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Eleven Big Brand Mistakes Companies Regularly Make

Eleven Big Brand Mistakes Companies Regularly Make

Whether or not you realize it, brand is tremendously important to every aspect of your business. A well-crafted and well-executed brand strategy can cut through the noise of a million messages, articulate your promise to the customer, set you apart from the competition, scale your business, and establish yourself as a leader in the space.

Problem is, most leaders underestimate and neglect their brand. Even those who think they know brand inside and out often have big misconceptions or serious flaws in their strategy—and in this case, what they don’t know can hurt them.  

Misunderstanding brand leads to costly mistakes. Only by recognizing common missteps and avoiding them can you fully realize the power of a strong brand and put your business ahead of the competition.

Brand should be a company’s North Star. It should guide every decision you make. Forging an ironclad brand lets you occupy the single best position in the hearts and minds of your customers. When you pinpoint this optimal position, you’ll be able to create value, maximize scale, and lead with purpose.

On the other hand, a poorly crafted and executed brand position can seriously cost you. Read on for a list of mistakes that too many companies regularly make:

MISTAKE #1: You don’t claim your brand position at all. Instead you let the market do it for you. Position happens whether or not you are driving it. If you allow yourself to be positioned by the market, it most likely will not be your optimal brand position for growth. So, the number-one mistake is to underestimate the importance of brand positioning by not intentionally claiming your brand position at all.

Don’t be an accidental brand. It’s too important. A business’s brand can either unleash your competitive advantage or thwart it.

MISTAKE #2: You delay on brand strategy. Ironclad brand strategy is not just for established businesses with traction. It is also for start-ups. The sooner you have a brand strategy, the sooner you’ll have both your North Star and your rudder. Know your purpose now—you can always revisit it later as your product gains market fit and momentum. As with any business, you will refine your direction as you learn more about your customer, the competitive space, and your own strengths as a business.

MISTAKE #3: You focus on the category benefit of your product. Assuming you do participate in careful brand positioning, the most common business pitfall is choosing a positioning idea that is not ownable and differentiated. Many businesses pin their brands on a category benefit or “table stakes”: a benefit that is not only not unique to the market, but is a must-have for anyone in the space.

If you sell a pancake mix (and your brand isn’t dominant), it’s vital to avoid relying on table stakes like “comfort food on Sunday mornings.” Instead, you have to focus on something that only you bring to the pancake experience. Identify the things you are particularly good at (maybe your mix is healthier than the others, or you deliver a traditional Swedish-style pancake). Then isolate which of these are unique in the market. Finally, determine which of these resonates with your target audience.

MISTAKE #4: You don’t recognize the vastness of brand. Lots of people misunderstand brand because a lot of different components and tactics make up brand. It includes things like logos, advertising, TV and social media, the product itself, customer experience, tagline, SEO, font, your business’s personality, and even the color of your employees’ uniforms. But none of these are, by themselves, brand. Brand is the interconnected web of what your business means and how you deliver that meaning, all made possible by your special position in your customer’s universe. 

To conflate brand with one of its many manifestations is to miss its power.

MISTAKE #5: You don’t choose a focus. Brand strategy includes choosing what you are NOT going to focus on (even though it is scary). By choosing what falls inside your brand purpose, you are also choosing what falls out of it. Focus is how you win. You must muster the courage and effort to undertake this heavy-lifting strategic work.

Choose to stand for something—one thing. In choosing your “yes,” you necessarily choose many “noes.” Shining the light on one thing darkens what lies outside that beam.

MISTAKE #6: You fail to get the customer’s attention. A customer can engage with your business only when she knows it exists. That means you must make it easy for them to notice you. The solution isn’t to shout loudly (and most lack the marketing budget to shout loudly enough). The solution instead is to speak with bracing clarity, which most businesses fail to do. Be crystal clear about what your business is and why that matters to customers.

A storefront near my office failed to get my attention. Its windows featured women clad in fleece tunics, and the signage was vague and New Age-y with an obscure tagline. I assumed that this business sold crystals and incense, so I was surprised to learn it was a Pilates studio. I practice Pilates and am in the middle of this business’s target customer profile. But this Pilates studio failed to make their business easy for me to see, so I did not see it. I did not become a customer because they did not make it easy for me to do so.

MISTAKE #7: You forget to consider the customer’s frame of reference. A frame of reference is that thing your customer would be using if your product or service didn’t exist. It’s what they would buy instead of your offering. Businesses tend to think about their frame of reference from the business’s perspective, instead of from the customer’s perspective. This is a huge missed opportunity.

It’s easy to know your most persistent direct competitors. But remember that your target is evaluating your offering in the context of other competitive options—both direct competitors and more elusive ‘substitutes.’ Therefore, it’s important to consider your brand positioning with respect to all other options your customer might choose, including direct competitors, indirect competitors, and options completely outside of your space. 

When it came out in 1975, Atari sold zero units at a toy industry trade show because it was priced at $79, an astronomical price point for the frame of reference of “toys.” It wasn’t until they contacted Sears, which sold a very successful home pinball machine for $200, that they sold 175,000 units by the end of the year. By distributing their console as a home sporting good, they were in a useful context for the customer—and they had a compelling price point.

MISTAKE #8: Your brand doesn’t have “teeth.” Your brand strategy must be demonstrably true. It must have the power to make people believe it, trust it, and follow it because it offers compelling proof that it will live up to its promise—in other words, it has teeth. Those teeth can be an attribute, a feature, a fact, a guarantee, an ingredient—any special thing the brand offers and follows through with that provides its promise. The less debatable, the better.

Look at Zappos, a brand that represents best-in-class customer service. That is no squishy promise, because specifics back it up. For example, Zappos displays its phone number on every page of its website. And when you call it, a live person answers and seems genuinely glad you called. The Zappos promise of customer service has teeth.

MISTAKE #9: You fail to narrow down your target customer. Your target customers are the people you want to attract more of. They are the people you are most able to delight because of your distinctive strengths. Most businesses characterize them in a superficial way and end up describing little of their inner world. Instead, characterize your target customer as a subtle and empathetic picture of how they view themselves. Remember that identifying your target customer does not eliminate your larger addressable market!

Picture your customers as sprinkled across a dartboard. The full dartboard is your addressable market. You sell to the whole dartboard. The bull’s-eye is your target, the customers you must aim to please the most. The target customers in the middle will ideally influence the customers on the outer circles of the dartboard.

MISTAKE #10: You wind up too low or too high on the benefit ladder. A benefit ladder spells out the layers of your benefits from product features and specifications at the bottom, to functional benefits in the middle, to emotional benefits at the top. Savvy leaders choose to shine the spotlight on the rung of the ladder that is as high as their customer currently permits them to go, but no higher. The higher the better, until it is too high. The common errors here are choosing emphasis on the ladder that is either too low (features and product attributes) or too high (the intangible, ethereal benefits).

If you are too low on the ladder, features will not create high enough value for your customer that she will be moved to buy and pay meaningfully for your offering. When your focus is too high on the ladder, you are not providing accessible scaffolding for the customer to believe your promise. The linchpin of a ladder is its middle. The middle is low enough to be accessible to the customer—sharp-edged, believable, rationally easy-to-grasp. Focusing on the ladder’s middle enables you to deliver substantial value, gain a sizeable and defensible position, and appeal to emotions.

MISTAKE #11: You try to reach all customers with one-size-fits-all messaging. There are five stages of a customer’s journey with your brand: Unaware, Aware, Consider, Purchase, and Loyal. Your goal should be to craft a messaging hierarchy for customers at every stage of the journey. Unfortunately, many people are tempted to develop a sentence or paragraph so great that it will serve all your purposes—all stages of the journey. Resist the temptation. There is no one magic message that will advance all customers at all journey stages.

Further, it’s a mistake to conflate stages of the journey, either coming on too strong too soon (conflating the Aware or Consider stage with the Purchase stage) or bragging about your product features to someone not yet liking the promise (conflating the Consider or Purchase stage with the Loyal stage). Take your fences one at a time.

It’s never too late to brush up on brand and start making better choices for your business. Don’t let past mistakes derail your future success. Even if you recognize yourself or your product or service in every common mistake, you can still turn things around by making changes that will help you thrive starting today.

About the Author:

Lindsay Pedersen is the author of Forging an Ironclad Brand: A Leader’s Guide. She is a brand strategist, board advisor, coach, speaker, and teacher known for her scientific, growth-oriented approach to brand building. She developed the Ironclad Method for value-creating brands while working with billion-dollar businesses like Starbucks, Clorox, Zulily, T-Mobile, and IMDb, as well as many burgeoning start-ups. Lindsay lives in Seattle with her husband and two children.

For more information, please visit www.ironcladbrandstrategy.com.

About the Book:

Forging an Ironclad Brand: A Leader’s Guide (Lioncrest Publishing, April 2019, ISBN: 978-1-544-51386-7, $27.99) is available at bookstores nationwide and from major online booksellers.

business

4 Tips For Steering Your Business Through Tough Times

Good times come with this certainty: They never last.

For businesses, that means formidable challenges (a weak economy, new competition, a sea change in the marketplace) are always just around the corner, and unprepared business leaders face the potential for disaster.

“You don’t have the luxury of resting on your laurels,” says Alyssa Rapp (www.alyssarapp.com), CEO of Surgical Solutions and author of Leadership & Life Hacks: Insights from a Mom, Wife, Entrepreneur & Executive.

“You have to keep battling, innovating, out-innovating, and outworking your competition.”

She knows something about that. From 2005 to 2015, Rapp served as the founder and CEO of Bottlenotes Inc., charting a course for the company through the turbulent years of the Great Recession. During her time at Bottlenotes, Rapp was named one of Inc. Magazine’s “30 Under 30” coolest entrepreneurs in the U.S. Starting in 2015, she served as the managing partner at AJR Ventures, which advised privately-held companies and private equity firms on their digital-marketing strategies.

Rapp offers four tips for helping business leaders meet the toughest of times with a resolute attitude:

Acknowledge fear, and move through it. Fear gets a bad rap, but it’s there for a reason: to protect you from something. “Just like standing on a balance beam is scary because your life or limbs are at risk, so, too, is making business decisions that carry huge risks,” says Rapp, a former competitive gymnast who knows something about balance beams. Your job is to acknowledge the fear – to take note of its presence – and then push through it. “Fear is a normal human response,” she says. “The trick is in not letting it dominate your psyche.”

Commit to finishing what you start. You have to commit before you even begin. “If you start anything knowing you probably won’t succeed, then you won’t,” Rapp says. “You’re setting yourself up for failure. You must show up with full commitment, having faith, true grit, and belief in yourself.”

Know that all great ideas start with ‘what if.’ Never be afraid to ask what if, over and over, until you find a solution, Rapp says. She points out that most of the best entrepreneurial innovation in the United States over the past 20 years has been born out of Silicon Valley, precisely because of the constant willingness to ask and re-ask this simple question. “Some people’s responses to challenges or obstacles are to stop asking questions,” Rapp says. “If you want to solve a problem, you have to open yourself up to the possibility that change is inevitable, and reframing the problem will present an otherwise undiscovered solution.”

Remember that you have to be present to win. You can’t win a race if you’re not competing. “So before you do anything else – before you commit to finishing what you start, before you acknowledge your fear and move through it – you have to show up,” Rapp says. “Remember that saying that 80 percent of success is showing up? There’s truth to that because showing up matters.”

It’s inevitable that, regardless of how well you think you’ve planned, life will throw you curveballs, Rapp says.

“They will come at you in every area, every industry, every walk of life,” she says. “I’ve faced them as a mom, wife, entrepreneur, executive, friend – you name it. But I don’t run from them. I’ve learned to apply my brother’s advice: ‘The only way out is through.’ The truth is, I love curveballs because each one comes with a question: What are you going to do about it?”

_______________________________________________________

Alyssa Rapp (www.alyssarapp.com), author of Leadership & Life Hacks: Insights from a Mom, Wife, Entrepreneur & Executive, has been CEO of Surgical Solutions since 2018. Previously, from 2015 to 2017, she advised startups and private equity-backed companies through AJR Ventures. Prior to that, Rapp ran an e-commerce business called Bottlenotes. She has been named one of Crain’s Chicago’s “Notable Women in Health Care.” Rapp also teaches at Stanford Business School and has recently been named Adjunct Professor of Entrepreneurship at the University of Chicago’s Booth Business School.

5 Reasons Businesses Should Bare Their Souls To Customers

We live in the information age — aptly named because we have unprecedented access to information through many platforms. Researchers estimate that between television, radio, the internet, email and social media, the average person receives the equivalent of 174 newspapers worth of data every day. That means consumers have a lot to sort through and choose from when shopping for virtually any type of product. And studies show they demand more transparency from companies to help them make an informed decision. 

“This is especially critical in digital marketing,” says Jonathan Musgrave, owner and chief digital marketer for Steep Digital Marketing (www.steepdigital.com). “With information so abundant and readily available, companies are becoming increasingly transparent in an effort to engage the potential customer. They’re inviting potential customers into their world rather than talking at them.” Musgrave offers five ways that being transparent in digital marketing can win over customers:

Builds trust. “You deserve more than someone playing games with you and withholding information,” Musgrave says, whose digital marketing agency specializes in seminar advertising, lead generation and marketing automation for financial advisors. “The consumer expects and is entitled to know exactly what they’re signing up for. The financial advisors my firm works with, for example, tell us that they build such good rapport with their seminar attendees before the event occurs because of the way they’re featured on the event landing page. There’s a lot of ‘gotcha marketing’ going on in the world today, and no one likes to feel like they got fooled.”

Develops loyalty. Surveys show that the vast majority of consumers will be loyal to a brand that practices transparency. “Brands now have the enhanced opportunity to show their personalities and values due to the internet and social media,” Musgrave says. “So consumers expect to know more about companies than ever before. And if you give them transparency, they’re willing to pay extra for it.”

Shows authenticity. “To do digital marketing right,” Musgrave says, “companies need to take a deep dive into who they are, where they’ve been — warts and all — and show a vulnerability that potential customers can relate to. People can see themselves in what you truthfully present. The whole objective is to create a human interaction, and being authentic in this way is one of the most powerful things you can do.”

Pairs a great offer with great value. “Regardless of what you’re selling, there is some ulterior factor we’re using as an advertising carrot,” Musgrave says. “An example would be a time-share presentation; get a free cruise if you sit down and listen to them talk about some product they’re trying to sell you. But the carrot blinds you from the actual intent of the event. In order to be transparent and build good trust, the offer has to be paired with value.”

Increases efficiency. “Becoming more transparent through digital marketing can greatly improve a business’ efficiency by spending less time talking around product limitations and sidestepping customers’ concerns,” Musgrave says. “By not embellishing your results, you save time for more productive work.”

“Giving consumers access to all the information they need to know without masking your intentions is a proven way to build better relationships through digital marketing,” Musgrave says. 

Jonathan Musgrave is the owner and chief digital marketer for Steep Digital Marketing (www.steepdigital.com), which he founded in 2017. Musgrave got his start in the direct mail business, using his communication skills to craft powerful marketing messages that reached more than 1,000,000 households each month. He’s started his own wholesaling company that brought digital marketing tools to the financial advisor space for the first time in 2013 that were responsible for doubling sales for three consecutive years.