The Twenty Most Common Brand Problems

After thirty years experience in brand management and marketing, I have directly advised more than 150 brands (with The Blake Project) and indirectly advised (through educational workshops, Just Ask responses, pro bono work, etc.) more than twice that number. That is to say, I have dealt with many brands’ problems in one way or another. Here is my observation of the twenty most common brand problems.

  1. No one in the organization has a solid understanding of the brand’s consumers or their needs.
  2. The brand does not stand for anything and it does not promise anything. It is just a name and a logo.
  3. The brand touts a clichéd, unsubstantiated, meaningless point of difference (such as, we are the quality leader or the service leader or the innovation leader or, worst of all, just the leader).
  4. Brand messaging is helter-skelter. That is, it varies by audience, message vehicle, campaign, etc.
  5. A crisis occurs that reinforces that the brand was never really serious about its promise.
  6. The brand becomes a “whipping boy” for some social issue. Special interest groups that disagree with the brand’s policies target the brand for attack.
  7. There is little to no awareness of the brand in the marketplace. This could be because it is a start-up brand or because it is new to the specific geographic market.
  8. The brand’s less than stellar perceptions are due to product problems. The product may have quality problems or be inferior to its competitors’ products in other ways.
  9. Internal politics and organizational dysfunction lead to brand and customer service dysfunction.
  10. The brand and the organization behind it have rested on their laurels for far too long, not keeping up with consumer needs and industry innovations.
  11. The CEO and the leadership team do not understand brand management and do not support it.
  12. Every time the economy slows, marketing budgets are slashed, leaving the brand vulnerable.
  13. Every time a new brand manager arrives, that individual changes the brand or its marketing campaign, whether changes are needed or not.
  14. Growth pressures have forced the brand into new products or services that blur the meaning of the brand.
  15. Brand extensions have repositioned the core brand in a negative light.
  16. The brand has pursued a series of price increases at a rate that far exceeds inflation.
  17. Continual cost cutting due to retailer pressures has resulted in an inferior brand that no longer is demanded by consumers.
  18. The organization proliferates brands and sub-brands with no clear differentiation or consumer targeting.
  19. The brand’s architecture is completely confused.
  20. The brand’s identity is presented inconsistently in different contexts, media, vehicles and situations.

There are more problems brands can face. Here are the 50 Most Common Brand Problems.

What brand problems have you observed?

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Brad VanAuken The Blake Project


  • Hilton Barbour

    July 17, 2014 at 5:33 am

    Great list Brad.

    Here’s a (sadly) quite common ailment…

    The organization mistakes marketing communications for marketing elevating the concept of “putting lipstick on a pig” to an art form.

  • Liz Kulin

    July 20, 2014 at 9:26 am

    Great list Brad! I deal with #7 as a marketer for startups, and I personally feel the negative downside of #13 each time a client hires a new in-house marketing guru that wants to show their off their abilities. It is important as marketers to really understand where within the brand that changes really actually need to be made, and where it not.

  • Sandra Pickering

    July 24, 2014 at 1:42 am

    A very recognisable list, Brad. (I’ve scooped it here to share.)
    As a brand strategy consultant myself, I notice that problem 1 is astonishingly common – sometimes in the most surprising companies.

    I agree with Hilton’s point too – and that problem is endemic in the start-up world.

  • Andy Hunter

    August 6, 2014 at 8:48 am

    These are a great summation, very real issues we see often.

    The only thing I would challenge is “Brand messaging is helter-skelter. That is, it varies by audience, message vehicle, campaign, etc”. In fact, I’d argue that this is one of the most important things for a brand to do. However to your point, it must be well orchestrated, and tie back to a looser, well architected definition of Brand. Planners and advertising agencies still make the mistake of thinking consistency of message equals disciplined brand. This is old thinking. Branding is more like running a theater now, the plays, the acts aka “the content” may veer from one direction to another but the ticket buying public must know what you stand for, and the types of content the may expect to see. And that occasionally they will be surprised, challenged, or that ultimately they may occasionally be disappointed.

    But, I think there’s some more basic issues of higher order, that I’ve seen get worse over the past several years. They come down to organizational dysfunction and a major shift in how branding works within an organization. As planners and brand consultants we must be more cognizant than ever of our role as organizational therapist, not just creators of meaning, messaging and aesthetic differentiation.

    From a clients perspective, branding is more difficult than ever before given a few factors.:

    1) Lack of Ownership, corporate structure is so bloated that individuals can’t make healthy decisions
    2) Short term thinking, corporately programmed to care for nothing but short term revenue gains.
    3) Fear (connected to #2)
    4) Lack of synchronicity. Competing objectives, cannot manage agency partners to a singular goal.
    5) Brand is seen as a narrow part of the overall business strategy. It’s linked only to brand perception scores or yearly ad campaign scores.

    So while the executional issues of the brand noted in your post are still big roadblocks for us to observe and understand, we need to figure out ways to challenge the more systemic issues of a business within today’s corporate structure. And be cognizant of how difficult it is for clients to make meaningful change unless we realize the bigger picture. Else we’re just another vendor partner that’s creating more problems than solutions as clients try to navigate an increasingly difficult brand ecosystem.

    So how do you all tackle my #1-#5?. I myself struggle with this on most every client engagement.

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