What Does Your Brand Say? How Branding Can Make Or Break Your Business

Business.com / Branding / Last Modified: February 22, 2017

Your brand tells the story of your product or service you provide, and the people providing it. What does your brand say about you?

With all the emphasis on brand marketing, companies are under a great deal of pressure to get it right.

Businesses are advised by experts to create a brand profile, treat it like a religious document, and absolutely never deviate from it. The Internet is full of articles advising companies on the various mistakes they can make while creating their overall brand.

Your brand is a crucial part of your marketing, and can absolutely make or break your business. Especially in the startup phase, getting your branding wrong can result in not finding your niche, losing your customers, and your business not really getting off the ground.

Even big companies get it wrong sometimes, but they generally have the resources to recover, at least until the Internet has moved on to the next scandal. Small businesses may not have that luxury.

Let's look at some of the pitfalls that small businesses need to avoid when creating their brand.

Related Article: 6 Lessons in Corporate Ethics from the GM Recall

Great Intentions, Horrible Execution

Every December, along with the suggestions for Christmas cocktails and cookie arrangements, various online media outlets put together lists of the worst mistakes brands made on social media (Twitter, in particular) over the course of that year.

If you look through the foibles of other companies, you see a few common threads.

Example: companies that try to jump in on a trend without understanding what they are doing. This is particularly egregious whenever a company tries to jump into a hashtag. Example: Entenmann’s use of the #notguilty tag. Unless you are a veteran Twitter user, stay away from trending hashtags. Tweet to your followers, and tweet something engaging enough that you get retweeted and favorited, so that more people see your tweets.

Humor is not universal. Just because it makes some people laugh doesn't mean it's going to play universally. Be incredibly cautious when posting a joke. It can backfire incredibly quickly, like when Kenneth Cole tried to use the Arab Spring to push his new clothing line. Sincere and supportive will always play more universally than humor.  

Companies that create their own hashtags can backfire, too. In 2011, Quantas Airlines created #QuantasLuxury, and invited customers to share stories of their luxurious experiences on the airline. Unfortunately, this happened the day after the airline broke off union contract negotiations and stranded passengers all over Australia. Angry customers filled the hashtag with harsh and angry comments about the company. Instead of starting a hashtag, look for positive comments from your customers, and use the retweet feature to thank them and gain exposure at the same time.

Think Globally

For better or worse, we live in a globally connected economy. More so now than at any time in the past, customers interact with companies that operate all around the world, in a wide variety of languages.

Businesses that want to reach audiences in different countries often find that they need to translate their slogans and marketing materials into languages other than English, so as to be available and approachable to all customers.

Which is fine, but all too often, translation gets it wrong.

  • Yes, there are plenty of Internet tools where you can type in an English word and get a translation in pretty much any language. These are fine for composing an email to a friend, but absolutely not acceptable for business materials, especially if you're translating more than a single word. You need a native speaker to translate your materials, period, end of story. Don't end up like Pepsi, or one of the many other companies that have seen sales tank because of a translation error.
  • You also need to understand the context of what you're writing. For example, Gerber once marketed its baby food in Africa, complete with the cute picture of a baby on the label. That would have been a great decision, except that in Africa, many boxes and jars contain a picture of the food inside of them, since many people can't read.

If you want your product to be available globally, and you want the benefits of approaching people in their own language, take the time and do it right. To do less is insulting to the customer, and reflects poorly on you as a business—which, of course, damages your brand. Sometimes getting more done is just matter of implementing simple and low-cost strategies.

Related Article: When Social Media Attention Goes Wrong

Stay In Touch With Your Audience

If your product is marketed to young mothers, and everyone making marketing decisions is an older person with no children, it's unlikely you'll find a fruitful connection with the audience that you want. This isn't to say that only someone who is already in a group can market to that group, but that if you want to sell a product, it's going to work better if you have someone at the helm who loves it for what it is.

This is why clothing retail stores hire employees who actually wear their clothes.

  • Offer lots of opportunities to hear from your customers. Be responsive in the channels they use, and take their feedback to heart.
  • Diversify your team. This isn't just about meeting some quota, it's about having a broad spectrum of valuable experiences at the table so that you offer the best possible product to the widest possible audience.
  • If your customers are unhappy, find out why

Getting your brand right can be the difference between your business lingering in obscurity and finding real success. Take the time to make your company great.

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