Why your brand sucks

By 100m
August 29, 2011
Reading Time: 4 minutes
Filed under Branding, Positioning

Black Sheep Brand Naming


Brands are pretty hard to build. And while some heroic efforts have yielded brands that really do make the world a more interesting, beautiful place, let’s face it, the vast majority of the brands out there suck.

If you have to ask yourself which category you fall into, it’s most likely the latter, and not for reasons too illusive to surmise. Lets take a look at the Top 6 things that have you sucking right now:

1.You don’t trust yourself. Market testing, asking your mom, sending a survey monkey to your friends- these are not exactly the strategies of a visionary. You started this project because of something you believed in, so why do you care what 20 middle-aged women available for market research between 3:00 and 6:00 p.m. think about it?

If you trusted yourself, your taste, and your own personal mission, your brand might still suck, but at least it’d be honest. By the time it’s been through a hundred peoples’ hands and the bureaucratic grinder of stakeholders with all their little edits and tweaks tacked on, your brand hardly resembles its former self.

By asking everyone, all you’ve done is catered to the lowest common denominator and in the process stripped away every ounce of character in your previously well-defined mission. So now, sure, nobody hates it, but nobody loves it either.

2.You’re afraid to be smart. Remember during the Bush campaign, when everyone was saying they really wanted a president they could have a beer with? Someone who knew the values of a hard day’s work and not some pretentious asshole from Oxford? They were onto something weren’t they?

No. They weren’t. Those people were crazy. This guy is going to be running the show. He ought to be someone way smarter than any of us, which is why he’s at the top. The same thing ought to go for the things we make and put out into the world.

But somehow intelligence has become synonymous with elitism, and no one, least of all you, wants to come across as exclusive. So now you have a jingle, a logo, and a message you could have a beer with, but that’s about it. You lost the opportunity to align yourself with the bright, educated people of the world, the major bummer being, they have some serious spending power.

3.You have no balls. No one wants to be the first one to stick a neck out. And we get it, this is your livelihood. You can’t risk the chance that your whatever won’t be well received by the public. But then maybe you shouldn’t have gotten into this business to begin with. This American belief that everyone’s ideas are as insightful and worthwhile as everyone else’s is just plain untrue, and the sooner the weak-willed get out of the game, the better. The funny thing is, the biggest risk you can take is taking no risks at all- a surefire way to make sure you get confused with all of your competitors.

4.You have no intrigue. Somewhere you read or heard that the worst thing a company can do is alienate the people. And to be sure your brand stayed welcoming and accessible, you made sure not to alienate anyone.

You’d have been better off remembering the immense role ambiguity plays in fueling our human desire for things. From dark strangers in bars to iPads, what we don’t know or totally understand can capture our imaginations in a way that easily accessible stories never can. We want what we can’t have, can’t afford, and can’t quite reach, not objects that are research-tailored to our age, race, gender, and income bracket.

And part of capturing our imagination is a willingness to stand out. This means accepting that the only way to really connect with some people is to alienate others. Nothing is for everyone. This makes having intrigue an obvious subset of Number 3- have the balls to say, “This isn’t for everyone, it’s for these select few.” Give one group what they really need and want, and forget the rest. Because there’s nothing more appealing than a party you’re not invited to.

5.You’re too close to the problem. Chances are, you spend way too much time with your brand. You speak in industry lingo to the point where normal people can’t understand you. You hang out with work people all the time. You use words like scalability, aspirational, and viral. Basically, your head is so far up your ass that you have totally lost touch with how normal people view what you’re doing, and how they want to be spoken to. And in this, you are not alone. In a world of specialty skill sets, everyone is doing something all the time that is making them just a little crazy. What defines those that suck from those that don’t is the ability to take a step back and understand how people who don’t share your reality view your business.

6.You think you’re awesome. If numbers 1-5 apply, don’t worry, there’s still hope. You could, accepting your lack of creativity with grace and insight, hire a company whose entire purpose is bringing that creativity back, a group of people whose specialty skill set is removing corporate heads from corporate asses. But more likely than not, you think you’re awesome, good at everything, and above reproach (even the hired, constructive kind) in which case you deserve what you get. Even T.S. Eliot outsourced his editing. No one doesn’t need help.

Which is so weird because you’re more than happy to outsource your dental work, your oil changes, even your investments, but for some reason you just can’t break with your delusions about your ability to capture the hearts and minds of people.

And the worst part of all? It’s catching. The sad truth is that bad brands affect more than just the companies who create them. Not only do they miss an opportunity to make the world a brighter, more interesting place, they actually condition the world to expect stupidity. A walk through the homogenizing horror-show of any Wal-Mart will show you the damaging domino effect of slipping brand standards: the more crap you see, the less crap upsets you. Eventually you even grow to expect and enjoy it, or even worse, capitalize on it. And that’s the kind of debauched thinking that breeds societies who want to have beer with their presidents.

So do us a favor, aim high. Listen to your gut. Treat your customers like self-respecting, bright people with an appreciation for the good things in life, even if you know it’s not true. Build brands with integrity and insight, or at the very least, hire someone else to do it right.