Imitating other brands in your category—For a brand to be distinct it has to be different from its competition. Yet too often challenger brands will try to adopt elements of a more established competitor’s brand, such as similar colors, sound-alike names, or even a slogan that relates to that competitor. A few years ago, Esurance, the online insurance company, tried to gain an edge on GEICO’s infamous slogan of “Fifteen minutes can save you 15 percent or more on car insurance” by claiming they could do it in half that time. The short-lived ad campaign was a weak imitation of a leading brand’s message and it didn’t work. (Not to mention that coming too close in appearance or message could be inviting a lawsuit.)
Mocking your competitors in your advertising or marketing—First of all, people generally dislike this approach with brands as much as they do in their social lives; tearing another brand down to make your brand look better is frequently viewed as distasteful. But secondly, at the very least it dilutes your brand by bringing their brand name into the conversation. And that’s the problem with naming another brand in your messaging; you’re actually helping your competition as much as you’re helping your brand, sometimes more. A client once told me they couldn’t wait for the competitors to start talking about them in their ads each year. The phone would start ringing as soon as the ads appeared.
Dueling brands—A company with multiple product brands is often tempted to gather as many as they can into one ad, or web page or tradeshow booth. More bang for the buck, right? Not always. Your audience wants to focus on one brand at a time, not six and can find combined messaging confusing. This can happen in a number of ways such as Product Brand X, made with Ingredient Sub-brand Y, using the Process Sub-brand Z. If you’re a retailer, promoting a lot of brands at once is fine, but otherwise, try to keep your messaging focused on one brand and its story at a time.
Tactical brand values—If your mission is essentially tactical such as “to sell the highest quality products,” you will likely have a greater chance of struggling. If your mission as a brand is to help improve the lives of people by developing new services or products, you could be onto something. Having business metrics drive your brand values is shortsighted-obviously every company wants to make good products and sell lots of them. When Proctor and Gamble restated the mission of the Pampers’ brand as one that helps mothers care for their babies’ healthy development, it re-energized the brand and its leadership and drove sales up more than 50 percent.
Making a lousy first impression—New customers can “meet” a brand for the first time in a variety of ways, which will vary a little based on industry, product, or service. Successful brands focus on finding ways to make that vital first experience with the brand as positive as it can be. A small example is the restaurant (the brand name escapes me) that gives new customers different colored napkins so that their employees all know to welcome them to the establishment. Previous customers also get a similar treatment, only it’s “welcome back.”