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Brand Management for Small and Medium-Sized Businesses: 7 Mistakes to Avoid

Here at Brand Auditor, we get new brand and marketing communication insights on a daily basis. Processing thousands of feedback data from the market research campaigns we do for our clients, we see that most poor brand performance is commonly related to seven shortcomings.

Regardless of the industry and line of business, personal brands, B2B companies, e-commerce stores, and all sorts of other brands have very similar issues. 

In this article we list those, explain why it is a problem, and discuss what to do to address those issues in order to improve the overall branding of your company.

Are you interested in what are the strengths and weaknesses of your brand? Choose from one of our brand audits, select what aspects of your brand you wish to evaluate, define the location and characteristics of your target customers and you are good to go. 

1. Poorly designed brand identity, lackluster brand experience

Classic mistake and the single biggest contributor to brand failure. Having a poorly designed brand experience tells your potential customers that your company does not have an eye for details and clearly doesn’t care to impress any potential buyers.

The harsh truth is that a poorly designed brand is similar to attend to date in inappropriate clothing, with bad hygiene, and without any effort to make a good impression on the person you meet. Maybe that is the real you, but in that case (sorry to say) you are not marketable.

In simple terms, a good brand looks tidy, easy to understand, and communicates values that are related to what you wish to sell. Be it fashion, science, luxury products, or software – branding is your tool to make your potential customers understand who you are, what you do and why is it beneficial for them.

Crafting a great customer experience consists of a great first impression, consistent communication of your qualities, and raising interest to find out more about what you do.

2. Confusing value proposition

Connected to brand identity, your core value proposition is an essential element of your brand. Should you fail to demonstrate what you can bring to your customers – they will lose interest and move on to discover the next alternative.

Right after you grab the attention of your customers with a great first impression experience, your next step in the process is to explain what your company does, and why your solution is the best for them.

The value proposition of your brand can be based on various items, such as pricing, status, quality, social responsibility, and a lot more – these have to be selected based on your target customers. Choosing relevant value propositions will make your potential buyers feel like “Oh, this is for me!” Failing to demonstrate relevant value propositions, or communicating them wrongly will make them say: “This is bullshit” and they will move on to the next one.

Few things to avoid:

  • Overuse of buzzwords like “best in class”, or “top-rated”
  • Vague terminology
  • Not communicating the problems you solve
  • Being too close to the “market standard” value proposition

Having a solid understanding of your target market is essential to be able to define the correct value propositions for your brand. This must be done based on research instead of guessing, or personal opinions.

3. Questionable credibility

One important aspect of a brand that can be a silent killer is credibility. This issue is quite common in the case of startups and small to medium businesses and there is no easy fix for this challenge.

The perceived credibility of your brand is the result of the following:

  • First impression experience
  • Ability to demonstrate your value proposition
  • Having clear evidence of required competencies
  • Reviews, testimonials, or case studies

Small businesses and first-time entrepreneurs obviously won’t be able to list too many references or reviews. In that case, their brand credibility will mostly depend on a concise, professional presentation of the value proposition and competencies.

In order to increase perceived credibility, an open and clear brand and marketing communication are required. Exclude anything from your brand and marketing communication that could backfire, such as fake clients, showing off “10,000+” happy customers, and other stuff that make your brand look fake.

Make your brand presentation and marketing communication open, transparent, clear and let your customers decide if your brand is the best option for them.

With so many unprofessional businesses, scams, and other low-quality stuff on the internet, being credible is a very solid way to make your brand stand out.

4. Not having, or not following any brand guidelines 

Do you remember our example about dating from the “brand identity” section? Success and failure in applying brand guidelines go hand in hand with that. 

Imagine that you meet with an exciting person who made a superb impression on you on the first date. Then when you meet the next time he acts and talks totally different. You would think “this guy is not consistent”. And you would be right.

Consistency is in brand management and marketing communications are important to build rapport with potential customers, with new people who follow your social media, and most importantly to establish credibility. Some of your potential buyers will become aware of your brand by seeing it somewhere online, but when they look you up next time they will wonder “Is this the same company?”

The purpose and following brand guidelines are to regulate your marketing communications. Our research data shows that the most important items your marketing and brand should be consistent about are:

  • Visuals: colors, photos, videos, and typography
  • Tone of voice
  • Brand personality
  • Communicated values

Our data clearly indicates that the biggest turn-off for potential customers is an inconsistent tone of voice – which causes a broken brand personality. This will be covered in a later section of this article.

5. Trying to please every customer

There is a very descriptive word to describe something that is good for everyone: generic. As a brand, you don’t want to be generic. If you aim to become a commodity business (which makes lots of sense in some markets) then it is a good idea to go with a generic approach but here we talk about branding.

Unfortunately, our brand audit data sets show that most brands fail to make a good first impression on potential customers because their presentation and marketing communications feel irrelevant. This happens when messaging and other means of communication are not tailored to the needs and wants of the target audience. 

Successful brands know their customers and choose their words carefully when communicating with them. Crafting value propositions, designing a wow first impression experience, and developing an overall brand experience for their particular groups of customers makes them relevant for their buyers.

Yes, crafting the brand for particular groups of customers will inevitably exclude people who will not like how the brand looks and what it stands for, but those are not the ideal customers for what you sell.

Polarizing brands that remain consistent with their identity are almost always the most successful ones. Apple is for people who don’t like the PC office culture” with boring stuff like Excel and Outlook. BMW is for the people who want a solid performance car with style. Mercedes used to be a high-status car brand but in the 90s they introduced new product lines like the C-class and A-class for the average buyers. They lost their status value at that point.

6. Neglecting the importance of brand personality 

The era of faceless giga-corporations is over. Since the 1990s, companies are actively embracing social responsibility and human-like features to establish a likable perception as well as goodwill and rapport.

Today, all big brands have a face. Tim Cook for Apple, Satya Nadella for Microsoft, and all actively participate in discussions about social issues, environmental responsibility, and other topics that will put them in a positive light. This is one crucial element of brand personality.

A more easily manageable aspect is the tone of voice and general visual style of content that the company produces. This loops back to the section of brand guidelines. For small and medium businesses, demonstrating a likable brand personality is critical to stand out and win the heart of their customers.

People buy from companies they would like to be associated with. They want to be proud of their choice and feel that their purchase contributes to a bigger goal.

What makes a poor brand personality? Our brand audit and market research statistics outline that some of the least-liked companies focus too much on:

  • Comparing themselves to competitors
  • Only talking about why to buy from them
  • Discounts
  • Upselling

7. Neglecting the public perception of your brand

Before we launched Brand Auditor in 2020, we conducted a number of surveys among small and medium-sized businesses regarding how often they collect feedback from their potential customers, and how they use those insights. 

Shockingly, less than 5 percent of businesses do regular audits and measurements for brand optimization purposes. And guess what? That 5% are the ones with the most successful brands.

Neglecting public perceptions is an amateur mistake for every company that wants to develop and maintain a great brand. Public perceptions are everything, as that gives the only valuable information regarding what people like and dislike about your brand.

In most cases, brand management decisions are made in the boardroom without any relevant data or insights. Brand managers and other stakeholders in the company try to use their “common sense”, “years of experience” and “market knowledge” to guess the right direction for their brand and marketing development. This is very similar to guessing which way to drive, without a map.

As a brand audit company, we can’t emphasize the importance of in-market customer feedback enough. Having real feedback-based insights from people from your target audience helps thunderously to identify the strengths and weaknesses of your brand. 

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