Five branding mistakes you should avoid in your small business

Small and medium enterprises tend to underestimate the power of branding. This must rank as one of the deadliest mistakes in the world of making business.

You have most likely read about the branding failures of large businesses in the news – those massive errors that spelled doom for once successful ventures. While not making headlines, the collapse of small businesses are more common. Studies reveal that 63% of all South African businesses fail within the first two years of trading.

Many of the errors behind the collapse of small and medium enterprises are branding errors – or the result of business owners not understanding the importance of it. Many people think of “brands” as being large, important identities everybody knows about like Nike, Coca-Cola, and Harley Davidson. But building a credible identity for a small business is just as vital, and one of the first steps along the path to success.

Branding need not be a headache or anybody’s worst nightmare but it’s essential to make sure you have a little know-how before you start your business. Ensuring that you have the basics down will allow you to steer clear of avoidable errors and take a significant amount of stress out of running a small business or start-up. Plus, if you do it right, you’ll likely find you enjoy it! And the value of a good brand is quite simply, beyond measure.

Across the board, there are five common branding mistakes committed by small businesses. All can be avoided with a little thought and planning.

Bad business name

We’ve all driven past them: those businesses called “Bob’s lawnmowers” or “The very best nuts and avocados”. With the possible exception of The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, few of these achieve fame and fortune. And the latter is fictitious.

Branding can’t be generic. It can’t be hackneyed. It can’t be repetitive, or something we’ve all seen before. Your business is your baby, so give its identity the same care you would give to naming a child. Recognise that naming your business is a strategic process and requires thought. The name must reflect your purpose, identity and promise. And please, no clichés.

Penny pinching

Many small businesses try to scrimp and save wherever possible, and the first place they do this is in the office. Bad idea. You may be glad to save on your overheads, but in the long run it could turn out to be an expensive branding mistake. If I walk into your offices as a prospective client and you offer me a broken chair to sit on, what am I going to think?

But this doesn’t only apply to your customers. Treat your staff well, too. If your staff are sitting in uncomfortable chairs or don’t have proper tools or are dying of heat because you don’t have an air conditioner (or at least a fan) they’re going to be grumpy. You need your staff to be brand ambassadors and to be proud of working for you. How you treat your staff will turn into how your staff treat your customers. Make sure you create a courteous, respectful brand from the inside out.

Too good to be true

One of the most common mistakes made by new business owners is taking bad advice. It may stand to reason that if you’re not a marketing expert, you should outsource marketing, and this certainly does make sense if you need a little help. However, you should put effort to know enough that you can distinguish between good and bad advice. Otherwise you may end up worse off than you were before. A consultant who doesn’t have your best interests at heart – or who simply isn’t an expert – can easily sink your business with a hearty dose of poor advice. And you would have paid them to do it. Empower yourself.

Complicating your brand

Ever heard of the award-winning “clown pants” design? Nope, me either. That’s because many of the most iconic and memorable brands understand the importance of keeping it simple. This doesn’t mean you should make your brand identity completely generic – it’s a fine line to tread between keeping it simple and making it forgettable. But as a rule, be bold, make a statement, but keep it clear. And in order to keep it clear, you should stay away from unnecessary bells and whistles. Keep your choice of colours, words and icons to a minimum. And once you have a clear, simple brand, ensure that you enforce it consistently throughout your company.

Remember – you can rebrand at some stage, or launch a new product with its own distinct brand. But beware of walking before you run, as rebranding is a challenging exercise. So, too, is running multiple brands successfully. Be sure it’s really what you want to do, and perhaps call on a little expert advice before you go ahead.

The herd mentality

Be original, Following the crowd is a fatal error. The ultimate key to your success will be identifying a unique or intriguing selling point and aligning your brand with that, so don’t go with the flow.

You’re hopefully planning to keep your business going for a while, so steer clear of following popular trends – you don’t want your brand to date. If you consider the Coca-Cola logo, it hasn’t changed all that much since the 1800s. Ask yourself: Will your brand still stand up to scrutiny in 10, 20 or 100 years’ time?

Raymond van Niekerk is a branding & sponsorship expert, motivational speaker, and an adjunct professor at the University of Cape Town’s Graduate School of Business (UCT GSB). This article was originally published by The Conversation.