After realizing I was having the same conversations over and over with my fellow freelancers and consultants who work with brands, I decided to write this post to help founders of emerging brands avoid these pitfalls. It seems that burgeoning companies - whether luxury brands or high-street brands - all tend to make the same mistakes in the early years in terms of branding and what they should be prioritizing. Here's what I learned from my experiences as a consultant to hopefully save some trial-and-error.
1. Giving your brand a name no one can pronounce.
It should go without saying that the name of your brand should roll off the tongue and have a pleasant sound. Many founders give their brands what they take to be fancy-sounding French-ish names with accents that no one can pronounce. You really want people to be able to repeat it, instead of saying "you know that brand? Ake-something?".
2. A non-authentic brand name that makes no intuitive sense.
Furthermore, the name of your brand should convey a sense of what it offers. You don't want a jewelry brand that sounds like a bakery or a sportswear brand that sounds like anti-depressant. For example. You also don't want it too sound too similar to an existing brand. "Nucci", for example (I've seen it somewhere), is comical.
3. Not investing in the website.
Some founders I know argue against updating what looks like a website built on the original Wordpress wireframe because a) "no one goes on the website; everyone is on Instagram and will soon make purchases there" b) "it's too expensive"; or c) "it looks fine". Yes, people will check out the website, and it needs to look modern and be aligned with your brand's visual DNA. It does not cost much to update to one of Squarespace's minimal yet slick looking templates.
4. Not investing in copywriting.
Often, brands come to me after someone in the company (not a writer) "has written some copy to get something up, but it's not that great". And often, this not-so-great (read: cringeworthy) copy has been up for well over a year until someone realizes it may be good to bring in a professional to ensure there is a catchy, consistent language free of grammatical errors.
5. They're always dumbing copy down because they're afraid someone "won't get it".
Once they find a copywriter, they're afraid of going against the status quo. Good copy is distinctive, it hits hard and resonates deeply. It makes you think and it makes you remember. Meaning it has to be bold, short and clever. Founders typically reject anything bold, short and clever because they're afraid of offending someone, leaving someone out, someone not understanding it, or something not being clear enough. The result is bland copy that makes customers eyes glaze over or that they do not even register. As Brian Cristiano (CEO of Bold) has said, "marketing to everyone is marketing to no one".
6. Not investing in social media.
Much like the above, for the first year or two, social media is often sacrificed, with either of the following two scenarios. In the first, the founders manage it themselves (resulting in an ever-confusing feed combining lookbook shots, grainy factory photos and everything from the founder's baby to vacation photos.) At one point, a social media expert has to take control and demand that the founder gets their own personal Instagram separate from the brand.
In the second scenario, the social media is managed by various members of the team, with random posts being actioned by everyone from the Digital Marketing Assistant to the design intern to Susan in logistics. These are usually hackneyed over-used pics from their corresponding Pinterests. Holly Golightly, quotes about "good vibes only", Marilyn Monroe's dress blowing and so on.
7. Relying on one-stop-shop digital agencies.
It seems like such a good idea. It's so efficient. They'll do it all - the website, social media, IT, SEO, PPC, blog management. They're experts. We'll save so much money not having to hire a full team. At the risk of sounding dramatic, I have never seen one of these non-specialist agencies do a good job. You're better off hiring full-time employees, at least for several key areas, who will care about and are generally aligned with your brand. Then, outsource independent freelancers for the rest. An agency is never going to care too much and they'll be too detached to go the distance. You'll get second and third-rate work on your website, social media, IT, SEO, PPC, etc. By the time you realize this, you'll only have wasted money.
8. Poor imagery.
You can't sell anyone anything without a good captivating image. You need the customer to need your product or service. To visualize themselves with it. The pictures need to make them aspire and identify. Many brand founders will know someone who knows someone who is a "great photographer". This is often a family member who took some photos for someone's cousin's wedding. This is always ends in disaster. Find a good commercial photographer and a good retoucher.
9. The founder constantly listens takes the advice of too many people. These founders are always having meetings at sceney places with various industry types and to feel a sense of progress and success by association. They ask them for their opinion and take all of it as gospel. They then apply this advice yet change their mind constantly because they're lacking a clear vision, are listening to these other people too much, or are paralyzed by fear of not selling. Just because someone has been successful in their area, does not mean they will know what's best for your brand. Sometimes the most junior people on the team have a better sense of the brand than some overrated influencer or stylist. Do only what truly feels authentic.
10. The founder listens to no one.
Equally bad is being completely deaf to the feedback. It's a balance, but some founder's egos are too big to heed to the feedback and advice of anyone. Whether it be their junior team or even the board.