believe so strongly in their vision that they assume it’s universally appealing. This belief makes you disregard market research because you feel you already know everything customers want.
  • Budget constraints: Small businesses often operate on shoestring budgets. Market research for startup branding can be perceived as an unnecessary expense, especially when compared to product development or marketing activities that seem more directly linked to revenue generation.
  • Time pressure: The urgency to bring a product to market leads to shortcuts. You’re often tempted to skip or rush through the research phase, believing you can gather insights later on.
  • Lack of research skills: Conducting effective research requires specific skills and tools. You and your team may lack the knowledge or resources to execute it properly, leading to avoidance or superficial efforts.

How to avoid:

  • Recognize the value: market research is an investment, not an expense. It’s the cornerstone of informed decision-making and can save you from costly missteps down the road.
  • Start early: Begin the research process at the inception of your branding idea. This will help you shape your concept in a way that aligns with market demand from the start.
  • Define your target audience: Understand your client’s pain points, desires, demographics, and behaviors. This information will guide you when branding a startup.
  • Utilize available resources: Even with a limited budget, you can gather some meaningful data. Online surveys, social media polls, and free or low-cost research tools can provide valuable insights.
  • Seek expert help: If you lack the necessary research skills, consider outsourcing or consulting with experts who can make it on your behalf. It’s a worthwhile investment.
  • Iterate and adapt: It isn’t a one-time task. Continuously gather and analyze data to stay informed about evolving market trends and customer preferences.
Heroic Rhino Branding by Shakuro

Mistake #2: Lack of consistency

Consistency is more than just using the same logo. It’s about creating a cohesive experience across all touchpoints. Misconceptions, resource constraints, and the challenges of maintaining uniformity across various elements often lead to bad branding.

Why this usually happens:

  • Misunderstanding: Some people mistakenly view their brand as just a logo and a tagline. However, it encompasses every interaction, visual element, and communication associated with their business.
  • Multiple contributors: In larger teams with various contributors, creation becomes a mess — everyone hogs the covers. Different people have contrasting interpretations of the visual and messaging guidelines.
  • No style guide: Without a clear style guide that outlines the standards for typography, colors, imagery, and tone of voice, consistency is elusive.

How to avoid:

  • Understand comprehensive nature: Try learning more about branding a startup. Consistency usually goes beyond visuals; it extends to every aspect, from messaging to customer interactions.
  • Invest in a style guide: Develop a comprehensive style guide that defines logo usage, color schemes, typography, voice and tone, and any other relevant elements. This document will serve as a reference.
  • Regular communication: Apart from style guides, it’s a good idea to create workshops to educate your team members on style consistency. Also, two heads are better than one: your colleagues and external partners can provide valuable feedback.
  • Templates and tools: Create templates and design tools that make it easy for team members to produce materials that adhere to the guidelines.
Unbound — VPN Service Brand Identity by Shakuro

Mistake #3: Ignoring the target audience

Understanding your audience is the cornerstone of effective strategy. Ignoring this aspect can lead to disastrous outcomes and branding gone wrong. You can fall into this trap due to wrong assumptions, a rush to market, and a lack of understanding of the audience’s pivotal role.

Why this usually happens:

  • Overconfidence: Entrepreneurs sometimes assume they know their audience intimately because they have a vision for their product. However, this is a wrong assumption, and it can lead to the worst branding cases when people are absolutely confused with your product.
  • The rush to market: The never-ending business race makes you look for shortcuts, including minimal audience analysis.
  • Misplaced focus: Perfection is key but its overflow can lure you into a trap: perfecting your products and losing sight of your target audience’s pains. In the end, your product fails to win people’s hearts.

How to avoid:

  • Avoiding this costly branding mistake is paramount for startups looking to establish a solid and lasting brand. Here’s how to steer clear of this pitfall:
  • Embrace audience-centric thinking: Shift your perspective from “What do I want to say about my product?” to “What does my audience need and want to hear?” Put your audience at the center of your concept.
  • Define your ideal client: Devote some time to create detailed customer personas that encompass demographics, psychographics, pain points, aspirations, and behavior. The more you understand your audience, the better you can tailor your branding to resonate with them.
  • Map the customer journey: Understand the different touchpoints your audience encounters during their journey with your brand. Each interaction should align with your audience’s needs and expectations. Together with personas, it will show you a glimpse of the main issues your product should solve.
  • Customer feedback loop: Ongoing feedback from your customers is crucial. Listen to their concerns, suggestions, and criticisms to continually refine your approach.
  • User testing: Test your startup branding materials with users and clients to see their reactions and make necessary adjustments before major changes.
Pebble Brand Identity by Shakuro

Mistake #4: Neglecting brand messaging

It isn’t just about words; it’s about creating stories that resonate with your audience. Falling into this trap, you’re underestimating the power of words, a lack of strategic focus, and an assumption that a great product will speak for itself.

Why this usually happens:

  • Product-centric focus: You are understandably passionate about your offerings. Yet this passion can lead to a heavy emphasis on product features and benefits, overshadowing the importance of building a compelling brand.
  • Lack of strategic plans: In business, figuring everything out as you go along is a crucial mistake. To avoid the mess, you need to spend time and create a message you want to deliver to your audience.
  • Underestimating the impact: Customers are not crystal-gazers and they will not naturally understand your product without the need for refined messaging.

How to avoid:

  • Embrace the power of storytelling: Your brand messaging is the story you tell your audience. It is a powerful tool to connect emotionally with your customers. Try using various templates like the famous Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey aka the Monomyth.
  • Define your value proposition: Clearly articulate what sets your product or service apart. What unique benefits do you offer, and why should your audience care? This should be the foundation of your messaging.
  • Professional copywriting: Consider enlisting the help of experts who specialize in startup branding. They will help you create impactful and cohesive messaging across all your communication channels.
  • Tell customer stories: Showcase real customer success stories and testimonials that embody the values and benefits your product has provided.
Gutsy Brand Identity by Shakuro

Mistake #5: Copying competitors

Imitating your rivals might seem like a shortcut, but it’s a one-way ticket to mediocrity. What works for others might not work for you. Moreover, your clients will often confuse you with opponents.

Why this usually happens:

  • Lack of originality: Be confident in your own ideas and keep developing a unique brand identity. Don’t resort to mimicking what you see working for your competitors.
  • Fear of risk: Branding carries inherent risks, and you often face high-pressure situations. Turning into a copycat can seem like a safe bet because you see a strategy that appears to have worked for others.
  • Short-term focus: Some startups prioritize short-term gains and quick market entry. Instead of investing in the long-term development of their own brand, they opt for imitating established players.
  • Lack of strategic vision: Again, due to the market race, it’s very tempting to skip the planning phase and just copy-paste the competitor’s solution.

How to avoid:

  • Find your unique value proposition: Take time to identify what truly sets your product or service apart. What unique value do you bring to the market?
  • Competitive analysis: Instead of copying your competitors, use them as sources of inspiration. Survey to identify gaps in the market and opportunities for differentiation.
  • Focus on authenticity: Authenticity is key to building trust with your audience. Be genuine in your brand’s messaging and values, and let your unique personality shine through.
  • Long-term plans: Stay committed to your unique brand identity. It won’t bring results right away, so keep working and developing your style.
  • Seek inspiration beyond your industry: Look for captivating ideas outside your immediate competitors. Fresh concepts often come from exploring unrelated fields.

Case studies of branding gone wrong

Colgate: Food Products Victoria’s Secret: Ad Slogan

Colgate, known for dental care, ventured into the food industry with frozen dinners. This move confused consumers and damaged the brand’s reputation. The reason was that the connection between food and teeth should be a natural next step. However, it was a failure.

Colgate beef lasagna

Victoria’s Secret: Ad Slogan

Victoria’s Secret faced backlash for its “The Perfect Body” ad campaign, which was criticized for promoting unrealistic body standards. The company promoted extremely slim supermodels, emphasizing that the “perfect body” was tiny and faultless. These were the bodies that the majority of women could not safely achieve. So people considered this harmful to women’s health and self-esteem.

Burger King: Low-Calorie Foods

The company created a lower-calorie fry to compete with other lower-calorie alternatives. However, the customers didn’t know what the new products were or why they should select them over conventional fries. So what appears to be an attempt to make the business a healthier alternative failed. Most chains discontinued this product less than a year after it was launched.

Twitter: X

The social network was founded in 2006. Since then, it has become extremely popular among celebrities, artists, singers, and just common folk who want to express their opinions in a short manner. However, once Elon Musk got Twitter and decided to change it, the brand went down the drain. Suddenly, there is no connection between the name, the logo, and the message. The platform has the X icon, but everyone still calls it Twitter and the messages — tweets. As a result, the rebranding — or the attempt, at least — has failed, and stopped somewhere in the middle.

Creating a memorable brand

In wrapping up this journey through branding pitfalls and solutions, let’s recap the key takeaways.

Effective branding isn’t just a choice; it’s a necessity for startups and product owners. Avoiding common mistakes is crucial for ensuring your company’s success. By conducting thorough market research, maintaining consistency, and connecting with your audience, you can steer your efforts toward long-term success.

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