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6 ways your branding can make or break you

2018-05-25

By: Sage Singleton

When you hear the term "Coca-Cola," a few images probably come to mind: a cartoon polar bear, a group of people singing about unity, or maybe a jolly Santa Claus. Whatever the imagery, Coca-Cola has a way of getting things to stick—thanks to effective branding.

Related: What is corporate branding, and are you ignoring it?

Good branding leaves a positive and lasting imprint in the customer's mind. It distinguishes your company from the crowd and keeps people coming back for more. On the flip side, ineffective branding leaves a bad taste in consumers' mouths or, worse, makes them forget your brand entirely.

Here are 6 issues to watch out for when creating or redefining your brand—and how to fix them.

1. Insensitivity

Insensitivity in branding is a major issue. Companies make headlines all the time for creating well-meaning ads that turn into PR nightmares. Take the Kendall Jenner Pepsi commercial debacle of 2017. Rather than striking a chord of solidarity, it left viewers either laughing at the poor execution or feeling angry at the commodification of the Black Lives Matter movement.

Another prime example of insensitivity is the Filet-o-Fish ad from McDonald's in the U.K. The spot featured a boy asking his mom about his deceased father, only to find out the one thing they had in common was their affinity for McDonald's. Using such a grave subject to sell fish sandwiches felt emotionally manipulative to many consumers, and the company took down the ad shortly after the backlash.

The fix: Before delving into any controversial or sensitive topics, consider how your brand fits into the issue. An honest attempt at sparking emotion in viewers can quickly turn into exploitation. Learn where to draw the line.

2. Refusing to adapt

One of the most visible examples of a brand refusing to adapt to change is Blockbuster. In 2000, Netflix's founder approached Blockbuster offering to sell his relatively small company that rented movies online through a mail subscription service. As the popular movie store was making most of its revenue through late fees, Blockbuster turned Netflix down, unable to see the potential.

Today, Netflix continues to be a model for adapting to change as it has transitioned from mail-order DVDs to streaming, and the brand now produces hundreds of original shows and movies. Meanwhile, Blockbuster is survived by just a handful of stores in Alaska.

The fix: Listen to your consumer base. When they push for greater convenience or more options, adjust your strategy to give them what they're asking for. If you don't, another brand surely will. [Tweet this ]

3. Selling the "what" instead of the "why"

A common mistake in branding is selling your company's features rather than a big idea. As Simon Sinek says, "People don't buy what you do; people buy why you do it."

Sinek references TiVo as an example of a company that led with its features—being able to pause and rewind live TV—and failed to really capture its users' attention.

On the other hand, Apple is one of the most successful brands because the company sold a big idea by telling the world to "think different" about computers. It sold a mindset and lifestyle instead of some technical specifications.

The fix: Find something you believe in, focus on that value, and build your brand around it. Coke sells happiness in a bottle. Nike sells motivation. Rather than focusing on dry, explanatory messaging, your brand should have a nearly tangible energy.

4. Clunky online design

A brand with clunky design is a brand that will go unnoticed. You could have an amazing product, great messaging and outstanding customer service, but without a visually appealing presentation, people may never pay attention.

Some larger companies that gained popularity before the internet still get away with bad design, but any brand created after the mid-2000s should know better. A modern, user-friendly design will build your brand's credibility and bolster its overall appeal.

The fix: You don't get a second change at a first impression, so if your brand's design or website needs a facelift, make it a priority. There are plenty of business resources out there to help direct your efforts, as well as tools like Lucidpress that can make visual design easy and effective.

5. Poor customer service

Whether you realize it or not, poor customer service can be a huge detriment to your brand. People are more likely to talk about their experience with a product if the experience was negative, which is why the customer experience should be your brand's No. 1 priority.

United Airlines had a rocky time for customer service last year, for instance, as a video of a passenger being dragged off a flight went viral in April 2017. Adding insult to injury, the CEO's delayed response felt cold and unapologetic. These incidents caused United's stock to drop drastically and skewed the country's perception of this brand altogether.

The fix: Apply the tried-and-true saying: "The customer is always right." You need to meet your users where they are, even if you have to go out of your way to do it. Examples of brands with exceptional customer service include Costco, Marriott and JetBlue. Companies that offer satisfaction guarantees, provide incentives and make up for mishaps build a strong loyal customer base.

6. Misusing (or not using) social media

Neglecting social media is another way to hurt your brand and diminish customer satisfaction.

A lot of social media fails simply stem from good intentions, like when Cinnabon attempted to honor Carrie Fisher with a tacky image or when Crocs tried to tribute David Bowie—both insensitivity issues that were magnified by their wide social media reach.

Other times, brands simply fail to invest enough time and money into social media efforts at all. Keeping up with various social sites shows consumers that you care about them, especially when you're able to reply to questions and complaints promptly.

The fix: Devote actual time and resources to building a social media strategy. If you're looking for a brand to follow, Wendy's is a great example of social media use. With almost 2.5 million followers on Twitter, more than 8.5 million likes on Facebook and over 700,000 followers on Instagram, the brand has a consistent image, posts often and interacts with its fan base. The company's social media team also keeps up with current events and pop culture—a great way to engage with followers.

There are plenty of ways to break your brand, but there are just as many ways to make it. If you find yourself guilty of any of these branding faux pas, there is still hope. Branding can truly determine your company's success, so take the time now to establish or revitalize your brand.

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Sage Singleton

Sage Singleton is a freelance writer with a passion for literature and words. She enjoys writing articles that will inspire, educate and influence readers. She loves that words have the power to create change and make a positive impact in the world. In her free time she loves traveling, reading and learning French.

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