The way you introduce yourself has a major impact on the way people view you. If you mumble or avoid eye contact, they might think you’re shy. Too loud, they will begin to think you’re rude. Based on those tiny mistakes, they may decide they don’t like you or that they don’t want to interact with you. But did you know that same thing is happening to your business? Branding introduces your business to prospects, so making even a single bad branding move can hurt their impression of your company. It can even push them away and keep them from becoming clients. Your branding is sending the wrong signals if you are: #1. Cranking out valueless content Content marketing is the most effective (and most popular) marketing strategy in use today. According to the Content Marketing Institute, it garners more leads and costs far less than any traditional method. Startups are trying to take advantage of this — but the vast majority of them are failing at it. Many young businesses crank out as much content as possible, but they don’t consider how it is affecting people’s perceptions of their brand. Sharing large amounts of content promoting your business can leave a bad taste in a potential client’s mouth, for instance, because it makes your business look self-centered and unhelpful. Consumers want entertainment and helpful information. If you don’t offer both of these things, you will not succeed. Instead, your content should provide a solution to a problem customers have — or a problem they didn’t know they had. It must also appeal to them with good writing, a clear brand voice, and visual aids like images or videos to help them absorb the content’s message. #2. Using generic marketing materials In the early days of starting a company, business owners spend a lot of time meeting with venture capitalists and trying to round up the necessary funding to expand their companies. Since they have to share brand and product information to win over investors, they typically create a media kit to distribute. This gives potential partners a chance to see what, exactly, they would be investing in. But venture capitalists are not going to be impressed by a generic binder from an office supply store. That type of media kit paints the startup in an amateur light and shows a total lack of ingenuity. You’ve got to prove to them that you and your business plan are competent. With custom binders, you’ll make a powerful statement about your brand’s identity, creativity, and potential for success — the same way these branded designs give great impressions of their parent companies. You can also make your marketing kit more interesting by adding helpful photos of your products or services to illustrate key points. This breaks the information up, so investors won’t feel bored or overwhelmed trying to sort through all of it. And it creates the perfect chance to include interior images that match any custom design on the covers or spine. #3. Creating an inconsistent message We all shift our behavior to adapt to different social settings. For example, we treat close friends and family differently than we treat business connections. But we’ve also all met people who did more than adapt — they became a completely different person when our backs were turned. It was confusing, hurtful, and maybe even a little scary. You know what a challenge dealing with two-faced people is, so why make your clients deal with a two-faced company? When you curate one brand persona on your social accounts, another on your website, and still another on your blog, it throws customers into confusion. They have no idea which version of your brand is the “real” one, so they develop a lack of trust in you. To regain their trust, you will need to create a style guide that defines your brand’s voice for all platforms—and then stick to it any time you produce content. Your style guide should include the tone you want to maintain (professional, witty, friendly, etc.) and any rules you have about spelling, grammar, or formatting. #4. Linking products that are not related Growth is a natural part of developing a business — but it can become very unnatural if you’re growing in the wrong direction. When a business is ready to expand, there is always a temptation to use its old market to try to connect with a new market that is unrelated to its existing product lines. Colgate tried that when they launched a line of frozen meals under the same branding as their toothpaste. It was a daring move for them to go so far outside their comfort zone and try something totally new. Unfortunately, customers couldn’t see why a brand that specialized in toothpaste would branch out into frozen food. The meals failed because Colgate’s branding as an amazing toothpaste maker didn’t give customers any confidence in the company’s cooking ability. Your branding shapes clients’ perceptions of your company, and you can’t just change those perceptions by slapping your label on a new product. It’s best to choose products that match your brand identity. If you do branch out into a new area, it may be time to update your branding — or even create separate branding for the division that handles the new market. #5. Mimicking other brands Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but it’s the worst form of branding. There’s very little incentive for consumers to buy your new product if it looks just like the old product they already buy. Besides, consumers seem to enjoy publicly shaming brands that use this strategy — a lesson Forever 21 learned the hard way when it ripped off Kanye West’s shirt design. Consumers, especially millennials, want authenticity. They’re attracted to innovative products, and they crave honest marketing. While it is alright to feel inspired by another brand, copycatting their products is not the road to success. After all, you can’t be yourself if you are too busy trying to be everybody else—and that’s a shame, because you have something unique to offer customers that other brands don’t have. You will do best to come up with your own original ideas and make a unique mark on your industry. Originality shows potential clients that you are goal-driven and that you are prepared to work hard to provide them with a unique experience, which gives them that much more reason to trust you. Establishing your brand identity is a complex process; you’re sure to experience a few bumps along the way. But you can save yourself a lot of headaches if you stop making rookie branding mistakes like these. When you strive to build good branding, you’ll be amazed at how well customers respond.