With the popularity of shows such as Shark Tank, the rise of startup tech companies, and the lure of online marketing, it seems like almost everyone is starting a business.
While an idea is easy to develop, it’s much harder to stand out in the market when there are so many people vying for attention.
That’s where branding comes in -- and no, I don’t mean websites, logos, graphics or other visual elements of a brand. Branding is so much more than what you see on the outside. A brand is the culmination of experiences and goes deeper than what meets the eyes.
In actuality, branding starts way before the design phase. It starts with understanding what your company stands for and where your company fits in the market relative to your competitors. That’s because how you are perceived in the marketplace by your customers is the true indicator of a strong brand.
Apple, Nike, and Disney are all strong brands because of the perception people have about the brand’s value and their value compared to their competitors. They are perceived as better than their competition and therefore are able to charge premium prices and have a loyal fan base.
When branding is done right, your brand can position you as the leader in your industry where people want to buy from you and only you. But when done wrong, it could cost your business time, energy, and money.
Here are the 3 costliest branding mistakes I see new entrepreneurs make and how to avoid them:
1. Being vague and broad with your brand
Great brands started with a specific niche. They weren’t one size fits all. Trying to appeal to the masses, especially when first starting out, can hurt your brand and cost you sales.
That’s because in a crowded market, you need to be identifiable. It’s hard to be seen when you are one of many.
When you niche, you are playing in a more specific and smaller market and it’s easier to stand out.
For example, Lululemon could have started by positioning themselves as another apparel brand in the early stages of their business. However, instead of being broad, Lululemon focused on a niche called athleisure, athletic apparel worn in non-athletic settings, where there were virtually no competitors. Doing so allowed Lululemon to build a cult following because they were the only company focused on athleisure when they first started and they tapped into an unmet customer need.
All great brands pivot their brand and tailor their products and communications towards a specific niche.
Apple is for the misfits, dreamers, and crazy ones who dare to think different.
Volvo is for families who value safety first.
Toms is for people, especially millennials, who believe in social good.
These brands are very specific to the type of customers they cater to. They aren’t looking for everyone, only the ones that fit who they want. And because of this, they are able to create a stronger message that speaks directly to their customers, making it easier for their customers to find them.
FIND YOUR NICHE
With your brand, you must find your niche by first knowing exactly who you want to serve, their problem, and how you can solve it better than anyone else in the market. Look for a specific problem that hasn’t been solved yet and make sure it’s something your customers desire.
Prenatal massage therapist vs. massage therapist
Holistic healer focused on healing allergies vs. general holistic healer
Once you find your niche, you’ll be able to reduce competition and make it easier for your ideal customers to find you.
2. Jumping into the visual elements too soon
Although the visual elements, websites, logos, and graphics, are the fun outward expressions of the brand, the visuals are not the entire brand.
The biggest mistakes I see is that entrepreneurs start working on their visual elements before first understanding their message or value proposition first.
This is a costly mistake because having visual branding completed does not automatically translate into sales. You can have the most amazing looking website, graphic, or logo, but if your message doesn’t connect or if your potential customers don’t see the value in purchasing your product or service, they’ll still pass your brand without stopping to buy.
And I see so many entrepreneurs fall into this trap of spending thousands of dollars on a building an amazing looking website only to find out that no one is purchasing a single product or service.
DEFINE YOUR UNIQUE VALUE PROPOSITION
So before you jump into the visual elements of branding, take the time to understand your message and your value proposition.
To do this, first, figure out what the value of your product or service is to your customer. Ask yourself questions like:
- Why would they be willing to buy what I have?
- What’s the benefit for them?
- How will it help their lives or reduce a pain point?
- How am I adding more value than my competitors?
Once you know this, you’ll want to craft your message. What are your customers most interested in hearing about? What change do they want in their lives? Focus on the end benefit vs. the features when you craft the copy.
Example from Apple:
Then there’s everything else.
What makes iPhone unlike everything else? Maybe because it lets you do so many things. Or that it lets you do so many things so easily. Those are two reasons iPhone owners say they love their iPhone. But there are many others as well.
Apple is focusing on the benefit of ease of use and the ability for their customers to do many things with their iPhone. And by doing this, they are able to paint the picture of the value the iPhone brings to their customers’ lives compared to the other phones in the market. With their message they are establishing their leadership position.
Like Apple, be very focused on the message you want to convey based on the value proposition and the end benefit you provide for your customers.
3. Losing focus and trying to do too much
Doing more doesn’t mean your brand will be perceived as better than your competitors. In fact, when it comes to branding, doing more causes more confusion and mixed messages leading to less sales.
To build a strong brand, your brand must be known for doing one thing well. And when you do, you build more trust.
For example, Nike was known for making the best, most technologically advanced running shoe, Disney was known for high quality animated movies, and Apple was known for producing easy to use, simple, and stylish computers. They had the best products in the market, became known for doing it well, and as a result, built a loyal following.
And it wasn’t until after they consistently delivered quality products did they begin to branch out to other products and services for their customers. They were able to do this because they’ve built a level of trust with their customers. And as the trust grew, their customers were more willing to try something new.
When first starting out in business, you don’t have that trust built in yet to do too many products or services. Focus on one area to do well and build that trust. Provide quality work. Think about the entire experience. How do you want your customers to feel? Create that experience throughout your brand and be known for that one product or service.
Having a singular focus and being the best at it helps you build loyal fans and followers quickly.
While there are many aspects to branding, these are some of the foundational pieces of branding that must be in place before diving into visual elements of branding. Having the right product for the right customers builds your perceived brand value in the market and will be imperative for your business and brand to grow.
And if you want to learn how to create a brand that everyone is talking about, I made a workbook just for you.
The 'It' Brand Guide to Unbland Your Brand will help you find your unique brand identity, message, and voice so that you stand out from your competitors and attract new customers to you.
Download the workbook by clicking here if you are ready to be the next 'It' brand in your industry
This post was published on the now-closed HuffPost Contributor platform. Contributors control their own work and posted freely to our site. If you need to flag this entry as abusive, send us an email.