Expert Advice for Medium and Midsize Businesses

5 Branding Mistakes Every Entrepreneur Makes

When I started my consulting business in 2001, I thought I had a great handle on branding because I came from the marketing world. As it turns out, I let a lot of things fall through the cracks. It wasn’t that I didn’t know about branding, it was that I had always worked for established companies. People already knew these brands and what they stood for. My role was to make them come alive in new and unexpected ways.

Over the last sixteen years, I’ve worked with hundreds of companies, including many startups. I’ve seen these entrepreneurs make similar branding mistakes to the ones I made, and I’ve seen how these mistakes have kept young brands from standing out in a sea of sameness.

Here are five of the biggest branding mistakes entrepreneurs make and how you can avoid them. 

  1. Not Knowing Your Story: Have you ever been around someone who’s a “me too” kind of person? They come across as a copycat, chasing after the latest thing to appear interesting or the newest trend. The same thing happens to brands. Sidestep this flaw by articulating who you are as a brand and what you stand for early on. What promise can you make that no one else can deliver? This becomes the foundation for your tagline, sales pitch, web copy, and everything else used to promote your business.
  2. Not Knowing Your Customers: Being an entrepreneur takes a lot of energy, which means you have to focus your attention on where you’ll have the most impact. Don’t waste time trying to get the attention of people who aren’t your target audience. Hone in on your own niche to attract the right customers. For example, my niche is branding based on storytelling. When you know who to say “yes” to, it becomes easier to say “no” to others earlier in the sales process.
  3. Not Showing Up: Even though Hollywood studios spend millions of dollars hiring A-list actors and filming movies, they can’t rely on a celebrity’s fan base to bring money in the door. In fact, Hollywood often spends half the amount of its production budget on promoting their movies. They know you can’t just do great work, you have to continually show up to keep your brand and your work top of mind. Although you’ve developed a great product and/or service offering, your work can’t speak for itself. To get in front of a larger audience and keep your company at the forefront of everyone’s thoughts, you need to continuously promote your brand—otherwise, you did all of that hard work for nothing.
  4. Not Being Consistent: Behaving the same way repeatedly earns recognition and builds trust. Consistency teaches people what to expect. Echoing the same message and values both online and in-person helps people better connect you with your brand. If you sound different every time they interact with you, you look unprofessional. Your website URL, social media handles, business cards, brochures, invoices, font, and everything else from your company all need to have the same look and feel.
  5. Not Believing in the Experience: The most successful entrepreneurs have learned that branding goes beyond their logo and the products they sell. People often connect with brands based on how they make them feel. What are the little things you can do to create a distinct experience that only your brand can deliver? For example, Portland-based Umpqua Bank touts itself as the world’s greatest bank and delivers experiences that support this brand claim, such as a lobby hotline for customers to talk directly to the CEO.

Look at your company’s branding. Do you look and sound the same everywhere? If you removed your logo, is your story distinctive? Does it click with a specific group of people? 

Showing up in the market in a way that’s unique, interesting, and valuable to your customers builds big momentum for less money in a shorter amount of time. And that leaves every entrepreneur more time to make other areas of their business successful.

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