10 Branding Mistakes Your Startup MUST Avoid

by Doug Thibault

You know what they say ­– mistakes are the stepping-stones to success. Time and again, we've heard how mistakes let us know we are progressing, and they have the power to make us better than before.

But it turns out that there are some mistakes that can be costly. They can have disastrous effects that your startup may not be able to recover from. Let's take a look at mistakes you can't afford to make as a startup.


1. Not Identifying A Target Market

Many times, entrepreneurs fail to identify their target market. They think they should look only at the reaction of the general public. Instead of "limiting" themselves to a particular target market, they want to cater to everyone – and end up targeting no one.

According to Experian, a whopping 80% of email marketers send identical content to all their subscribers.

Why? Because those marketers haven’t given any serious thought to email list segmentation. They haven’t analyzed the different kinds of customers they may have for their products and services. So, they send the same material to everyone and don't succeed in convincing anyone.

Furthermore, Around 40% of emails and 8% of messages on social media websites are considered spam. This means you could be spending a huge amount of time and money sending emails that end up in the spam folder.

The reason is the same – you didn't identify your target market, and you marketed to non-buyers. When a message doesn’t resonate with them, they may mark the message as spam, and now you've wasted both their time and yours. 


2. Not Choosing a Unique Name

You've spent hours coming up a unique name, tested it in focus groups, and even tested its logo. But, did you search whether your business name infringes on the rights of an already existing trademark?

As simple as it sounds, entrepreneurs often make this mistake, and it can actually lead to an infringement lawsuit. So, you'll just change your company name, right? Well, changing a name isn't as easy as it sounds – and it could result in starting from scratch. Talk about time and money wasted.

Although the name-searching procedure can vary from state to state and country to country, it is usually handled by the secretary of state. A good start is to use the Trademark Electronic Search System (TESS), through the website www.uspto.gov, where you can search for words, designs, and trademarks.

A common law trademark search can also be performed. A common law trademark is one that hasn't been registered with the state or federal government yet. You can also search trade and business directories for names, like the Thomas Register or Dun & Bradstreet.

You could also go for a more expensive, but easier, option and hire a trademark attorney. They can do a comprehensive search and provide you with legal opinions.


3. Failing to Differentiate Yourself

The purpose of your business should be to make yourself stand out, but for some reason, many entrepreneurs are afraid of doing just that. In fact, it's all too common to see a business ignoring originality.

Robin Hercia, a senior designer at AWMYL design studio, says that he reworks the font for each client’s project to be unique. It's no longer a typeface that can be easily downloaded and used by anyone.

As a designer, Hercia also creates different textures, shadow effects, and shading by hand, which lends a distinctive touch to the brand. He says that this makes the branding stand out and breaks through the clutter. Otherwise, in the sea of multiple corporate identities, it would be difficult for the brand to gain visibility.


4. Overlooking Domain Name

Now that you've decided on a business name it's time to choose your domain name is next. Although you might be tempted to use obscure domain names such as .it (for Italy) and .us (for the United States) to make your domain name sound oh-so-cool, it will only complicate matters.

For example, how would you read del.icio.us? Our brain is trained to stop reading after periods. Many people might not get the big picture here!

As Marty Zwilling, the CEO & Founder of Startup Professionals Inc. has stated, it is better to get common suffixes such as ‘.com’. Some other obvious domains are ‘.net’ and ‘.info’. But getting all possible domains isn't feasible – or necessary.

You can also choose your business’s trade name as your domain name. However, this is only effective if your trade/business name is also your trademark or service mark.  For example, the trade name of McDonald’s is “McDonald’s Corporation,” but its domain name is mcdonalds.com.

If there are any common misspellings, relevant or confusingly similar domain names, you may want to consider purchasing them and directing them to your business’s main website as well. This can help you attract more visitors who might be using other domain names.  For example, traveltips.com and travltips.com could be two separate businesses with similar domain names. Only a misspelled word differentiates one domain from the other.


5. Not Securing Intellectual Property Rights

Every startup and existing business follows this one rule: If you were not the person who created your logo or other creative work, the only way to ensure access to its exclusive rights is to have a signed contract transferring those rights from the artist to you or your business.

In the "work for hire" situation, the hiring party owns all the copyrights. There is the question of freelance contractors too, though. Is the work owned by the contractor or the business? The answer is most often that, according to the terms of service, rights are transferred to the hiring party upon completion and payment.

This means that if your business is hiring any freelance contractors, ask them to sign a "Work for Hire "agreement – especially if they haven’t already signed such a document through the freelance provider site.


6. Stumbling on Social Media

Social media is a double-edged sword. It can catapult you to fame, but even one bad mistake can kill your brand. For startups with a humble beginning, the visibility provided by social media is great – but so is the cost of making any mistake on such a big stage.

According to Jeremy Durant at www.bopdesign.com, there are 2.1 million negative social media mentions in the United States alone! And those are daily figures we're talking about.

How do you make the best use of this tool?

Avoid making these two mistakes:

  • Picking a fight
  • Going off-brand

Often, a customer has an experience with a product or service that makes them call out a brand on its social media page. Some of the best tactics to handle this include pacifying the customer and going out of the way to correct the situation.

You'd be surprised at the number of brands who pick a fight with customers! Using abusive language, or having a blatantly offensive attitude, will not only irk the complaining customers but will also put off anyone else who visits your social media page.

Never pick a fight with your customers on social media, it will always make you look bad. 

Another mistake startups make is giving in to the temptation to voice an opinion on social or political issues that have nothing to do with their brand. This can come off as insensitive, cheeky, and in bad taste.

In this tweet, American Airlines has set its auto-pilot mode on, so when there are any negative comments, it responded in the same way.

Here is another example of a bad business tweet posted by Tesco:

This tweet shows how negligent the customer service of the company is. Besides this, it is a bad idea to communicate to the customers that the customer service will not be available 24/7.

In order to avoid this, set up clear social media guidelines.


7. Deviating from the Brand

Every company has some guidelines for making decisions and shaping messages. While these guidelines are not there to limit the business, they can make a huge difference in the choices you make. If you go too far from your brand’s guidelines, you risk crumbling the brand identity.

Let’s say you're the owner of a luxury fashion line, like Louis Vuitton. In every ad, you emphasize the premium quality of the brand – and your prices reflect that.

Every now and then, you have a sale at your stores. It might not hurt the brand once or twice. But in the long run, are you just training your customers to drop by when it's sale time?

Have you ever noticed that Louis Vuitton does not have sales, ever? And did you know that they actually destroy unsold merchandise at the end of each year to keep the value of their product high? 


8. Not Having Brand Guidelines

This can prove to be a deadly mistake. Brand guidelines are essentially the owner's manual for your brand. They will be used by all stakeholders, and are important in maintaining the integrity and consistency of the brand.

When developing brand guidelines, take into account these elements - as well as any others you think are important to your brand:

  • Logo
  • Tagline
  • Brand colors
  • Typography and fonts
  • Mascots and spokespeople
  • Imagery

One of the greatest examples of branding consistency is Coca-Cola. The logo has changed only slightly in the brand's 127 years. Now that's consistency!


9. Overcomplicating Things

They say if you fail to plan, you're planning to fail. But, did you know that too much planning can have the same effect?

If you continually stress about all the minute details surrounding your brand, there are higher chances that your business may never get off the ground.

Morgan Newman, the co-founder of IdeaPaint and a startup called MixedMade, says that he launched his product with the sheer determination to market in just 30 days.

MixedMade produces Bees Knees, a honey hot sauce. The timeline they gave themselves seemed overly ambitious – but it turned out to be a blessing in disguise.

Newman said it is obviously safer and easier to take time to plan and keep brainstorming, but their timeline forced them to zero-in on the problem. Before investing in other areas of MixedMade, the partners had to prove whether a market existed for Bees Knees. With each milestone, they asked themselves one question – whether or not it was getting them closer to the launch goal.

From choosing a name, sourcing bottles and honey, to experimenting with the recipe, everything was done with the mindset that not every move can be perfect. This tactic worked – and now the company is being courted by a major retailer.


10. Falling for the Wrong Investor

As your company starts making progress and you feel like you're getting your growth on, you might find your cash reserves are dwindling. But when it's time to get capital from outside the company, you have to remember this rule: Not all money is equal.

Freya Estreller, the co-founder of CoolHaus, and her partner Natasha Case decided to collaborate with an angel investor who they thought would be great for their company. He had invested in a company that was co-backer of CoolHaus, so it seemed like it would be a good strategy.

But the partners made a huge mistake. While the investor was interested in the growth of the company, he was anxious about the daily company operations, and wouldn’t let the co-founders take any risks.

Fortunately, in the end, the investor agreed to change his equity to debt. The takeaway that Estreller got from this was to understand the value that an investor brings beyond the dollar amount. 

Recently, Estreller and Case got $1 million in funding from former Cherokee Group CEO Bobby Margolis, who has turned the business around. He doesn’t focus on the nitty-gritty, everyday details of the brand, and instead is helping CoolHaus fly higher than ever. It's the perfect example of how choosing the right investor will definitely help grow your business.



These are the 10 mistakes that different startups might make in their strive for greatness. What's the mistake you ended up making? Share your story in the comments!



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