3 Embarrassing Branding Mistakes

by | Jun 7, 2016

Mistakes in branding can devastate your business. This is a fact that may seem ridiculous to the general public. If you ask your average person, a brand is merely a specific version of something. It’s the type of laundry detergent they buy, the soda they drink, the phone in their pocket. To a consumer, it can appear that there is no point to them outside of their intended purpose.

But you know branding is more than that. It’s the reason that person always buys the same laundry detergent, what makes them cringe when they hear “Is Pepsi okay?”, and why they and thousands of others will camp out overnight to buy a new phone each year.

Brand Marketing Advertising Identity Business Trademark Concept

Branding has a long history starting all the way back in the day when people first began marking their property with a physical brand — like cattle. It has since evolved to represent something so much more. What started out as a mark of ownership became a seal of quality, a way to relay a concept, and an embodiment of values. A member of your team can now represent your brand — sometimes even more than your product.

Building your brand is an essential step in marketing your company. Even if you think you have your brand mastered, it’s surprisingly easy to overlook something along the way. Unfortunately, when broadcasting yourself to the world, seemingly simple mistakes can be embarrassing, with consequences that damage your reputation and your relationship with customers.

Here are three embarrassing branding mistakes you might be making and what can happen when you make them:

#1 Believing Your Brand is Only Colors and a Logo

First, do not misinterpret this section to mean your company’s logo and color scheme are unimportant. They’re extremely important. Colors and logos are signals you use to get an audience to think of your company and brand. Picture McDonald’s golden arches or Coca-Cola’s iconic red.

Excuse me for a moment. I’m suddenly hungry for a burger and a refreshing soft drink to wash it down.

But the brand that’s reigned supreme at the top of Interbrand’s global rankings for the last three years and was ranked the number one brand in 2015 — the brand that’s taken a piece of fruit and made it globally synonymous with a product — is Apple, the most successful brand in the world. There are very few people on the planet who would not recognize the Apple logo. But a piece of fruit with a bite taken out of it is not what has Apple set to become the world’s first trillion dollar company.

HONG KONG - FEBRUARY 13,2015: crowded Apple store in Hong Kong. Apple's flagship stores in China are packed with people who often line up to grab on one of the company's latest gadgets

When presenting Apple’s vision statement, CEO Tim Cook emphasized Apple’s dedication to “constantly focusing on innovating” and “believing in the simple, not the complex.” These are aspect of the Apple brand.

Consumers favoring Apple products appreciate the fact that they are easy to use, they will always be on the cutting edge of technology, and as the technologies and services change, they can rely on Apple to make the transition smooth.  Apple customers possess these beliefs because Apple has spent years embodying their brand in every sense.

This is why the Apple Music app created such a stir. The success of sites like Spotify pushed Apple to broaden their horizons and introduce a music streaming app of their own. To encourage use of the new service, Apple offered the first three months of Apple Music for free. Controversy arose quickly when it was revealed that, during this free three-month trial period, artists with media on Apple Music would not receive any royalties.

Numerous artists, including Taylor Swift, Radiohead, and Adele, refused to allow their works to be included in Apple Music’s library as a result.. Taylor Swift went so far as to write an open letter to Apple in June 2015, explaining her stance on the matter.

“I find it to be shocking, disappointing, and completely unlike this historically progressive and generous company,” stated the superstar. “Three months is a long time to go unpaid, and it is unfair to ask anyone to work for nothing.”

Brands are perception. They’re how you want your customers to think and feel about your company. The controversy over Apple Music threatened to associate the brand with negative feelings of greed and unfair practices. And with many popular artists refusing to sign with the app, Apple’s reputation of being convenient was also in jeopardy.

In response to the backlash, Apple apologized. They assured consumers that the three-month trial period would remain free to fans and artist royalties would be paid. This reinstated Apple’s position in the eyes of consumers and went far to repair their relationship with artists. Taylor Swift herself starred in an ad for Apple Music this past April.

No amount of matching color schemes will save a company that promotes stability in one commercial and then boasts about their spontaneity in another. When determining your brand, take a page from Steve Jobs and ask yourself, “What are we here to do?”

At Newsletter Pro, we’re here to “Build relationships that matter. Personal. Professional. Powerful.” From our exchanges with our coworkers to the connections we have with each of our clients, we strive to create lasting, valuable, and powerful relationships that meet the needs of everyone involved.

#2 Inconsistent Branding

Let’s talk about Coca-Cola again. If you tried, could you accurately picture the Coke logo? Probably. It hasn’t changed much since 1887 — save for a brief period in 1890 lasting only one year. I’ll bet you can also spot that exact shade of red in a crowd. It’s a trademarked color, by the way: Pantone 484.

Coca-Cola is an example of the importance of brand consistency, and it doesn’t just stop at their Spencerian Script font. If you’re watching a commercial, it takes only a few seconds to recognize when it’s advertising Coca-Cola. Even before a single soda bottle comes on screen, Coke’s use of everyday scenes, recurring elements of red, and the focus on storytelling in their marketing campaigns makes every Coke commercial feel as familiar as their trademarked red.

IRVINE CA - January 29 2014: An 8 ounce bottle of Coca-Cola Classic. Coca-Cola is the one of the worlds favorite carbonated beverages.

But at one point, Coke almost sabotaged all their hard work in building this brand consistency. Pepsi, Coca-Cola’s arch nemesis biggest rival, introduced the “Pepsi Challenge” in 1975 as part of their marketing strategy. Consumers would perform a blind taste test to see if they if they preferred Pepsi or Coke. Over the next decade, millions of customers revealed they preferred the sweeter taste of Pepsi.

Seeking to defend their position as top beverage producer, Coca-Cola began developing a new formula to beat Pepsi in the game of taste. Their creation, which continues to haunt the pages of brand history, was christened New Coke. After over 20,000 taste tests — which produced results showing customers actually preferred the taste of New Coke over both Pepsi and the original formula — Coca-Cola canceled production of their original Coca-Cola and announced New Coke would take its place.

Public outrage followed in no short supply. People were devastated about the change and that they could no longer buy the original formula. It didn’t matter that New Coke was an objectively better product than its predecessor; sales were painfully low, and people wanted their favorite drink back.

In July 1985, less than three months after the initial release of New Coke, that’s what they got.  Coca-Cola announced the return of the original formula under the banner “Classic Coke” and let New Coke fade away like a terrible nightmare.

With New Coke, Coca-Cola committed a mistake so egregious that, over 30 years later, it is still widely regarded as one of the worst branding mistakes ever. The majority of this backlash came because, in a sense, Coke betrayed their customers.

When a customer recognizes a brand, they feel a sense of trust for that company. For Coca-Cola fans, this recognition came from Coke’s tradition of being “the real thing.” By bringing in something new, Coke jeopardized the entire consistency and recognition of their brand.

Recognizable brands are viewed as being dependable. Being consistent is the key to being recognizable. As Coke discovered, the actual quality of a product can sometimes take a back seat to consistency.

There are a lot of opportunities to succeed — or fail — at getting customers to recognize you — TV ads, radio spots, websites, print promotions, newsletters. If you viewed all your ads in a line up, could customers tell they are from the same company?

At Newsletter Pro, our pro designers spend an extensive amount of time studying the visual cues associated with a client’s brand. They make note of color palettes, logo design, and other imagery in a client’s existing marketing. Then they use these elements to bring a newsletter to life, blending seamlessly with a client’s brand.

#3 Breaking Your “Brand Contract”

By presenting your brand to customers, you are instilling them with a set of expectations. Products that claim to be user-friendly shouldn’t come with a 10-page user’s manual. Companies that insist they treat people like family don’t leave their customers on hold for two hours. Reliable appliances don’t break after their second use.

When a customer gets a newsletter from their family dentist, they should know what to expect every time: a cover article with a personal story from the dentist, an article inside about fun activities to do with the whole family,  some client testimonials, a healthy recipe, and a few kid friendly memes. Expectation promotes an important sense of dependability. This is your brand contract.

DARTMOUTH CANADA - MAY 21 2015: Staples is an office supply retail outlet with over 2000 stores in 26 countries.

Staples is an excellent example of the lengths you should go to meet the expectations you’ve made for your customers. To keep up with competitors, Staples reinvented their brand in 2003, promoting the idea that buying office supplies with them was easy. But this rebranding didn’t stop with a new slogan — “That was easy.” — or a popular red button.

Shira Goodman, CMO of Staples, began visiting stores to determine how Staples could get ahead of the competition. She found that the best-selling, high-demand products were all being kept at the back of the store.

To be fair, this is standard operating for retail stores, like when you run into the gas station to grab a drink while you’re filling up the tank. Why are the refrigerators in the back of the store? It increases the chance that you’ll grab a bag of chips or a candy bar, too.

This layout is not easy. Realizing it clashed with Staples’ new brand, Goodman proceeded to have more popular products moved to the front of the store. While this may have sacrificed some profit in add-on purchases, Staples successfully cemented themselves as the “easy” office supply store. They embodied their brand and earned their customers loyalty as a result.

You have to guarantee that every element of a customer’s experience with your company lines up with your branding goals.

The brand contract envelops the entire customer experience. If some part of the experience doesn’t line up with what your brand claims, you are essentially breaking that contract. And any breach of contract can be very harmful to your relationship with customers.

These are some of the worst branding mistakes companies can make when trying to build and promote their brand. As you can see, even the biggest businesses can trip up. The important thing is to learn from your mistakes. Or, even better, learn from the mistakes of others.

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1 Comment

  1. Bryce

    Fantastic post, and very informative. I wonder why the other specialists in this sector don’t realize this. You must proceed with your writing. I’m confident that you have a huge reader base already!


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