Branding 101 - The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

by Lindsey Winsemius - Posted 6 years ago

Branding 101 - The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly

Every new entrepreneur who spends any time at all researching digital marketing will be told by a hundred different articles that it's critical to build a brand. And a memorable brand starts with picking an amazing brand name

True, but what exactly is a brand? For this article’s sake, let’s call it the process of encouraging potential customers to form fond memories and emotions and a positive relationship with your company, product, or service. 

Do you salivate slightly, drive a little faster, and experience a warm feeling in the pit of your stomach when you see a Taco Bell sign? That’s because it has been favorably branded in your brain over a lifetime of exposure to countless television and radio ads. Taco Bell marketers have done a good job. 

On the other hand, we have the example of Chick-fil-A, where it’s owner allowed his personal values to become entangled with the business and subsequently offended the LBGT community. While the business still seems to be prospering, there is at least one demographic that wouldn’t eat there if they were starving. That’s how you hurt a brand.

Let’s take a deeper dive into Branding: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.

The Good


A critical part of building your brand is to cultivate a group of people who strongly identify with your product or service. We mentioned Taco Bell but Harley-Davidson is perhaps even more illustrative. What do you think of when you see a guy or gal perched on top one of these classic American motorcycles? How about leather, bandannas, long hair, tattoos, and the call of the open road? Your brand-building mission, should you choose to accept it, is to create that same kind of loyalty in your customers. 

How do you do it? While the process is not set in stone and can vary in details between entrepreneurs, here are some factors to consider:

Determine a target audience: Unless you’re Amazon or Wal-Mart, it’s unlikely that the entire population of planet earth is your target market. In the Digital Age, it’s even more important to narrow down your audience to those who most closely align with what you sell. 

You can waste a lot of money, time, and energy trying to reach someone who will never buy. What do we mean by specific? One example would be tech-savvy, pregnant single moms who work from home. Got it? Now go get ‘em.

The mission statement: Don’t mistakenly assume this suggestion is a bit of hokey-ness that isn’t worth your time. Unless you take the time to write down your company’s exact reason to exist, you’re almost guaranteed to drift away from it as time passes. Here’s an example of what we’re talking about from Nike: “To bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the world.” Impressive, huh? 

Now get yourself to the woodshed and start working on your mission statement.

Research the competition: Before you head back to that woodshed to ponder, take some time to study your competitors and their branding. Make note of what they do well and where they fall short. Don’t make the mistake of copying anything directly, but use the information to craft your own brand. In particular, pay attention to:

1. Consistent message and visual conformity across various channels
2. Quality of products and/or services
3. What do customer reviews say?

Define benefits and qualities: The bottom line is that you have to do something different or better than everyone else. This is your reason for existing. A vibrant brand hangs on the idea that there is at least one thing, whether it be amazing service or a unique product, that a customer gets from you that can be found nowhere else. An example? Apple’s iPhone.

The name is the thing: Perhaps no factor is more important to your brand than creating a great name. The reality is that some words are fun to say and roll off the tongue while others create an urgent need to never speak them aloud again. Make sure your company name looks good, sounds good, and means something.

Branding 101

Logo and tagline: With mission statement and list of benefits in hand, now it’s time to create a logo and tagline. We shouldn’t even have to enumerate the reasons why. Think about McDonald’s golden arches or the Nike swoosh. You’ve probably got the former’s tagline, “I’m lovin’ it,” floating around in your brain somewhere, or the latter’s, “Just do it.” The best part about this is you don’t need a billion-dollar ad budget to come up with the next great logo or tagline. Just an inspired dose of creativity.

The Bad

Branding 101 - the bad

We’ve devoted some effort to talking about how to conduct a branding campaign the right way. The following mistakes will likely result in an average brand that no one gets very excited about. Ouch. Read and learn:

Set and forget doesn’t exist: Here’s something you might not have considered. Your branding campaign will never end. You should remain in a constant state of testing and evaluating what parts of the overall strategy are working and which aren’t.

Don’t market to the wrong audience: Unless you research and refine the precise audience you want to fall in love with your product or service, you could do everything right and still be wrong. Find their pain points and what kind of language gets the best results.

Branding 101 - Satisfied customers

Your market is mobile: Statistics reveal that more than 50 percent of web traffic is on a mobile device like a smartphone or tablet. If your branding approach assumes that people primarily consume content on a traditional website built for a desktop, you’re making a big mistake. Get mobile with your branding. To choose otherwise is to choose failure.

The Ugly


Remember the Chick-fil-A example from a few paragraphs back? The company’s CEO now admits he wished he had never introduced his Christian principles into the debate. Too late, he realized that the resulting fallout from his very public LBGT comments only harmed his business. 

We don’t want Chick-fil-A to feel picked on. There are plenty of ugly brand blunders to go around. Here are a few of our favorites.

The Burger King: Once Burger King started featuring a dude running around in a creepy mask in their ads, the chain dropped from #2 in the world to #3. That’s not good.

Let’s eat some toothpaste: Remember back when Colgate tried to sell packaged frozen meals? We wish we could forget.

Don’t call us by our name: How about when the Xerox company did their level best to stop “xeroxing” from becoming a generic term for the photocopying? It’s been a slow slide to obscurity ever since.

The Bottom Line

While much more goes into creating a successful brand than could ever be covered in a single article, hopefully the preceding good, bad, and ugly discussion will at least point you in the right direction and away from some of the ways you can go horribly wrong. The main thing to remember is that brand-building is serious business. Unless you like failure, devote the appropriate time and effort to creating the best one you can.

Guest Author: Helen Cartwright is a passionate blogger, who excels in the Digital Marketing and Technology niche. When not wired in marketing strategies she ghost-writes for a variety of authors who have their work published on leading online media channels such as The Huffington Post and You can follow her on Twitter.