Reverse engineering someone else’s success has been around since humans started making stuff – and other humans wanted to hack how said stuff was made. It is fairly tempting and simple to apply this same approach to successful brands. There are many lessons to be learned from Apple, Tesla, UnderArmour, Zappos and the like – but I propose an even more effective way to test your brand:reverse-reverse engineering.

With this methodology, you begin by deciding what you DO NOT want the end result of your brand to be. Then you take appropriate steps to prevent that from happening. And lucky you – there are many brands who do a terrible job to help you create your DO NOT list. Similar to the parenting skills of the dad in the Bernstein Bears children’s books.

Here are four key brand fail points to help kickstart your DO NOT list:

1) DO NOT HAVE AN IDENTITY CRISIS.  Not being connected to the core of your brand produces a ripple effective of insecurity and cognitive dissonance. This establishes a foundation of false truth – propped up by command-and-control thinking. It creates a squishy message (see #2). It puts way too much emphasis on “magic wand marketing” – the delusional belief that marketing fixes an identity crisis.  The bottom-line: if you don’t know you (beliefs, talents, differentiators et al ) the marketplace won’t tell you.

2) DO NOT HAVE A SQUISHY MESSAGE. If your message doesn’t make your heart leap; if you don’t wake up in the morning excited to share your it with the world; if it doesn’t light other people’s hearts on fire, you don’t have a message. You have a slogan, a tag line, a one-liner. And nobody cares. Your audience will respond with a “grawn” – a combination of a grimace and a yawn.

3) DO NOT HAVE UGLY VISUALS. No idea is so awesome, so amazing that it can withstand hideous and/or dated visuals. Sure, there are exceptions – but why risk that? In fact, if your idea is awesome, if your product or service is amazing, does it not deserve to look its best? This applies to all areas of first impressions but especially logo, digital (web and social) and marketing materials. Don’t beat people with your brand’s ugly stick and expect them to respond positively.

4) DO NOT EXPECT BAD MARKETING TO PRODUCE POSITIVE RESULTS. Branding has a certain magical alchemy to it. Marketing does not. It produces the direct results of your composite efforts or lack thereof. If you are doing 1, 2 and/or 3 on this list, you will experience the results of those DO NOTs. And louder, more frantic marketing efforts will just produce more non-results.

There are also many reverse-reverse engineering DO NOTs that apply to you as a leader and as a human – all of which manifest in your brand. Examples: DO NOT be a scatological reference to a lower body part to the people around you, DO NOT forget to love and invest in yourself,  DO NOT forget that branding is first a spiritual exercise about what you believe in.

If so inspired, please DO share your DO NOT lists in the comments.

One Comment

  • Thanks for the great advice. I am working for a young company that is still trying to build its brand. I really like how you said to find what you do not want to be and then make the necessary steps to not become those things. This seems like such a simple idea, but greatly overlooked on our part. I will have to pass this on to my boss.

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