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8 Common Branding Mistakes Small Businesses Make and How to Avoid Them

Updated: Jun 27, 2023


Man staring at confusing and chaotic image of circles and arrows

…your brand is not just your logo or name, it’s also your values, personality, and promise to your customers.

As a small business owner, it's easy to stumble into common branding blunders that can hold back your growth and put a damper on your business's future success. Over the years, I've witnessed a handful of these branding booby traps that have ensnared my clients so I've put together a handy list of mistakes to be aware of and have included a nifty exercise for each to help you avoid them.


1-Failing to Define Your Brand Foundation

Defining your brand foundation is the first and most crucial step in establishing a strong brand identity. Failing to define your brand at its foundation can lead to confusion among your customers, make it challenging to differentiate yourself from your competition, and undermine your branding efforts.

Start by identifying your core values, brand attributes, mission and vision statements, as well as your unique selling proposition. Your core values are the principles and beliefs that guide your business, while your mission and vision statements outline your purpose and what you hope to achieve. Your unique selling proposition is what sets you apart from your competition and makes you unique. All these help to establish your strategic goals.


Once you have identified these fundamental strategic building blocks, you can start to develop your brand voice and personality as well as identify your ideal customer. Your brand voice is the tone and language you use to communicate with your customers, while your brand personality is the overall impression that your brand creates. Knowing who you help will enable you to refine your brand personality and tone of voice to resonate with them.


By identifying your core values, mission and vision statements, unique selling proposition, brand voice, personality and customer, you are creating a roadmap for your business that will guide your branding efforts and help you achieve your strategic goals. A strong brand foundation sets the stage for long-term success and can help you build a loyal following of customers who believe in what you stand for. Not to mention al of this is at the core of your visual identity (logo) and supporting visual language.


Not defining your brand foundation can pose a significant risk to your business. Without a clear roadmap, you may struggle to establish a unique presence in the market and differentiate yourself from your competitors. This can result in a lack of customer loyalty and create difficulty connecting with your ideal customer. Furthermore, failing to define your brand can lead to a haphazard and disorganized image, which can be confusing to potential customers.


To avoid this mistake, take the time to define the foundation for your brand. This includes identifying your brand's values and attributes, identifying your target audience, and developing a brand voice and personality that aligns with your core values and resonates with your customers.


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ACTION EXERCISE - Define Your Brand's Personality by Personifying Your Brand
  1. Imagine that your brand is a person attending a party. What is their name, age, and occupation? Are they outgoing or reserved? Do they prefer to stay in the background or be the life of the party?

  2. What is your brand's sense of humor like? Are they witty and sarcastic, or do they enjoy telling stories and making people laugh? Do they tell Dad jokes?

  3. Think about your brand's interests and hobbies. Do they enjoy sports, music, or cooking? How do these interests shape their personality?

  4. How does your brand communicate with others? Are they formal and professional, or do they use a more casual tone? Do they have a unique way of expressing themselves that sets them apart from others?

  5. What kind of people are drawn to your brand? Are they young and trendy, or more mature and sophisticated? What values do these people share with your brand?

By answering these questions, you can start to develop a more nuanced understanding of your brand's personality and how it should be reflected in your marketing and branding efforts. This exercise can help you identify key traits that make your brand unique and develop a clear brand voice that resonates with your target audience.


2-Inconsistency in Branding

Consistency in branding creates a strong visual and emotional connection with your customers, builds brand recognition, and establishes trust and credibility. When your branding is consistent, your customers know what to expect from your brand, and they are more likely to trust and feel connected to it. If your brand message, tone, and visual elements are inconsistent across different channels and touchpoints, it can lead to confusion and dilute the impact of your branding efforts.

To avoid this mistake, create a brand guide that defines your brand's visual language and messaging elements. Ensure that all employees, partners, and vendors understand and follow these guidelines to maintain consistency in your branding efforts.


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ACTION EXERCISE - Create a Guide

Develop a style guide that includes details such as

  • your brand colors

  • typography

  • logo usage and formats

  • imagery guidelines

  • brand archetype

  • tone of voice

  • written messaging

This document can help your team stay on the same page when it comes to your brand identity. It ensures that everyone involved in creating marketing and branding materials is following the same guidelines and using the same elements consistently. Additionally, it can serve as a helpful resource for new team members or outside partners working on your branding efforts.


3-Not Understanding Your Target Audience

One of the biggest branding mistakes that small businesses make is not understanding their target audience. It's crucial to understand who your target audience is, what they need, and what motivates them to make a purchase. Without this understanding, your branding efforts may miss the mark, and you may struggle to connect with your ideal customers.


Understanding your target audience also involves speaking their language. It's essential to use language and messaging that resonates with your target audience and speaks to their pain points and needs. This can involve using a specific tone of voice, incorporating relevant keywords, and addressing specific concerns and challenges that your target audience faces. Use THEIR language to speak to them, not your own technical jargon.


To avoid this mistake, take the time to research and understand your target audience. This can include conducting surveys, analyzing customer data, and creating customer personas. By doing so, you can gain valuable insights into your customers' needs, preferences, and pain points. You can use this information to create a brand message and marketing materials that resonate with your target audience.


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ACTION EXERCISE - Create a Customer Persona

Create customer personas by gathering data on your existing customers. This can include information such as their age, gender, location, income, and job title. You can also conduct surveys or interviews to gather additional insights into their needs, preferences, and challenges.


Once you have this data, put it all together in single document. Better yet, input your findings in my free Interactive Customer Profile Worksheet PDF that's downloadable from my freebies page. It's completely editable and really useful! Use it to create a few customer personas that represent your ideal customers. Give each persona a name and a detailed profile that includes information such as their goals, challenges, values, and motivations. Use this persona to guide your marketing and branding efforts, ensuring that your messaging speaks directly to the needs and pain points of your target audience.


Creating customer personas can help you get inside the mind of your target audience and understand their needs and motivations. By using this information to guide your branding efforts, you can create a more effective and targeted marketing strategy that resonates with your ideal customers.


4-Copying Your Competitors

It's natural to look to your competitors for inspiration when building your brand. However, one of the biggest mistakes small businesses make is copying their competitors too closely. While it's important to understand what your competitors are doing, it's essential to differentiate your brand and avoid simply copying what others are doing.


When you copy your competitors, you risk blending in with the crowd and losing the unique qualities that make your brand stand out. You also miss the opportunity to differentiate your brand and create a unique value proposition that sets you apart from competitors. Copying your competitors can also lead to a race to the bottom in terms of pricing, which can ultimately harm your profitability.


To avoid this mistake, focus on understanding your unique strengths and value proposition. Consider what sets your brand apart from competitors and how you can communicate this in your branding efforts. Focus on the different ways you can differentiate your brand. Can you offer superior customer service? Provide a better user experience? Consider highlighting unique features or benefits of your products or services and show how those features or benefits can transform the lives of your customers. By differentiating your brand in these ways, you can stand out from competitors and build a loyal customer base that values what your brand has to offer.


When building your brand, focus on creating a unique identity that's that speaks authentically to your audience and represents who you are with integrity. You may take inspiration from other brands or industries, but be sure to put your own spin on things and create a brand that is truly your own. By doing so, you can stand out from competitors, build brand loyalty, and create a sustainable business over the long term.


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ACTION EXERCISE - Reverse Brainstorm Your Differentiator

Instead of brainstorming ideas for what makes your business unique, brainstorm ideas for how to make your business generic or unremarkable. Then, flip those ideas around to identify the opposite - the things that make your business truly stand out.


The goal of this exercise is to challenge the traditional way of thinking and spark creativity. By examining a topic from the opposite perspective, businesses can open themselves up to new and innovative ideas that they may have otherwise overlooked.


5- Overcomplicating your brand message

Overcomplicating your brand message is another common mistake that small businesses make in their branding efforts. It's easy to get caught up in the details of what you want to convey about your business, but if your message is too complicated, it can be difficult for your target audience to understand and remember.


A clear and concise brand message is essential for establishing a strong brand identity and creating brand loyalty. Your brand message should be simple, easy to understand, and communicate the unique value your business provides.


One of the best ways to simplify your brand message is to focus on your unique selling proposition (USP). Your USP is the one thing that sets your business apart from your competitors and is what makes you stand out in your industry. By focusing on your USP, you can create a clear and memorable brand message that resonates with your target audience.


When crafting your brand message, it's important to keep in mind your target audience. Who are they? What are their pain points and challenges? What are their values and beliefs? By understanding your target audience, you can create a message that speaks directly to them and addresses their specific needs and concerns.


It's also important to avoid using jargon or overly technical language that may confuse or alienate your audience. Use language that is clear and easy to understand, and avoid using buzzwords or industry-specific terminology that may not be familiar to your target audience.



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ACTION EXERCISE - The Elevator Pitch

Imagine you step into an elevator and find yourself face to face with a potential customer or investor who could make or break your business. You only have the time it takes for the elevator to reach its destination to explain what your business does and why it matters. This exercise helps you distill your brand message into a concise and compelling statement that can be easily understood and remembered.


To do the exercise, start by writing down your current brand message in a paragraph or two. Then, challenge yourself to cut it down to a single sentence. Once you have your single sentence, try cutting it down even further to just a few words. The goal is to strip away any unnecessary complexity and get to the core essence of your brand message.


Once you have your simplified message, practice delivering it out loud to see how it sounds and feels. You might even want to try it out on friends or colleagues to get feedback and refine it further.


Remember, the key to a successful elevator pitch is to make it clear, concise, and memorable. If you can do that, you'll be well on your way to simplifying your brand message and making it more effective.


6- Ignoring Brand Perception

Ignoring brand perception could be a costly mistake for a business. Your brand perception is how your customers perceive your brand, and it plays a critical role in attracting and retaining customers.


If negative perceptions are left unaddressed, they can harm your business by turning potential customers away and potentially damaging your reputation. It's important to actively monitor and manage your brand perception to ensure that it remains positive and aligned with your business goals.



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ACTION EXERCISE - Monitor Perception Regularly

Businesses can use various tools such as online survey platforms like SurveyMonkey, Typeform, or Google Forms. Create a survey asking questions related to the brand, such as

  1. What words come to mind when you think of our brand?

  2. How likely are you to recommend our brand to a friend or colleague?

  3. How does our brand compare to our competitors?

  4. How satisfied are you with your experiences with our brand?

  5. What do you think are our brand's strengths and weaknesses?

  6. How do you feel about our brand's pricing?

  7. What do you think sets our brand apart from others in the industry?

  8. How well do you think our brand understands and meets your needs?

The specific questions a business asks may vary depending on their industry, target audience, and goals. The key is to ask questions that will provide valuable insights into how customers perceive the brand and where there may be areas for improvement.


These surveys can be sent out via email, social media, or even through a pop-up on the website. I've created a simple, free, interactive Customer Feedback Survey you can customize and download here.


For monitoring social channels, businesses can use social media management tools like Hootsuite or Sprout Social to track mentions of their brand on various social media platforms. By monitoring what people are saying about your brand, you can get a better understanding of how your brand is perceived and address any negative comments or feedback.


7- Not Investing in Quality Design

The design of a business plays a critical role in shaping a customer's first impression. In fact, studies show that 94% of a customer's initial impression is design-related. Furthermore, a survey found that 60% of people admitted to avoiding a business because of an unappealing logo, even if the business had good reviews. Clearly, design has a significant impact on how a business is perceived. Unfortunately, some small businesses make the mistake of cutting corners by investing in cheap design or neglecting design quality altogether. However, this can ultimately undermine the business's success by creating a negative first impression and driving potential customers away.


Paying for cheap design can be a costly mistake in the long run. Cheap design often lacks the attention to detail and creativity needed to make a brand stand out. It can also make a brand appear unprofessional and untrustworthy to potential customers. This can result in lost sales and a damaged reputation.


On the other hand, investing in high-quality design can pay off in the form of increased brand recognition, customer loyalty, and higher profits. A well-designed brand identity can make a business more memorable and recognizable to customers, leading to increased brand awareness and recall.


It's important to remember that design is an investment, not an expense. While it may cost more upfront, the long-term benefits can far outweigh the initial costs. A well-designed brand identity can help a business stand out from competitors and establish a strong brand image that resonates with customers for years to come.



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ACTION EXERCISE - Find a quality designer

There are several strategies that can help you find a designer who will provide high-quality work.


First, start by looking at the portfolios of designers whose work you admire. Look for designers who have experience working in your industry or with similar businesses. You can find portfolios online, on websites like Behance, Dribbble, or Coroflot.


Another option is to ask for referrals from colleagues or business partners. If you know other businesses that have had successful design projects, ask them for the name of the designer they worked with. You can also ask for recommendations from industry associations, design organizations, or on social media groups.


When you have a list of potential designers, it's important to do your research. Look for reviews or testimonials from past clients. You should also ask about their process and timeline, and ensure that their communication style aligns with your preferences.


When evaluating designers, it's also important to consider their pricing structure. While you should expect to pay a fair price for quality work, you should also ensure that their rates align with your budget. Some designers charge hourly rates, while others charge per project, so be sure to understand their pricing model before starting the project.


Lastly, don't be afraid to ask questions and have open communication with the designer. Clear communication is key to a successful design project, and a quality designer will be happy to discuss any questions or concerns you may have. As a strategic brand identity designer I'm always happy to get on a call with a potential client to see if we are a good fit. Feel free to reach out.


8- Failing to Evolve Your Brand

Failing to evolve your brand can be a major mistake for a small business. Brands that don't evolve risk becoming outdated, stale, and irrelevant in the eyes of their customers. This can lead to a loss of business and a decline in sales.


To avoid this mistake, it's important to keep your brand fresh and relevant. This doesn't necessarily mean completely changing your brand every few years, or even regularly following trends but rather making simple strategic updates that keep your brand up-to-date with your customer's needs.


One way to evolve your brand is to conduct regular brand audits. This involves reviewing your brand messaging, visuals, and overall identity to ensure they are still resonating with your target audience. It's important to be open to feedback from your customers and make changes accordingly.

Another way to evolve your brand is to stay on top of industry trends and changes. This includes keeping up with emerging technologies, changing consumer preferences, and new marketing strategies. By staying informed, you can make proactive updates to your brand that keep it fresh and relevant.


It's also important to consider the long-term goals of your business and how your brand fits into those goals. As your business grows and evolves, your brand may need to adapt to new products, services, or markets. By thinking strategically about the future of your business, you can make sure your brand is positioned for success.


Failing to evolve your brand can be a costly mistake for small businesses. By staying up-to-date with customer needs, industry trends, and the long-term goals of your business, you can ensure your brand stays fresh, relevant, and effective.


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ACTION EXERCISE - Conduct a Brand Audit

Completing a brand audit can be a valuable exercise for small businesses, helping to ensure that their brand remains relevant and resonant with their target audience. By following these steps, you can conduct a thorough brand audit that will help you identify areas for improvement and develop an action plan to strengthen weak areas of your brand.

A thorough brand audit should cover several key areas, including:

  1. Brand Identity: This includes the company's logo, color scheme, typography, and other visual elements that make up the brand's identity. A brand audit should evaluate whether these elements accurately reflect the brand's personality and values and whether they are consistent across all marketing materials and platforms.

  2. Messaging: This includes the brand's mission statement, tagline, and key messaging points. A brand audit should evaluate whether these messages are still relevant and resonate with the target audience and whether they are consistent across all marketing channels.

  3. Digital Presence: This includes the company's website, social media accounts, and other digital platforms. A brand audit should evaluate whether these platforms are up-to-date, user-friendly, and consistent with the brand's visual identity and messaging.

  4. Customer Perception: This includes how customers perceive the brand, based on factors such as customer feedback, online reviews, and social media mentions. A brand audit should evaluate whether the brand is meeting customer expectations and whether there are any negative perceptions that need to be addressed.

  5. Competitor Analysis: This includes an evaluation of the brand's competitors and how they are positioning themselves in the market. A brand audit should evaluate whether the brand is still differentiated from its competitors and whether there are any new trends or changes in the market that could impact the brand's position.

By conducting a thorough brand audit, businesses can ensure that their brand remains relevant, competitive, and resonant with their target audience.


As you can see, branding is an essential aspect of small business marketing. Failing to define your brand foundation, not understanding your target audience, inconsistent branding, and other branding mistakes can all hinder your business growth and lead to missed opportunities. By taking the time to define your brand, establish a roadmap, understand your customers, and create a consistent and authentic brand experience, you can establish a strong brand identity that sets you apart from your competition and resonates with your target audience. Remember that your brand is not just your logo or name, it's also your values, personality, and promise to your customers. So invest the time and effort into building a strong brand foundation, and you'll be on your way to long-term success.


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Need help setting up the foundation for your brand? Reach out. I can help!

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