We’ve all made branding mistakes in our business. Some worse than others, and then there’s a few of us (fingers point at me) that it’s a miracle we survived because we broke all the rules with branding!

I started my first non-direct sales business in 2007. My very own, all-by-myself venture. It was literally born out of survival with no intention to start a business. I was a single mother who couldn’t pay her rent so I went to the property manager and asked if there was anything I could do for them. They graciously allowed me to paint and clean houses in exchange for rent – and they didn’t mind that I had my little son in tow at all the jobs they gave me.

In time, I was cleaning and painting rental properties for a couple of different realtors and dabbling in property management (um, yea – I sucked at that one). I didn’t have any branding. No business plan – nothing. It was something developed out of sheer desperation and literally the need to eat and have a place to live. I didn’t even think of myself as a business owner. Survival was the only thing I had on my mind.

BRANDING MISTAKE #1 – IGNORANCE

After awhile I got out of cleaning (I really disliked it anyway but you do what you gotta do!!) and in 2009 I launched Out West Gifts.  In my mind it was my first business, but really, I didn’t give myself enough credit for being savvy enough to start a business to meet my needs in the few years prior.

This time, however, I was out marketing myself to real customers. Despite having my own little business, I had never even HEARD the word “branding” outside of a hot iron on the backside of a bovine. But I knew enough to get a cute logo made and a tagline. I was one of those “I didn’t know what I didn’t know” business owners. There was an idea in my head and I went for it with ZERO idea of what I was doing.

My business was haphazard and without any focus of how to market the business. I didn’t have a brick and mortar storefront. Instead, I traveled with my new husband to various art and craft shows. I had no filter for choosing which shows I did and did not do. It was literally a “let’s throw something out there and if it sticks, it sticks” kind of an approach!

Not very effective or efficient, but I learned quite a bit to the point that I realized I had to find my focus in the business and go down that path. It still never occurred to me that identifying the “focus” of my business was part of branding.

Fast forward three years and Out West Gifts grew enough that I decided to open a store front and focus on women’s western chic apparel and handcrafted accessories (like leather purses).

MISTAKE #2 – NOT ENOUGH RESEARCH / CHANGING OUR NAME

It was a BIG leap and I knew it was time to kick it up a notch. My parents invested most of their retirement to get the new store off the ground so I took some of my focus group/product management experience of years past and drafted a business plan and a general customer profile and “feel” for my new boutique. I came up with a new name and a pretty awesome tag line that reflected perfectly my store. I was so proud!!! The name was Urban Cowgirl and my tagline was “A Little Chic, A Little Country, Completely Original.”

Cute, huh?

Everything was printed, registered, metal signs made, big launch with a radio station…and then I discovered that the name was trademarked. Ugh. Are you flippin’ serious?! We were advised by a business attorney to change the name. (!@#$$%@#)

MISTAKE #3 – NOT TALKING TO A BRANDING EXPERT

Changing the name of a business that is already open is really difficult and confusing for customers. I don’t recommend it! I had just paid a ton of money to promote Urban Cowgirl (and everybody LOVED the name!!) and now I was having to dish out cash I didn’t have to promote a new business name I didn’t even like. It ended up hurting my fledgling business.

My new name didn’t accurately reflect what we REALLY were about. As a result, my ideal customer (target market) didn’t relate to my new name (Rocky Mountain Cowgirl Company). I wasn’t selling to “cowgirls”. My target market was fashion-loving women who loved the LOOK of the boho-western-chic style, but didn’t know the first thing about getting their hands dirty!

In hindsight, if I could go back and give myself some advice, I’d recommend hiring a branding expert to help me make such an important decision. But instead, I wanted to figure it out on my own! It would have cost me less to hire an expert than to make the wrong marketing decision.

We struggled those first years (for a variety of reasons) so I decided to make another major change – we moved locations.

MISTAKE #4 – MOVING LOCATIONS

I was convinced my business woes were because of my location.

Location IS important, but I know people who are in the worst location and doing amazing in their business and others who are supposedly in the PRIME spot but are struggling. It is so much MORE than a location – ESPECIALLY in the days of social media.

Every time you make a change in your business, you lose customers AND it creates confusion. I thought the move would solve my problems. Honestly, I would have been better off to stay where I was and establish some consistency and stability – i.e. trust – with my customers.

MISTAKE #5 – TOO MANY CHANGES (in other words, IMPATIENCE)

various business cards / branding mistakes
Some of my many different looks.

Shortly after my move to what was considered PRIME retail in the city, I was still struggling. Sure, I had moments when things were going well, but not as much as I had hoped. Someone approached me and offered to help me with my branding. Honestly, I had no idea what that meant and I did a “thanks but no thanks” type of thing.

Stupid. Stupid. Stupid.

HER help is EXACTLY what I needed – but I was too stubborn to realize it. (You know how many of us pray for God to help and we wonder why He doesn’t answer our prayers? Perhaps it’s because He IS answering our prayers and WE don’t have the eyes to see it.)

Instead of using her help I made ANOTHER change. I thought the name of the store was too limiting so out went RMC and in came a new name with a new tagline. New colors, lower price points. Ultimately, it was a completely different store.

I did my best to ease my customers into the change, but again – no consistency or stability. Customers were confused because, frankly, I was confused.

AVOID RANDOM RESULTS WITH GOOD BRANDING

Eventually, I closed down my boutique for a variety of reasons, but I firmly believe it would still be open if I had started out by understanding how branding works and that I needed it. Instead, I made crucial branding mistakes. But I didn’t know what I didn’t know.

  • I didn’t really understand my target market at first.
  • When I identified my target market, I didn’t know how to communicate/connect with them.
  • Other people convinced me to spend money on marketing to people who weren’t my customer.
  • I wasn’t clear on my identity.
  • There were WAY too many changes.
  • I didn’t understand that it takes TIME to develop a reputation and brand.
  • I allowed panic and desperation to dictate my decisions.

Ultimately, I wish I understood that my BRAND (overall picture of my business) was more than a name, the product in my store, or the location of my business. Instead, it involves WHAT my business is about. It’s a MESSAGE and that message resonates with a certain type of person. My marketing plan ignored all branding and relied on random people walking by my store then crossing my finger that they would be intrigued enough to come in and shop.

What I discovered is this: when you market to random people, you get random results.

Bottom line, you can not marketing your business effectively without understanding and developing a good brand strategy.

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