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MBA Caliber Tips on Branding Practices and Missteps

Creating a winning brand is often a lot harder than industry veterans make it look. Most companies go through many drafts of logos and slogans before settling on one—and even then, many change their minds after gauging customer response. Are ad placements memorable? Can customers quickly identify both what the product does, and where to buy it? Does it seem desirable or needed from the outset? Answering these questions incorrectly can sink a company in a hurry, no matter how amazing the underlying ideas. Carefully planning the branding strategy is one of the best moves a business owner can make.

The main goal of branding is to encapsulate some part of the company in a small, easily digestible package. Logos and slogans are two of the most common examples, though to some extent corporate name also plays a role. A brief glance at either will, in the best of circumstances, conjure a range of images about what the product is and what the company’s values are.

There are often more opportunities for failure than success, however. Overlooking customer needs and opinions is one of the easiest traps to fall into. Netflix’s 2011 decision to split its popular brand in two to create the “Quickster” line of home-delivery DVDs proved so remarkably unpopular that executives recanted almost immediately—but nevertheless lost a lot of business. Coca-Cola’s early-1980s decision to rebrand its popular soda as “The New Coke” experienced a similar backlash.

Problems can also arise when it comes to specificity and precision of image. The Arthur Andersen financial firm spinoff Accenture has received a lot of criticism in recent years for being “hip” to the point of, well, missing the point. “Accenture means ‘accent on the future,’ but not really,” Business Pundit said in an article about branding failures.  “The name itself conveys no readily accessible name. And while Andersen Consulting sounds like a company that owns a building filled with men and women who do things for people, Accenture conjures a more faceless set of images as well as other meaningless words like synergy and streamlining.” The company, perhaps predictably, has yet to perform up to executives’ initial hopes.

Executives can often avoid these pitfalls by engaging in a bit of research and market analysis before letting a new brand loose on the general public. Catherine Kaputa, a New York-based branding strategist, offers four easy-to-implement tips for a winning strategy: focus on a small idea; concentrate on a powerful visual; treat the corporate name as a “strategic creative decision”; and don’t overwhelm customers. “Whether you’re an established or aspiring small business owner, the best apply a bold and powerful simplicity to the branding process,” Kaputa wrote in a Harvard Business Review blog post.

Using the Internet, particularly social media, can also be a good way to help bring a branding strategy off the ground—and in most cases, it is free. Many budding business owners or entrepreneurs treat the social networking space as a sort of “test market” for tentative logos and slogans to get a feel for how they will be received before investing in large-scale printing and advertising campaigns. Most businesses do not have a lot of capital when they are first starting out, which makes low-cost and no-cost options for spreading the word all the more attractive.

Creating a winning brand strategy is not necessarily difficult, but it is usually a product of at least some trial and error. The best thing young businesses can do is to research the market and listen to consumers, whether in the outer world or online. Further, being sure to enlist the help of high quality designers to ensure your campaigns catch the eye can also go a long way in grabbing and holding the attention of consumers. Using sites liker ODesk, a community of freelance workers, makes this easier than ever before.

The bottom line, and most important takeaway is keeping things simple and self-explanatory is usually more important than having a big budget or the best advertising agents in town, and being willing to correct early mistakes and regroup when necessary often sets the winners apart.

Good branding and design can benefit business, no questions asked. But when done incorrectly, it can also cause companies to fall flat on their faces quite quickly. Juliana Davies writes in this post about how “there are often more opportunities for failure than success” in the world of branding. She writes for MBAOnline.com, which among other things is an educational website for MBA students and people looking to learn more about the nuances of business.

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