Brand Strategy

ARE TOP LEADERS HURTING THEIR BOTTOM LINE?
7 Ways Leaders Hurt Their Brand

Bart Laube,
Design Director

February 4, 2019

1. GENERIC COPYCATTING

So an idea worked for someone else. Resist the temptation to pile on the bandwagon. Trying to build your brand on someone else’s identity is a formula for being ignored. Instead, ask yourself: What is unique about my brand? What makes my product special? Rather than telling customers you do what your competitor does, but better, point out the ways you do what they can’t, don’t, or won’t do. Using design to highlight differences – rather than point out similarities – is one way to position yourself outside the herd. If you can’t explain what makes you different, prepare to fail.

 

 2. LACK OF INTELLIGENT PLAN

Branding doesn’t succeed on accident. Some companies throw out haphazard ideas without considering their consumers or their market. Sometimes it’s on a whim: “It just feels like time to change the packaging.” Sometimes it’s a personal preference: “I’ve always done a re-design every 24 months.” Sometimes the person in charge just doesn’t understand something that should be obvious. Here’s the thing about an answer that’s right under your nose: You can only see it if you look in a mirror or if someone else points it out. I remember a brand leader who absolutely insisted “Kids don’t like monsters” – all while Pixar was riding Monsters, Inc. to $577 million. His strategy was based on personal preference, not what the market was obviously demanding.

 

3. FOCUSING TOO NARROWLY

In an attempt to appear modern or avant-garde, some companies adopt a design without properly vetting it with enough consumers; instead of connecting with everyone, they connect with a niche. By all means, stay on top of emerging trends and give them a nod when it makes sense, but riding the latest fad should not be the whole basis of your company. You don’t want to focus so narrowly on the moment that you miss the coming wave; that’s how you wind up being Netscape or Blockbuster. Every job interviewer asks applicants “Where do you see yourself in ten years?” Since the market is a perpetual job application, an intelligent company will keep this in the back of their mind and discuss it once a week for 15 minutes.

“Lack of investment in yourself always ends up costing more in the long run. Some companies think “We’ll really invest in our branding after we have enough customers to afford it.” But if the first signs you print, the first trucks you paint, or the first packages you ship look terrible, there’s a good chance they’ll be the only time your first prospects will see your company.”

4. FAILING TO UNIFY AROUND THE BRAND

A properly-functioning brand should excite everyone in the company, from the warehouse guys to the C-suite executives. A company moving in the same direction is unstoppable. Toyota is a great example of a unified brand pointing in the same direction: Their primary strategy is “Create a perfect car.” If anything gets in the way, at any point, any employee has the authority to stop the assembly line and fix the problem. Setting this one simple priority helped Toyota outpace every other car company, giving them the largest share of the global market – and the highest brand value. Now all other car companies are playing catch-up in a game Toyota is already very good at.

 

5. FAILING TO UNDERSTAND THAT TIME AND MONEY ARE INVESTMENTS IN YOURSELF

Lack of investment in yourself always ends up costing more in the long run. Some companies think “We’ll really invest in our branding after we have enough customers to afford it.” But if the first signs you print, the first trucks you paint, or the first packages you ship look terrible, there’s a good chance they’ll be the only time your first prospects will see your company. Lots of companies forget how crucial those first impressions are, which is why there’s a saying in this business: There’s never enough time to do it right, but always enough time to do it twice. And doing it twice doubles the cost. A good decision that takes two weeks is worth a thousand off-the-cuff decisions that bankrupt the company. Thinking is the most important part of this job. So invest in the smartest people, and give them frequent raises. You are paying yourself back every time it creates success.

 

6. UNDERSTANDING THEIR SUCCESS POTENTIAL

What does success mean? How far do you want your business to grow? This is usually dictated by the company owner. How the owner sees the company is what the company will inevitably become – sputtering along in fits and starts, or a fine-tuned machine. Good owners take the time to make each important decision with one eye on scalability. I dealt with one company who created a package design that was perfect for one product – but when they introduced the next product, they realized they never planned ahead and had to redesign everything. This mistake costed them thousands of dollars on top of the initial investment, and they wound up with a hodgepodge of product lines with no way to maintain consistent branding. Lack of visual consistency and brand differentiation led to consumer confusion, making it harder for them to remember what products looked like or find them on store shelves. Entire lines had to be rebuilt from scratch. After sorting this out, the company began to grow at an unprecedented rate, simply because people were finally able to locate products they had been wanting but couldn’t find.

 

7. NOT TRUST PEOPLE

Nobody goes to Jeff Ruby’s for a cheeseburger. The chefs at Jeff Ruby’s have spent their lives learning to craft culinary delights. Ordering a cheeseburger would be a waste of their talent, since you could make a decent cheeseburger on your own. Likewise, talented designers spend their days obsessing over design. They are built to create great things – and they have to, if they want to make their student loan payments! Trust them. You are good at what you do; let them be good at what they do. Sure, you can dictate the font, palette, and style. You can treat them like a design vending machine: insert money, make selection, and walk away with a can that matches the button you pushed. There are many designers who are more than happy to do that for a lot less money. But the good ones won’t submit to be a vending machine; they’ll ask: Why do you even want a poster? Are you sure you need a poster with your full menu? Why not just a “Come In – We’re Open!” sign? Your relationship with customers can be built with input from designers who care deeply about the experience of your users. Or it can be ignored and fall flat, because the creative option was left undone, or untested, or not even considered.

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