Is Your Company Guilty of These 6 Branding Blunders?

Your brand is the heart and soul of your company. It‘s the personality you present to the world, the promise you make to customers, and the reputation you build in the market. Getting your branding right is essential for standing out, building trust, and driving long-term growth and loyalty.

But far too many companies make avoidable mistakes that undermine their brand-building efforts. From inconsistency to chasing trends to partnering with the wrong people, these branding blunders can confuse customers, erode hard-earned equity, and make it harder to compete.

Is your brand guilty of any of these six sins? Let‘s examine each pitfall in more depth and explore how you can course-correct to build a stronger, more resilient brand.

1. Inconsistency Across Different Platforms and Mediums

Consistency is one of the cornerstones of effective branding. Presenting a cohesive identity across every touchpoint, from your website to your packaging to your customer service, helps people instantly recognize and remember your brand.

Consider these statistics:

  • Consistently presented brands are 3-4 times more likely to experience brand visibility
  • The average revenue increase attributed to always presenting the brand consistently is 23%
  • The most common brand consistency challenges are identified as customer experience (45%), employee behavior (40%) and brand messaging/marketing (37%)

Sources: LucidPress, Demand Metric

When a customer encounters your brand, whether it‘s through an Instagram ad, an email newsletter, or an in-store experience, they should immediately know it‘s you. Inconsistency creates confusion and distrust – if a customer can‘t get a unified sense of who you are and what you‘re about, they‘re less likely to remember you, less likely to perceive you as reliable and professional, and less likely to buy from you.

Common inconsistencies to watch out for:

  • Visual elements: Is your logo, color palette, imagery and overall design consistent across channels, or do you have a website that looks totally different from your product packaging?

  • Brand voice: Does your copy have a distinctive, recognizable personality, or do you veer from quirky and casual in one place to buttoned-up and formal in another?

  • Experiential elements: Does your in-store experience deliver on the same vibe and promises as your advertising, or is there a disconnect between what customers expect and what they get?

Luckily, there are a few best practices you can implement to maintain brand consistency:

  1. Develop comprehensive brand guidelines that cover all visual, verbal and experiential elements and make sure all internal teams and external partners follow them to the letter

  2. Appoint a brand manager or central team to review all branded assets before they go out to ensure quality control and adherence to standards

  3. Regularly audit all your customer touchpoints, from social media bios to sales decks to invoices, to catch and correct any inconsistencies that may have crept in over time

  4. Make brand consistency a part of employee onboarding and training so everyone understands its importance and their role in maintaining cohesion

2. Relying Too Heavily on Design Trends

Keeping your branding fresh and modern is important, but latching onto every hot design trend can do more harm than good. Just because gradients, maximalism, brutalism or some other fad is having a moment doesn‘t mean it‘s right for your brand.

Chasing trends makes a brand look generic, indistinguishable and forgettable – the opposite of how you want to be perceived. Even worse, getting too caught up in a design trend that quickly becomes outdated can make the brand seem out of touch and irrelevant.

For example, in the mid 2010s, so-called "blanding" became a huge trend in logo design – big corporate brands like Balenciaga, Burberry, Diane Von Furstenberg and many others all redesigned their previously distinctive logotypes into nearly identical, minimalist sans-serif wordmarks. While they may have looked sleek and modern at the time, they quickly became indistinguishable from each other. Even more embarrassingly, they later became associated with the dystopian eerie of corporations in shows like Severance – not exactly the vibe they were going for. They all ended up looking forgettable at best and sinister at worst by chasing an of-the-moment trend.

Of course, you want your brand to look contemporary and not totally out of date, so some adherence to design trends is natural. The key is making sure your brand identity still looks and feels uniquely yours.

Some tips for balancing trends and brand recognizability:

  • Use trends as inspiration, not as rigid rules. Put your own spin on a trendy element or combine a trend with a more classic or distinctive element of your existing branding.

  • Evaluate whether a trend really aligns with your brand personality and values before jumping on the bandwagon. Not every trend will be a fit.

  • When in doubt, aim for timeless over trendy. Opt for clean, classic logo and web design elements that won‘t look dated in a year rather than flashy gimmicks.

  • Make trend-driven updates to smaller brand elements like social media graphics or seasonal packaging rather than overhauling your core logo or website design with every passing fad.

3. Straying Too Far From What Made You Successful

Evolving your brand over time is important for staying relevant, but straying too far from your established identity can backfire. Customers fall in love with brands for specific reasons – a certain product, an attitude, a mission, an experience. If you veer too far from what made you appealing in the first place, you risk losing that emotional connection.

The Gap logo redesign debacle is a cautionary tale every brand should learn from. The company‘s classic blue square logo was iconic and instantly recognizable as a symbol of the Gap‘s classic, all-American style. But in 2010, the retailer tried to make the brand seem more contemporary by switching to a radically different black Helvetica wordmark. The new logo was generic and cheap-looking – it completely abandoned the elements that made the Gap brand distinct and trusted. Customer backlash was swift and fierce, and just one week later, Gap reverted to their old logo.

The lesson: your brand is more than a name and a logo. It‘s a set of characteristics that have meaning and emotional resonance for your customers. Change too many of those core elements at once and you risk looking like a completely different company.

This isn‘t to say brands can never evolve – in fact regular refreshes are important for staying current. But there are ways to go about it strategically:

  • Look at your brand as a set of core pillars or traits and make sure those always stay constant even as executional elements change. For example, Nike‘s "Just Do It" ethos is forever even as their ads and logo get updated.

  • Consider your brand‘s purpose, mission and values. Use those as a filter for evaluating whether a brand change is really in alignment.

  • Get customer feedback before a major rebrand. See what they love most about your current branding so you know what to keep.

  • If you do go through a large-scale redesign, have a transition plan to bring existing customers along – don‘t spring it on them with no warning or explanation.

4. Attaching Your Brand to the Wrong Things

No brand is an island. The people, organizations and causes you associate with can have a major positive or negative impact on how your own brand is perceived. Partnerships, sponsorships, influencer relationships and even political donations are all reflections on your brand – for better or for worse.

The key is making sure those brand associations are in alignment with your values and identity. Partnering with people or groups that don‘t mesh with your brand ethos can send mixed messages to customers and make you seem inauthentic.

Some brand partnerships that missed the mark:

  • Shell‘s "Make the Future" campaign with Lego came under fire as a blatant example of greenwashing. The oil and gas giant‘s attempt to boost its sustainability image through a partnership with the beloved toy brand struck many as hypocritical and disingenuous.

  • Kendall Jenner‘s infamous Pepsi commercial was a cautionary tale on the perils of celebrity endorsements. While Pepsi was clearly trying to tap into cultural conversations around protest and social justice, the ad came off as clueless, shallow and insensitive. It was a jarring mismatch between the soda brand‘s image and serious real-world issues.

Tips for choosing the right brand partners and associations:

  • Have a clear set of criteria for evaluating potential partners based on your brand values and target audience. Don‘t just chase clout or cash.

  • Look for authentic, long-term alignments rather than quick stunts or one-off social posts. Go deeper than surface-level optics.

  • Consider the full scope of a partner‘s reputation and history, not just one aspect. A public figure could be on-brand in one way but problematic in other ways.

  • Get input from a diverse set of stakeholders to gut check brand fit. The last thing you want is to get caught off guard by a blind spot.

5. Not Thinking About Global Implications

In our connected world, every brand has the potential to go global, even if you‘re not actively marketing to international audiences yet. Failing to consider how your brand translates outside of your home market can lead to embarrassing and costly mistakes down the line.

Language and cultural nuances can completely change the meaning of brand names, slogans, logos, colors and more. What seems perfectly innocuous in one country could be offensive, laughable or brand-damaging in another.

Pampers learned this lesson the hard way when they started marketing their diapers in Japan. They used an image of a stork delivering a baby on the packaging – a common Western myth. But in Japan, the story goes that giant floating peaches bring babies to parents. The stork imagery was confusing and off-putting to Japanese consumers.

You can‘t predict every single global nuance or connotation, but you can take steps to minimize the risk of an international branding blunder:

  • Research key cultural symbology, traditions and linguistic associations in your target markets to avoid red flags in your branding

  • Adapt brand assets like logos, mascots and taglines to feel locally relevant rather than just doing a straight translation

  • Partner with local market experts to gut check brand names, messaging and visual elements for how they‘ll be interpreted

  • Have a plan for addressing cultural sensitivities if your brand does inadvertently strike the wrong note

6. Using Vague or Off-Brand Language

Compelling copy is a critical component of branding. The language you use in your marketing, packaging, website, ads and beyond all add up to create your distinctive brand voice. Yet too many brands fall back on vague, cliched or off-brand language that fails to reinforce their personality.

If your copy doesn‘t match your brand identity, you‘re missing a huge opportunity to build affinity and differentiation. For example, a young, edgy, irreverent brand should have a very different voice than an established, serious, traditional brand. A luxury fashion brand and a discount retailer shouldn‘t use the same generic lingo.

How to craft brand-boosting copy:

  • Start by articulating what makes your brand voice unique. Is it witty, inspirational, technical, sassy, nurturing? Use those traits to guide language.

  • Create a brand voice chart with specific dos and don‘ts. For example, "we say this, not that."

  • Focus messaging on customer benefits, not just product features. Make it about them.

  • Tell a bigger story. Link your product/service to your brand purpose and mission.

  • Banish buzzwords, jargon, cliches, and overly technical or academic language. Opt for words that are clear, specific, and packed with personality.

  • Read all copy out loud. Does it sound like your brand come to life?

Your brand voice should be distinct and recognizable whether it‘s a tweet, a blog post or an email subject line. Lean into your unique personality and point of view in every word.

Key Takeaways

Building a strong, cohesive brand is challenging but well worth the effort. By avoiding these common mistakes and following branding best practices, you‘ll be well on your way to making your brand memorable, recognizable and irresistible to your target audience:

  • Strive for consistency across all brand touchpoints to build trust and recognition
  • Evolve strategically over time without chasing every passing design trend
  • Stay true to your core identity and mission even as you refresh branding
  • Be selective with partnerships to ensure authentic, values-aligned associations
  • Anticipate global implications and localize branding accordingly
  • Use distinctive brand language that reflects your unique personality

With intention, consistency, and a little creativity, you can build a brand that cuts through the clutter and stands the test of time.