Keeping your brand on the straight and narrow will be easier if you can avoid the following situations. None will totally kill a brand, yet any one will weaken its effectiveness.
• Reducing your brand name to initials — I call this monogram branding and it’s the surest way to drop into the oblivion of alphabet soup brands. “Everyone calls us that, anyway,” you say. Not your next new customer who will remember you far better if it’s a distinctive name. Look at this way, you wouldn’t introduce yourself to anyone using just your initials. Why do that with your brand? If your name is too long, shorten it. Just don’t turn it into a three-letter code.
• Copying your competition — “We’re just as good as the leading brand,” has never been a successful brand strategy. The world doesn’t need a duplicate of an existing brand. It’s looking for something different and better. I’m not talking about product or service features. You certainly have to keep up with those. But using similar messaging or product naming, or even mimicking a leading brand’s color scheme are errors that will dilute your brand and set you back.
• Trying to be all things to all people — Brands seeking growth may be tempted to reach beyond their core promise to gain some incremental revenue. Still, you won’t see Rolex offering $75 watches to compete with Timex. BMW is a brand that is focused on performance. It just so happens that many BMWs offer superior gas mileage as well. However, you won’t see them focusing on that message because it doesn’t jive with the image of a performance-based brand.
• Leading with how old you are — Ask yourself this: Have you ever bought a product (a car, carpeting, cereal, for example) based on how old the brand is? No. Because you don’t care. Would you buy a Honda because it’s older than Toyota? No. (They’re the same age) So please resist the temptation to lead with “Since 1934…” or “…with over eight decades experience…” It’s simple. No one cares. What they care about is what’s new. Talk about that.
• Making promises you can’t deliver — Let’s say you’re in the food business and you want to build a brand around eating healthy. Yet your products are high in sodium, fat calories and/or sugar. Sooner or later (these days probably sooner) your customers are going to figure out that your products are not that healthy after all. On the other hand, if you position the brand as indulgent, you just might succeed. (Hello, Cinnabon.)
• Speaking in clichés — Lines like “We provide solutions” are generic. Every brand is a solution to something. “Our people make the difference” is another tired phrase that is virtually impossible to prove. Develop messages that set you apart, not ones that sound like everyone else.
• Faking authenticity — This is less about the brand promise and more about the brand story or heritage. If you concoct a good story that isn’t really true, you’ll probably get busted. Claiming locally sourced ingredients got Chipotle into trouble since only a portion of their produce comes from local sources. They have had similar questions raised about their claims of sustainability. Building a brand around a noble goal is fine, but make it real or get ready to play defense instead of offense.