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Bad Branding: Real-World Mistakes To Avoid and Strategies For Success

Are theBuilding a successful brand requires striking the right balance of creativity and caution in the ever-changing marketing world. Every brand faces challenges, and to stay ahead, we must learn from the mistakes of others. 

Branding is a powerful tool that allows businesses of all sizes and across industries to communicate their values, differentiate themselves from competitors, highlight their unique value proposition, and build consumer trust.

However, poor branding can have the opposite effect, confusing customers, harming a company’s reputation, and even driving a company into bankruptcy. In this post, we will look at some of the most common causes of bad branding, share examples from well-known companies, and offer critical strategies for avoiding these blunders.

Before we go any further, let us first define bad branding.

What does “bad branding” mean?

Bad branding is a difficult journey that surpasses the impact of zero sales or lacking product support. Unlike those scenarios, bad branding is a bottomless misstep that could lead a business to complete demise. It emanates a foul odor that repels customers, directing them to competitors and eroding market share. 

The internet, an unforgiving archive, immortalizes woeful branding blunders with public scorn, ridicule, and mockery. Irreversible brand damage occurs, contradicting the adage “there’s no such thing as bad publicity.” Haphazard logos and offensive ads leave a lasting imprint, affecting various business facets. 

Metrics like Net Promoter Score (NPS), Share of Voice, and Brand Recall quantify brand health, with brand blunders leading to less effective marketing, lower sales, and diminished revenue.

  • Net Promoter Score (NPS): Aggregates customer feedback
  • Share of Voice: Measures industry conversation about your brand
  • Brand Recall: Evaluate how reliably your brand comes to customers’ minds in your industry.

Common branding Mistakes

  • Sending Cold Emails: Not a Good Idea

Putting “cold email campaigns” in your email plan is risky. It seems pushy, makes people wonder, and is usually too basic. Avoid cold email campaigns if you want your emails to be marked as spam or reported as scams. Most likely, people won’t like getting emails this way. So, it’s better to look for friendlier and more personalized ways to reach out to them.

  • Ignoring SEO

In today’s digital world, dominated by Google, mastering SEO is crucial. If you neglect this, you risk falling behind your competitors. Finding your brand shouldn’t be challenging for your target audience; ignoring SEO makes it challenging. Identify trending keywords relevant to your brand message and understand how people search for them. 

Develop a strategy to ensure your brand responds effectively. Additionally, consider that a more trustworthy-sounding web address improves your site’s ranking. If your desired domain is taken, explore variations or try to purchase it from the current owner. If all else fails, be open to brainstorming a new name.

  • Poor web design

When it comes to your online presence, it has to impact you positively. Design choices can create a good experience for users navigating your site, which reflects poorly on your brand. This can erode trust between users and your brand, leading to a negative perception and, ultimately, a loss of potential sales.

Investing in web design is crucial, especially for small businesses. It allows them to reach a broader audience beyond what’s possible in a physical setting. This translates to a bigger audience, a broader influence, and increased potential for sales. So, ensuring a solid and appealing digital presence is a smart investment for any business.

More must-reads: Top 5 Reasons to Redesign Your Website in 2023

  • Lack of consistency

We’ve emphasized it before, and it bears repeating: inconsistent branding is trouble. It sends the message to your audience that you’re uncertain about your identity and values. This confusion disrupts effective communication with your audience and, once again, leads to a lack of customer trust and a negative view of your brand. 

The key to avoiding this pitfall is to focus on your brand identity and develop a robust brand style guide. This guide ensures a cohesive and steady representation of your brand across all channels, helping build trust and a positive perception among your audience.

  • A disconnect with the audience

Not understanding your target audience makes establishing a connection with them challenging. Exploring the psychology of branding is valuable to grasping how building emotional connections and positive interactions can win over customers. 

Designs should be inclusive and accessible to cast a wide net and attract as many people as possible. Researching and understanding your audience’s preferences, behaviors, and needs is crucial for effective communication and fostering a strong connection that resonates with them.

  • Being ‘fake’

Authenticity is a cornerstone for most successful brands. While some brands that “fake it” may succeed, there’s a constant risk of customers discovering the truth and reacting negatively. With climate change in the spotlight, there’s a growing societal shift towards wanting brands to practice sustainability and be accountable for their actions. 

“Greenwashing” is a clear example of brands pretending to be environmentally friendly to follow trends; it’s deceptive, unethical, and an unsustainable approach for your brand. Embracing genuine practices and values aligns with consumer expectations and establishes a long-lasting and trustworthy brand image.

  • Being generic

In creating your brand, being too generic can be a real buzzkill. But what does that even mean?

  • Too Many Stock Images: Using the same old pictures everyone uses.
  • Boring Logos from Generators: Choosing a logo that doesn’t stand out.
  • Copycat Brand Names: Picking a name that sounds like your competitors.
  • Same Old Product/Service: Offering something just like others without doing it better.
  • Vague Talk in Your Writing: Using words that don’t say much.

Additionally, the more generic your brand, the less special it looks to your audience. And if you’re not special, it’s hard to catch their eye or make them feel something. Brands that do these things can seem random and not very pro.

So, how can you prevent branding mistakes at your own company?

Pick a great designer and take full advantage of their expertise

Your designer may assist you with more than just the design of your branding job. If your design team is a contracted freelancer or a full-time staff member, communicate any market research, positioning strategy, and past marketing or branding issues to them. Restricting your design expertise to being just an illustrator for your brand concepts is bad for both the client and the designer.

On the other hand, if you state your objectives in general, abstract words, you will be utilizing your design team’s entire potential, knowledge, and experience. Moreover, you will enable them to recognize and avoid branding hazards and errors. Giving them too much background information is preferable to giving them too little.

Involve your full staff, not just your design team

For organizational insights, go beyond typical team structures. Unknowingly repeating past mistakes can happen, as demonstrated by a pricey documentary in which a video editor found flaws beyond their usual purview. 

Encourage staff members to provide comments to foster a collaborative environment that guards against branding errors. This method not only prevents expensive mistakes but also shows excellent teamwork. 

Going above and beyond the call of duty, your diligence may get you an honorary position on the branding team and recognition from peers. Use group intelligence to strengthen your branding initiatives.

Capture the customer’s perspective.

Seeking an external perspective on your upcoming branding plans reveals hidden issues and untapped opportunities. Beyond the design team, direct engagement with your lifeblood customers provides invaluable insights.

Your marketing team can identify diverse customer segments, from big spenders to early adopters. Encourage broad participation to avoid limiting insights to a narrow perspective. An uncomplicated email campaign inviting feedback on branding ideas generates willing volunteers.

Utilize tools like SurveyMonkey for quick surveys or sophisticated platforms like Clarabridge for in-depth customer data. Customer feedback, especially pointing out potential issues, wields significant influence, offering savings in trouble and costs. Embrace the voice of the customer to refine your branding decisions.

Think globally and futuristically.

Branding is a one-time and ongoing investment. Futureproofing is critical, especially in fast-paced industries like technology or transportation. Opt for abstract visuals and a broad purpose to avoid quick obsolescence. Learn from Netflix, whose early branding prominently featured DVDs. Avoid tethering your brand to current methods or technologies.

Conduct extensive global research to avoid changes for specific markets. Steer clear of trademark challenges and unintended linguistic connotations. A well-planned, timeless brand ensures longevity and adaptability in an ever-changing world.

Factor in your brand history

Your brand’s history is a compass for its future. Adopt the forensic scientist or archaeologist role and delve into past branding materials, style guides, and designs. This prevents unwitting repetition and serves as a valuable elimination tool, excluding ideas that have run their course.

A diligent approach avoids the pitfalls of cyclical design, steering clear of recycled concepts. Clients prioritize quality over quantity in design work. Concentrate on the right design, incorporating considerations of competitors, value propositions, and the brand’s historical evolution. By doing so, you ensure a strategic and forward-looking brand identity.

Consider your competition

Neglecting competitors in your branding strategy is a significant error that carries substantial, measurable costs for your business. The essence of branding is differentiation, and achieving this requires a comprehensive understanding of what sets you apart.

Resembling a competitor poses various risks, from legal complications to customer support challenges. However, customers may mistakenly seek support for a competitor’s product, leading to costly inquiries. Copying a rival brand instantly diminishes your uniqueness. While generic products may imitate known brands within legal bounds, it’s an unsuitable strategy unless catering to confused or price-sensitive customers is not a viable approach for most brands.

Consider connotations and context.

Numerous visual and situational pitfalls can arise when creating or refining a brand. Employ this essential checklist to uncover potential branding issues:

  • Word Analysis: Scrutinize branding materials for unintentional vertical spellings, acronyms, or colloquialisms. Identify problematic rhymes or verbal similarities that may convey unintended messages.
  • Logo Negative Space: Examine the negative space of your logo from various angles, sideways, reversed, and upside down. Check for unintended shapes or imagery within the negative space.
  • Global Compatibility: Assess brand words, syllables, and rhymes in foreign languages to avoid confusion or negative connotations.
  • Generational Sensitivity: Present your potential brand to three generations to ensure it avoids unintentional associations with sensitive issues or historical imagery. This thorough examination guarantees a brand that transcends potential pitfalls, resonates across diverse audiences, and stands the test of time.

5 Bad Branding Examples From Well-Known Brands

Even big companies can fall if branding goes bad! Here are some famous brands that took a tumble in their branding game:

  1. Coca-Cola: A Formula Fiasco
  • In 1985, Coca-Cola tweaked its famous drink formula to rival Pepsi’s popularity.
  • Backlash hit hard as loyal customers felt the company had ditched its heritage.
  • 5,000 furious daily phone calls grew to 8,000, and protests saw people pouring New Coke down drains.
  • Afterthat, coca-Cola returned to the original formula, but the hiccup left a mark.

2. Gap: Logo Lamentations

  • 2010 Gap tried a new logo to stay modern but faced criticism.
  • Customers and design pros disliked the new look, missing the old logo’s personality.
  • After six days, gap returned to the classic logo, highlighting the importance of sticking to your brand’s identity.

3.Pepsi: The Kendall Jenner Ad

  • In 2017, Pepsi dropped an ad featuring Kendall Jenner, aiming for social relevance.
  • Backlash hit hard for trivializing social justice movements.
  • Pepsi pulled the ad, emphasizing the need for sensitivity and avoiding tone-deaf messaging.

4.Kodak: Fading Film Glory

  • Once a photography powerhouse, Kodak owned 80% of the global market share by 1968.
  • However, in the 1990s, the brand needed to adapt to the digital photography revolution, despite being an industry pioneer.
  • The inability to grasp changing consumer behavior led to Kodak’s bankruptcy in 2012.
  • Lesson learned: Business growth and branding must evolve while understanding consumer perceptions and behaviors. Early adoption of digital photography and diversified revenue streams could have saved Kodak.

5. Amazon: A Logo Blunder

  • In 2021, Amazon unveiled a new mobile app logo featuring a blue tape strip over its iconic logo, symbolizing packaging.
  • Some users, however, saw a resemblance to a certain Nazi dictator’s mustache, leading to negative feedback.
  • Responding to the uproar, Amazon tweaked the design to showcase a folded piece of blue tape without zigzag edges.
  • The incident underscores the importance of thorough design scrutiny, as even a tech giant like Amazon resists logo blunders.

Avoid Branding Mistakes By Partnering With A Trusted Branding Agency

So what does it take to avoid these mistakes and negative press?

A clear understanding of all aspects of branding, from the smallest detail to the largest.

As a leading branding agency, our team at Tensor Solution includes top branding designers and strategists with years of experience working with brands of all sizes, and across industries.

With every branding project, we conduct thorough research into your industry, competitors, and audience to craft a custom brand strategy to help you reach your goals, whether just starting, rebranding, or breaking into a new market.

Explore our case studies and see how we help our clients and partners avoid the common mistakes above by using our research to create detailed user personas, identify the ideal positioning for your brand, and more.

Our branding deliverables include:

  • Custom logo and brand design
  • Tailored brand strategy
  • Brand positioning
  • Brand Messaging
  • Brand book design
  • Brand implementation across channels.


FAQs for Bad Branding!

  1. Can you provide examples of good products that were marketed poorly?

Absolutely. One notable example is the Microsoft Zune. It offered features comparable to the iPod, yet marketing missteps hindered its success. Another instance is New Coke, a reformulation of Coca-Cola. Despite being a quality product, marketing failed to align with consumer preferences. These cases underscore the significance of effective marketing in realizing a product’s potential.

  1. What are common pitfalls in branding?

Pitfalls in branding include inconsistent messaging, neglecting customer feedback, and not adapting to market changes. Overlooking competitor analysis, failing to define a unique value proposition, and lacking a cohesive brand image can also hinder success. Avoiding these pitfalls is crucial, ensuring a brand remains strong, relevant, and resonant with its target audience.

3 What distinguishes companies with a negative brand image from those with good branding?

Companies with an opposing brand image face challenges due to poor customer perception, often resulting from controversies or consistent poor performance. In contrast, those with good branding excel at crafting positive associations, delivering quality, and aligning with customer values. Successful branding builds trust and loyalty, whereas negative perceptions can lead to customer distrust and disengagement.

Bottom Line

Building and managing a brand can be tricky, but avoiding common mistakes is vital. Be real, consider different cultures, and use social media wisely. Fix mistakes quickly to keep the trust intact. Your business is more than just products; it’s about how customers feel. Once people trust your brand, you won’t want to go back.

Focus on making a positive and lasting impression to keep your brand strong in the competitive business world. To avoid bad branding, focus on being honest, staying consistent, and knowing your target audience. Share what makes your brand special.

Getting experts involved prevents negative feedback and builds a positive brand image. Grow your brand with smart campaigns. So, contact our team for a chat, and we’ll create a plan tailored just for you! Let’s make your brand stand out!

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