It doesn't matter whether you're a startup or an established firm: Branding matters. When a prospect has to choose between you or your competitor, the one with the better brand wins. So, with that in mind: How's your branding? Are you doing all you can to establish trust and loyalty with customers, or are you making classic mistakes?
To help answer those questions, here's a rundown of common ways firms undermine their own good names. Take a look, and see whether you're committing any of these major blunders.
1. Pick a boring name. Your business name is meant to set you apart, to be different from your competitors'. So why be "Italian Restaurant" when you could be "Maggiano's"? With a unique name, your brand has the opportunity to set out its definition to the public. When you pick a boring name, you miss out on that opportunity and sell yourself short.
2. Don't know who you are. It's near impossible to successfully communicate your brand when you don't know what it's about. Is your brand the grocery store with the best prices or the upscale market with the most hard-to-find specialty goods? When you're not sure, your potential clients won't be, either.
3. Don't communicate it to the company. Left to their own understanding, no two sales reps will present your company in the same way, and that means regular misrepresentation of your brand.
4. Be inconsistent. There's no better way to screw up your brand than by communicating an inconsistent message. If in print ads your business looks one way, and in TV ads it looks another, there goes your chance to make a solid impression.
5. Be deceptive. When an advertisement makes viewers think something about your brand that isn't true, you come across as deceptive; that ruins trust.
6. Change your branding all the time. Along the lines of being inconsistent, constantly revamping your brand can destroy its power. If one month you're the fastest and the next month you're the friendliest, all you're really telling the public is that they should be as confused as you are about who you are.
7. Choose an inappropriate look. Use a cartoonish font for your university website or a Times New Roman style for your cutting-edge graphic design business, and you'll undermine your brand by contradicting your message.
8. Pick generic images. When your brand looks just like everybody else, there's no way for you to be remembered—generic, boring stock images give you a generic, boring image.
9. Don't update your website. A website straight out of the 1990s ensures you make a bad first impression, both because it's hard to use and because it makes you look like you're as outdated as it is.
10. Emphasize too much. People will remember only a handful of facts, so overloading them with dozens of brand benefits and product features will only be a waste of time.
11. Clutter. Whether it's your website, your business card, or a marketing brochure, smashing together too many words or images will just appear cluttered and harm your brand.
12. Don't say no. Building your brand is as much about what you don't do as it is about what you do. So to confuse your audience, accept every opportunity and engage in every activity that's presented.
13. Don't target a specific audience. Reaching out to anyone and everyone from a huge pool of customers may seem like good business sense, but in truth, it's most effective at getting you lost in the crowd. For most small and mid-size brands, focusing on a particular niche yields better results—so if you want to be ignored, don't target your message.
14. Follow the pack. If you're just like every other bank in town, why should customers come to you? Even with this in mind, so many brands make decisions and changes based on what they see their competitors are already doing. Stick to this strategy to screw up your brand—but think innovatively to build it.
15. Break your promises. In a lot of ways, your brand is your promise: "we care about customers," "we provide solutions that work," "we bring more traffic to your website." So when you set your brand up to do something and then can't deliver, it's as serious as breaking at promise to your client—which is a surefire way to destroy trust.
16. Ignore details . Blogger Marthinus Strydom tells the story of a treadmill company that overlooked details when sending out a promotional email. Because the brand accidentally included a distribution list in the email, when users started hitting "reply all" to complain about poor products and service, the entire email chain was being notified.
17. Don't interact. Today's social Web demands interaction. When your customers are talking about you online, they're affecting your brand and how you're perceived to readers. So ignoring their conversations takes away part of your power and control, leaving others to take your image and run with it.
18. Forget you're a representative. Kelly Crothers of Maintenance Net tells the story of sitting with two marketing executives on a flight from San Diego to Las Vegas, where the comments and behavior of that CEO and VP totally turned her off to their brand. That's just proof of a basic principle: To screw up your brand, forget you're representing it.
19. Be selfish. The fastest way to turn customers off to your products is by making your messaging is all about you. Forget what's in it for the customer or why they should care—just keep talking about yourself and what you want. Likewise, ask for favors, but don't be generous.
20. Rely on the past. When your brand is established and successful, it can be easy to coast. The only problem? Even great authors kill their brands when they publish something terrible. And the same goes for most industries. Think you don't have to worry about what you're making, selling or saying anymore, and you set yourself up to harm your brand.
21. Use auto-responders. A lot of brands put auto-responders in place on social networks, thinking this will help them create relationships with users. But the truth is these automatic messages can actually be detrimental, failing to engage potential clients in a personal way.
22. Focus on marketing speak. Winning customers is all about wooing, interesting, and educating them in a way that draws them toward your products and services, so they can feel that it's happening naturally and they enjoy what you have to say. So a great way to destroy your brand is to ignore this and instead constantly overload your audience with typical marketing-speak, loud and in their faces. Campaign anywhere and everywhere you can online, not in a way that's winsome but in a way that demands to be heard.
23. Provide poor customer service. Whatever your industry, service is a crucial component. When they're treated poorly, customers will lose interest fast.
24. Respond badly to criticism. Nobody likes to get criticism, but the way it hurts your brand most is when you take it poorly. Customers hate to see a brand get defensive and attack the ones who question it-it's a fast way to turn them away.
25. Act apathetic. Don't respond to emails. Don't interact on social media. Show your potential clients you don't care about them, and they won't care about you, either.
Based on these 25 mistakes, how does your company stack up? Could it be that you're like a lot of companies and unintentionally tarnishing your reputation? If so, it's time to do something-do something today to take back your brand!
Shanna Mallon is a writer for Straight North, a Chicago Web design firm providing specialized SEO, Web development and other online marketing services. Shanna writes for diverse B2B clients, from a podiatry website creator to the makers of leather welding gloves.