Business Insights

Business Insights

Don’t slip up: 5 big brand mistakes all business owners make

“I regard [rebranding] as the most asymmetrical corporate strategy of them all. There is literally no upside...there is only pain if you get it wrong. And inevitably it goes wrong a lot of the time.” So said columnist and marketing professor Mark Ritson in a recent article for Marketing Week.

He was talking about Leeds United Football Club’s decision to launch a new logo to celebrate its centenary, a logo which met with fierce opposition from fans and was rolled back by the club just 24 hours after the announcement. While we disagree with Ritson that a new logo constitutes a rebrand - it’s much, much more than that - the sentiment is correct. Rebrands are a minefield for businesses and business owners.

Between our 80 part time Marketing Director, we’ve seen our fair share of branding and rebranding mishaps, and there are some mistakes that happen time and time again. So what are the issues, and how can you avoid ‘doing a Leeds’?

1. Confusing brand problems with business problems

Why are you considering a rebrand or a brand refresh? What do you want to achieve?

For Leeds United, their reasoning was opaque: “We wanted to say who we are with pride: We are Leeds United.” This wooly reasoning shouldn’t fly in the world of commerce; businesses should align branding work with a direct business outcome. Yet, many become addicted to refreshing their brand, updating their logo, typeface and messaging on a near-annual basis.

This happens for two reasons – both of which should be avoided.

First: itchy finger syndrome. Business owners often get bored with their existing brand, living and working in such close proximity to it. When tempted by the prospect of rebranding, business owners should ask themselves if their customers – who come into contact with the business much less often than they do – benefit from the brand being refreshed? If the answer is no, the owners should hold fire.

Second: brand becoming the scapegoat for wider problems. Reworking brand elements gives the impression that a business is busy working on itself, but if the organisation is affected by issues with ineffective staff, dwindling profits or any other fundamental factor, a rejuvenated brand will offer – at best – a short-term boost. When the impulse is to rebrand, business owners should ask if they’re distracting themselves from deeper issues within their business.

2. Neglecting existing brand equity

Business leaders often think ‘brand’ means ‘logo’. Maybe the website and the tagline, too. Oh, and don’t forget the colour scheme.

What many fail to realise is that the brand is the building, its employees, the management team, the culture. A brand is the products and services, the pricing model and the way a business does business. At its essence, a brand is what makes a company a company.

Great brands eliminate the need to compete on price alone. All things being equal, the company with a stronger brand will win any sale, even if they’re more expensive. Customers will pay a premium to have brand name products. They won’t pay a premium for a company with a nice logo alone. Brand equity - the existing value of the brand - is often ignored and lost when business leaders decide to rebrand.

Brand equity takes time to build, and a rebranding project essentially looks to tear that up and start again. It can, of course, be hugely successful. Our work with Menzies - a leading firm of accountants, finance and business advisors across London and the South East - is testament to that.

But this was a process that took into account the sector and competitor positions, evaluated internal processes and structures, and analysed the way the market was going. The rebrand had a goal - to safeguard against low-cost online accounting solutions eating into their profits - and it worked with existing brand equity to cement Menzies’ position as a market leader.

In simple terms, don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater.

3. Underestimating the size of the job

If you solely see brand as case in visuals, branding or rebranding might appear to be a relatively painless job. Of course, getting the right logo is essential, perhaps you’ll have to sort out the mast heads on the website and, but really, it’s a case of getting in a great graphic designer or agency and doing the work.

When you realise that brand goes far deeper than the superficial, the job becomes, by necessity, a bigger, more time consuming and arduous process. You’re likely talking months not weeks.

Business owners should pause before committing to a full rebrand, and ask themselves whether a brand refresh would do instead. It’s possible and reasonable to only update certain aspects of a brand, provided the business has an effective brand strategy in place.

Brand refresh projects come with their own challenges, though - as Coke found out last month. In updating the packaging for Diet Coke - and only Diet Coke - the company unbalanced the visual identity of their of their range, leading some commentators to ask if the business’ marketing team had lost the plot completely.

4. Not getting team buy-in

Leaders need to manage a rebrand carefully - but the process must necessarily involve the whole team.

An effective brand expresses and influences how individuals within an organisation act as part of it. The brand should affect how they greet customers, write emails and talk on the phone. It should affect which candidates you choose to employ in future.

For this reason, a brand must seep into all areas of the business via an active process of staff training and engagement.

Effective brands are not imposed on a workforce from the business’ C-suite. To an extent, they should grow from how staff choose to act and the values they already hold. Announcing the implementation of a new brand and expecting staff to adopt it without questions or criticism is unrealistic. Moreover, it defeats the point of the exercise. Staff behaviour is the interface between a business and customers - and therefore the key to making the new brand an everyday reality.

5. Crowdsourcing your decision making

While seeking employees’ views on a new brand is essential for keeping them engaged with the process, it’s important to establish boundaries when it comes to making the final decisions.

Branding by committee is the reason many brand projects fail. A crowdsourced decision means one of two things:

  1. The results that follow are brands that try to please everyone and mean nothing to anyone.
  2. A project that stalls to inertia because you can’t please all the decision makers.

While input from the team is important both for inspiration and for buy in, the final decision needs to be that of the business leader, or the management team at most.

A successful launch is the final step in a well-considered brand strategy. And a tight strategy is the key to a successful brand. From the start, business owners must know why they want to rebrand and what they want to achieve in the process. This is the only way to ensure the new brand is worth the time, money and upheaval required to build it.

View case studies from The Marketing Centre

Picture credit: via Flickr

Written by Brian Hardie

Brian Hardie is Regional Director for The Marketing Centre and specialises in working with small and mid-size businesses. He has over 30 years’ experience working with clients in logistics, media, technology and outsourcing.

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