Small business and startup tips: 5 traps of business branding

Several weeks ago I wrote a post on branding a business in tough competitive environments.

I discussed the importance of defining a frame of reference, leveraging points of parity, and articulating your brand’s points of differentiation.

Today I want to talk about some of the pitfalls a business can become victim to when establishing a brand. Great positioning requires that your offering is clearly associated with a product category the consumer explicitly or implicitly understands and then distinguishing your product from others in that category. This is a three-step process: 1) establishing category membership, 2) clearly defining how the product fits into the category (determining those all-important points of parity), and 3) rising above the crowd by exclaiming the exclusive benefit(s) of the product that is unique and that the competing products simply don’t offer. Dangers abound in this process and many brands have failed to execute the strategy effectively. Brand positioning can be a slippery slope, so here are 5 potential pitfalls to consider as you analyze your own brand’s positioning.

1. Establish your brand position first, build awareness second. Establishing a strong brand position is an internal exercise that starts at product development and continues through rollout. Companies can easily fall ion the trap of working to build awareness of their product or brand without first positioning carefully. Understand and create your positioning before building awareness.

2. Care about what your customers care about. Promoting attributes that your customers don’t care about can serve to erode your brand, damage your positioning, and allow competitors to establish market share ahead of you. Listen to customers, research the competitive landscape, and build or enhance products that consumers want. Basecamp does a great job at this – their products are developed to solve problems for customers through an approach that values simplicity and ease of use.

3. Remember, your competition is watching. Investing too heavily in points of difference that can be easily copied should be avoided at all costs. This is not to say that you shouldn’t introduce value in features that can be easily copied, but rather that your most significant brand benefits should be unique and difficult to re-create. Among other strategies, this can be accomplished through patenting and trademarking of intellectual property, but also by establishing certain bona fides in the marketplace, For instance, Apple has a strong reputation for creating truly gorgeous products and while their competition works hard to achieve the same, Apple has done a great job of cornering the market on that consumer benefit.

4. To respond or not to respond? Walking away from an established position to respond to competition can be deadly to your business. If you have done a good job positioning your brand by establishing category, parity, and differentiators you should be confident in your ability to withstand the threats of competitors and new entrants. Own your brand and don’t let others define it for you or force you to redefine it.

5. Make your choice and stick to it. Attempting to reposition a brand can be very difficult or impossible, so it is critically important that you stay the course. Can you imagine the difficulty a company like McDonald’s would have in trying to reposition its brand as a meal choice for a healthy lifestyle? No, McDonald’s does a great job of extolling the virtues of convenience, value, and great taste and through this focus, they own the largest market share in the fast-food category. Their strategy is simple, focused, and unlikely to change in our lifetime. Photo: Nelson Minar