5 Stupid Things Smart People do to Mess up Their Brands

By May 2, 2014Blog

Most organizations and industries are full of well-educated people with access to lots of information, data, training and more. Yet these people continue to do stupid things that mess up their business and personal brands. Here are the top 5:

Not having a WHY
Simon Sinek’s profoundly awesome book on this topic, “Start With Why”, shows the lack of brand and strategic clarity that comes from not knowing your WHY. Or worse, not having a WHY in the first place. Without a WHY, there’s very little left for an audience to connect with a brand emotionally – other than a mild and apathetic form of loyalty. In this state, your only WHY is “Make Money”. This means the relationship between and a brand and its audiences becomes purely transactional. Employees get paid to do work. Customers buy products and services. This creates a flat, boring existence as a brand – and being boring is one step away from irrelevance.

Mistreating the people that touch your brand.
One of the most exciting aspects of the Social Business era is that it reveals the jerks and bullies that have hidden behind titles and firewalls. Yet each day is populated with stories of abusive treatment to employees, customers and communities. And of customers abusing employees and companies. One of the key elements of social business is amplification: whatever you are off-line is much, much louder on-line. As such, abusive behavior quickly becomes your brand. Abusive brands (both personal and corporate) eventually will only attract people expecting to be abused – perpetuating co-dependency.

Tolerating mediocrity.
As I mentioned, being boring kills brands by pushing them towards irrelevance. This typically starts with a slow, creeping tolerance of mediocrity – where “good enough” becomes the benchmark for products, teams, marketing, etc. This mediocrity eventually seeps into the human experience. First with employees, then with employees to customers. Eventually, “good enough” becomes your brand’s unwritten slogan and what your customers tell their friends. Brands struggling with mediocrity also struggle with Social Business. How do you amplify empathy?

Becoming blind to first impressions.
Part of the curse of mediocrity is losing your self-awareness. It makes you numb to how you are perceived – particularly with first impressions related to visuals and human experience. In personal brands, this is manifested in being out of style, struggling with technology, being a poor communicator, etc. It also is manifested in how you interact with people and the impression you leave with them. For corporate brands, this is being blind to the 1000s of details that make up a visual brand and human experience: web sites, employee appearance, lobbies, bathrooms, front counters, etc. This is why leaders and employees of great branded have such high EQ (Emotional Intelligence). EQ is the leading contributor to self-awareness.

Mass market thinking
Assuming large populations of people are exactly the same creates, well … sameness. And sameness is the enemy of awesomeness. Mass market demographics were a key measurable in the golden age of advertising. They are now sand in the fuel tank of Social Business. Certainly there needs to be consistency and congruence on how products function and services are delivered. However, the audiences view themselves rightly so as unique individuals and expect to be treated as such. In particular, mass market thinking can make you appear tone deaf and out of touch. An example: brands trying to attract Millennials by treating them as a demographic.

Campaigning instead of story-telling
Campaigns are a left-over of mass market thinking. Because they encourage sameness, campaigns create a check-box mentality and tend to dilute what makes brands interesting and compelling – which is the story part of a brand. While there are certainly exceptions to this, most ad campaigns are boring regurgitations of previous campaigns. When you combine campaigns with tolerating mediocrity, you wound your brand even further with low quality execution. Campaigns also perpecuate the old thinking that brands are created through advertising.

Conversely, consider a brand that has a clear WHY, treats their audiences with respect, has high standards, has self-awareness, views people as individuals and is great at telling stories. They will occasionally do something stupid: make a bad strategy decision, make a mistake, have a disaster. But because they have the positive traits of a great brand, they can recover. Further, they learn from these lessons and create new operational and personal habits to prevent them. Of course, all of this starts with executive leadership. Awesome brands have awesome leaders that manifest these characteristics in their lives.


I provide companies a day-long executive workshop on this topic called “Return on Awesome: How to make your Culture your #1 Differentiator”. Holler at me here if you want to bring me in to your organization.

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