The Top 10 Branding Mistakes Entrepreneurs Make

A big part of starting a business is having a plan then having the discipline to act on it. Being ...

A big part of starting a business is having a plan then having the discipline to act on it. Being part of a startup isn’t always glamorous, and often requires simply submitting yourself to the process.
When you’re growing your own business, every error you make means money out of your pocket. So, why learn the hard way (which is also the expensive way)? Why not learn ahead of time which pitfalls to avoid?

The Top 10 Branding Mistakes Entrepreneurs Make
Below are the Top 10 most costly branding mistakes that I have regularly seen entrepreneurs make.
  1. Getting creative with your company name. Clever names may be fun, but if your target market cannot easily tell who you are and what you stand for, they will simply pass you by. Your customers won’t take the time to figure out your business. So, make it easy for people to “get” what you do! Would you rather spend your marketing dollars explaining the purpose of your business, or let your company name do that for you? Why not spend your limited funds to explain more clearly how you can make a difference in the lives of your customers? A well-named business simply makes your job much easier. Our company name is Brand Development Associates International, and we are a group of associates who develop brands internationally. No one has to guess who we are or what we do. (read: 3 Ways that Entrepreneurs Fail at their Personal Branding)
  1. Forgetting that you are your brand. No matter what you sell – and whether you like it or not – YOU become the masthead for your business. Everything you do represents the brand of your company. I knew a business owner who lost a multi-country contract because he arrived at a morning meeting with alcohol on his breath (he had gone out the night before to celebrate the assumed-signing of the agreement!). His potential partners worried that he might have a drinking problem, and it was enough to break the deal. But you don’t have to do something extreme to undermine your company’s brand. Maintain a character 24/7/365 that is in keeping with your brand, and it will do both you and your company good.
  1. Not confirming that a need for your product or service truly exists. Many entrepreneurs put products on the market like they’re throwing darts. They don’t have the funds for market research, so they just wait to find out what will work and what won’t. What they don’t realize is that they’re spending much more money creating products that won’t sell than they would if they had spent just a little bit on market research. So, get creative!  You don’t have to conduct fancy, expensive market research. If you’re selling a new toy, for example, go to the nearest day care center, and volunteer to have their children play with the toys. If you’re selling a new beverage, invite people on the street who are in your demographic to try out your product, and ask them what they think. Offer a potential new service for free, and see how your target market responds. In other words, find out ahead of time if you have a viable product or service. It will save you a lot of money and time in the long run, and it will keep your brand’s image intact.
  1. Not making tough choices to target your marketing. The bigger your  market, the bigger your business, right? NO. You cannot be everything to everyone. Your brand won’t be able to truly reach your target market unless you can deliver a meaningful point of difference. If you’re targeting all women 18 and older, you will not be able to show that entire age group how your product or service will help them because, let’s face it, an 18-year old has different needs than a 55-year old. So, segment and separate your target markets. Perhaps your offering is appropriate for women ages 22-35 who have children ages 4-10. Find out what will appeal to your specific market, and communicate your product or service with that in mind.
  1. Not being realistic about your competition. Some entrepreneurs make the mistake of believing their company has no competitor. This is never true! Even if there is no product that directly competes with yours, there is always something else on the market that your customers can choose over what you offer. Your target market literally has dozens of alternative choices to what you offer. So, get to know your competition well, and look at it realistically. What will differentiate your product or service from your competitors and fill your market’s needs better? Focus your brand on those differences.
  1. Not being consistent in your communications. If the DNA in your hair were different from the DNA in your fingernails, you’d be a mutant. The same is true for your brand. Power positioning means that you’re consistent across everything you do. If your positioning stands for one thing, but your website or Facebook page or tweets stand for something else, your brand will mutate! Your target market can only get to know your brand if every single touch point is 100% consistent with your brand’s image.
  1. Not choosing the right team members to reflect your brand. Small entrepreneurs often believe they must be “grateful” just to have people work for them. Not true! Just as you represent your brand, so does every single one of your employees. Make sure the people you hire have the same character as the one you want your business to communicate in the marketplace.  Find the best possible people to join your team, and spend a little extra to get them. The effort will pay back ten-fold.
  1. Forgetting that your brand extends to your employees, not just to your customers. Do you treat your staff as well as you treat your customers? If you treat your team poorly, the word gets out, and it damages your brand. On the other hand, if you treat your team very well, the best candidates will want to work for you, and it will become well known that your company is a great place to be employed. Think what that kind of image can do for your brand!
  1. Not making choices about your brand’s offerings/benefits. Just as you cannot target your product to everyone in the marketplace, you must also  choose what your brand will stand for, too. Don’t fall victim to scope creep! Here’s an example: My first week in business, I was very nervous. I had left a highly successful 6-figure job, and I worried about getting enough work. I received two exciting phone calls right away – one from a very large company in the region, asking me to do Human Resources work, and the other from a great connection who wanted me to do some Sales work. The truth is that I could have done both of these engagements, and I loved the idea of landing two great clients in my very first week. But I knew I had to stick to my guns. Branding was my passion – what I stood for. So, I took a deep breath and said “no” to both offers.  Two days later, I received a call from my first branding client, and we’ve been able to successfully maintain that branding focus ever since. (Check out The Do's & Don'ts for Building a Successful Brand)
  1. Not making your business something you love to do. You will be eating, sleeping, and breathing your business for a long, long time. If you don’t absolutely love it, you will burn out quickly. So, don’t choose to do something just because it’s what you’ve always done. You’ll spend way too many hours of your life miserable, and your heart won’t be in it. For example, many coaching clients come to me because they aren’t happy in their jobs. They may be “successful” in the eyes of others, but they know in their hearts that they aren’t “happy.” Case in point: A few years ago, I coached a woman who tried to create a brand based on her past experience rather than on her passion. When I asked her what she loved, she said “horses.” Through our work together, she eventually realized she could combine her love of horses with the skills she had acquired in her past jobs. The outcome? She created a training program that brought corporate executives to her ranch to learn leadership skills through working with horses. Learn from her example, and find a way to embrace and leverage your passion. You’ll be much happier for it.
Every entrepreneur makes a misstep now and then.  So if you have fallen prey to any of these branding mistakes, pick yourself up, and do what you must to get back on track. The more you steer clear of these 10 branding blunders, the faster you will build a powerhouse business and enjoy the success you deserve.
It’s not easy being a new entrepreneur, and mistakes will be an inevitable part of the process. But that doesn’t mean you need to repeat everybody else’s!

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