Some typical branding mistakes

Public Impact brand expert John Howarth has written on food for newspapers and magazines as well as his own blog. Here he writes about how great products can fail to do themselves justice with typical branding mistakes:

“A couple of weeks ago I visited the Thame Food Festival.For those reading this blog from a far (and London!), Thame is not a typographical error, but a small town in Oxfordshire. Thame is slightly off the beaten track for most people, in that it isn’t exactly on the road to or from anywhere much other than, maybe, Aylesbury. To make this worse Thame had no railways station from 1963 to 1987 when a ‘parkway’ halt opened two miles out of town. So for an unremittingly urban soul like me Thame qualifies as ‘the middle of nowhere’. That said and maybe because of all that, the place has more life about it than many of South East England’s small towns.

“The festival was an enjoyable affair. As ever with these things the food demonstrations were over-subscribed with insufficient space and wildly inadequate PA systems. Raymond Blanc (whose Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons is only a few miles away) and the rest battled bravely to be heard to little avail beyond the front few rows. I’m never convinced by these things – live cookery demos are there to pull in the crowds – one rarely learns a lot and the view is dreadful. Only if you are a real showman does it have impact.

“The rest of it, for those who have never been to a food festival, if essentially a glorified market. There are two varieties – tents in a muddy field or stalls in a town market place. Strangely enough the latter is always better. So you stroll around, check out the cottage industries, nibble the samples, buy the odd portion, plump for the lunch that tempts you most and drink a little of what you fancy. All quite civilised, especially on a lovely early Autumn day during one of the very best Septembers in living memory – at least in these parts. It’s not so charming in the drizzle, but this year Thame was lucky.

Good Food, Bad Brands

“The food at these things is intermittently good, sometimes great, sometimes disappointing and frequently overpriced – which is not surprising, food festivals are a day out for a self-selecting audience of middle-class folk with disposable income. What is surprising and a little depressing is the predominance of badly thought out branding. In a highly competitive market an effective brand that projects the product to the target audience in the right way is key but so often small food producers let themselves down with brands that are not memorable or, worse, fail to connect with the audience. This isn’t just evident at food festivals. In Sky’s recent series ‘Cooks to Market’, the most common criticism of the contestants was of their poor, sometimes laughable, attempts at branding.

The Do It Yourself Brand

“Much of this is the curse of the DIY brand – one of the most typical branding mistakes. Much more is confusion of what a brand actually is and who the most important people are in the process.

“The main motivation for DIY is cost aided and abetted by the mistaken notion that access to inexpensive design technology makes everyone a designer. While it was never true that buying a pencil and a paintbrush for a few quid made you an artist it is equally true that the ability to turn on PhotoShop does not a designer make. Cost is just as fundamental an error. Consider this:

  • How much less does it cost to implement a bad identity over a good one?
  • Once the logo is done is that it? How does it transfer to the packaging, web?
  • Who else challenged your thinking before the idea went onto paper or the screen?
  • Why, exactly, are you an expert in these areas – or do they really not matter than much?
  • Do you just like green?

Save Now, Pay Later

“The cost of getting your brand right at startup is invariably much less than putting it right later. Investing properly in a proper plan that helps you avoid the most common mistakes also provides the right foundation for second phase expansion. Investors and buyers for multiples will look at the brand as much as they look at the product.

“One up from DIY is hiring a mate or a freelance designer to doodle a logo. It’s definitely a better idea than playing with Photoshop yourself, but consider this also:

  • How much do they know, or do they want to find out about your business?
  • Do they know your target customer? Did they ask who buys the product?
  • What do you get for your money? An Illustrator file, a .jpg and a .png – is that it?
  • Will they advise you how to manage your branding, or how it might look in context, do they have any expertise in actually marketing anything?
  • Do they just like green?

The Friend with Photoshop

“If you just want an inexpensive but professional logo for your firm or your products then a freelance will do fine and won’t cost you than much, but if you want a strategy for growth its worth questioning whether the solo artworker has the experience of multiple markets, has worked with the marketing and growth of a real business and therefore gets exactly why your brands are assets to be developed and how they will acquire real value and not just a neat badge.

“Here are a couple of examples from Thame. First a company selling excellent artisan salami called Salty Sea Pigs. A strange name, an odd identity that requires too much explanation (including an overly complex logo that just doesn’t work technically on screen) and questionable association. Old sea dogs eating food preserved for months on end, salt tack and ship biscuits, rum and the lash? Really? But it tastes great and they deserve better – you can order it here (and they do beef too – not that you would have reason to know, of course as the brand is pretty specific).

“Second an outfit we’ve no desire to do them down and we didn’t taste their stuff – which could be terrific for all we know. That said we pretty much know that the symbolism employed by Grim Reaper Foods is niche market stuff at best. We know what they are trying to say – our sauces are really hot, devilishly so (and by implication you have to be really tough to handle them). Fine, but that appeal is to student hot chili eating contests, metal heads and the machismo of ordering the hottest curry on the menu. When it comes to food retail that’s a limited demographic – though it is gradually changing the majority of food purchases are made by women. Beyond the adverturous sould at food festivals, broader food audiences audiences are pretty conservative so sybolism more commonly associated with poison is going against the grain somewhat. A niche market pitch is one thing, but here the money is in products that are scalable and saleable.

It’s About the Audience, Not About You

“So is it all about you, or is it about the customer? Will your identity broaden or restict your audience? Where are the right places to promote ourselves? Does the brand appeal to the audience? In fact, most important of all, who IS your customer? Why make typical branding mistakes when they are so easy to avoid with the right advice?

“Anyway, it was a good day out.”

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