When Brand Identity Goes Wrong: 5 Embarrassing Mistakes
Someone once said that marketing is like asking someone out on a date. Branding is the reason they say yes! Just like a lot goes into getting that yes, getting branding right goes through a lot: identity, promise, and signaling. All three are equally as important. These three pillars are not three sides of a triangle, they are more like the RGB components of a color. They blend into each other.
- Cheaping out on design
- Going after fashion
- Misalignment with the mission
- Not thinking of scale
- Thinking of identity only in visual terms
Some companies rely more on their brand promise, much like Toyota which promises a great experience that can outlast its owner at a reasonable price. But you can’t tell it apart from Hyundai the same way you can tell a Mercedes from a BMW. Some other companies like Versace or Supreme rely on their signaling strategy: You buy them because they tell the world something about you. They don’t focus much on their design, they focus on what the design says about the person who’s wearing it. Just like a particular color can have more blue an red then green, a brand can be built on any of the three components more than the others.
But what we need to understand though is that while these three components are equally important even if not equally present, Identity always comes first. Because you can get away with a strong identity without a solid brand promise or a signaling strategy. That can work. But it’s pointless to have it the other way around. What’s the point of being known as the best at something if people can’t tell you from your competition. If you mess up brand identity, everything else you do is for nothing. Therefore, let’s all make sure that we think long and hard about it. We’ve thought of some common mistakes that companies make with their branding:
If you’re serious about your business, you never want your nephew, whom we’re sure is plenty talented, making your branding. Get a designer. If you think that good design costs a lot, you should see the cost of bad design. That’s something we designers say to get people to pay money for our services. But it doesn’t make it wrong.
You don’t want to cheap out on design. In the US, you can probably get a decent freelancer to make you a logo for 1000$. Generally, good work will cost around 5k and people always roast designers for these “outlandish prices”. But when you factor in what goes into it, the research, the fine-tuning, the details, you really get what you pay for. I hear you calling us out on this, so here’s are two things that really take time to make sure we’re clear of:
Making sure that no other company in your vicinity or in your field has a logo that is too similar is super important. AI will provide shortcuts to that in the next few years, but as of now, you’re at the mercy of the designer or the agency.
We know many people who also confuse Bently and Chrystler for some reason. Logos should be tested too. It’s not about what you or your wife think. It’s about what your customer does.
“Design is the silent ambassador of your brand.” \ Paul Rand
Ideation for logos can get wild. We need to make sure that the great idea you have can be developed into a version that fits in your website’s Favicon, your app icon, making sure nothing weird shows when it’s blown up on a billboard, testing for color blindness, making sure the shape or naming isn’t suggestive or inappropriate in other cultures. That’s just the details that any person can get. Design details such as grids, scaling, and many others are a nightmare sometimes, and when done right, you don’t even feel the difference.
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Your brand identity is not a fashion statement. That’s always true, even if you are a fashion brand. Good logos are timeless. Think Nike, Apple, BBC, Ford, Chanel. The render can be updated for sure, but the kernel has to stand the test of time. Much like a pair of Jordan’s, a good logo, and your entire visual design gets more value with time. Not just because of the brand recognition that it assembles, but because it shows consistency and serves as a great reminder of pedigree and heritage.
Amancio Ortega, the founder of Zara clothing brand, is credited for creating what is now called “fast fashion” in the early 90s. He built his empire around moving through fashion trends as fast and as efficiently as possible. He foresaw that the technological advancements, especially in communication are going to mean that people are going to be cycling through trends a lot faster. He was right, and he has 67.8 billion USD (2019) to prove it, and we probably can take a page from his book.
People will literally fall in love with your new branding today because it’s on-trend, it’s vogue. But a few months, maybe weeks from now, those same people who adored you will absolutely abandon you because you’re so “yesterday”. There is no such thing as Fast brand identity and most of us aren’t Amancio Ortega. And speaking of the Zara brand, they just rebranded and it goes to show our point about keeping the kernel and changing the render.
Visual design is about putting ideas into graphic vessels. While most people without a design degree from CalArts don’t have the language to describe what design means, everyone can feel it and it shapes our opinions of things. It influences our buying decisions, our loyalty, our reception of new products and services. Yes, lines, colors, photography can do that. So how can that cause trouble?
You see, there’s a reason why each company exists. They are here to leave a mark on the world. The fancy term for that is mission, and it’s critical. The mission is all about the people and their why and their for what goal. A company also has a vision. In a nutshell, a vision is how the world is after we’re done doing our thing. Those two together are the things that change the least. The mistake many make is branding after the product or service.
Companies pivot all the time. In the late 90s, Netflix used to rent DVDs. They only started their streaming service in the mid-2000s. The original plan was for Netflix to be a box that downloaded movies overnight. Imagine if they had that on their logo the same way they had a VHS tape on their original one in 1998. That would have been a mistake.
If you’re a fast-food restaurant that sells hot dogs, you don’t have to have a hot dog in your branding. You might one day see an opportunity in other food and want to jump in on it. Brand for your mission of serving food in a convenient manner, not the dish itself. Brand for the what, not the how.
Interested in learning how to turn your mission and vision into a compelling brand story? Read our article about how to write a brand story that excites your customers.
Your branding should have as much room for scale as possible. That’s why a golden rule of logo design is simplicity. It’s because simplicity sets you up for success at scale. There isn’t a much better example of this than the last Slack rebranding.
We all loved the old slack logo right? I mean, it’s one of though companies you just love. Well, their design team is famous for having a big part in that. However, when it came to their logos, they really left a lot to be desired. The old slack logos, while it looked great on the icon in everyone’s Retina display, didn’t look as great everywhere
You couldn’t have it embroidered on company merch, Offset print would’ve been horrible too. It was a mess. That all explains why the rebranding was indeed successful, as opposed to what we all thought at first. Logos are not art. They are design. They are tools much like a screwdriver or a mouse. They serve a purpose and in the hands of the right designer or firm, purpose and aesthetics don’t contradict.
No, identity is not only graphical. There are aspects to a brand identity that have nothing to do with graphic design. In today’s world, we no longer look for people to buy our product, as Seth Godin tirelessly points out. We look for products for our people. Technology has made it so that practically any team with enough will and smarts can make anything. Because the barrier to entry is so low, and brand fidelity is hard to maintain, this puts pressure on us to think more about building identity into the product, not skinning it after it’s out of the factory.
Related (and awesome) read: What’s the difference between brand, branding, and brand Identity? An Insider’s Guide.
This sounds all fine and dandy, but how does it translate into reality? It’s not that complicated when you think outside the box. Instead of making the world the first Green lipstick like the guys at Thelipbar did at first, you can bring the world the only vegan lipstick bar, which is what they’re pitching now. If you’ve watched them on shark tank, you would have seen this unfold before your eyes. Even though they had a visual hook, lipstick with the most outrageous colors, they couldn’t get investors’ attention. It’s because the visual part of their identity failed. Now that they don’t even mention that anymore, and only focus on the vegan and healthy part of it, they got into Target.
Your identity doesn’t have to be only visual. It can also be about for whom your product or service is, why you’re making it or who the people behind your company are. Brand identity is what comes after: “Yeah, I know those people, they are the guys that __insert brand identity here__”. If you want to make it visual, like the green coffee shop of the red supercar or the yellow furniture store, then by all mean. But know that there are other ways too.
If we didn’t convince you that your brand identity should be of extra importance right out of the gate, you can always consider the cost or a rebrand. If you get your brand identity wrong, rebrandings are expensive endeavors. On the other hand, when you do things right, you will always feel comfortable as you print out another batch of new business cards from your friends at Brandly. That way, it is the investment in needs to be, as opposed to a sunk cost that will make it increasingly more difficult to go back from.
If you’re interested in learning more about Brandly’s free business card ordering portals and how it can help your large company manage, edit, and order business cards, check out our website.
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