Top 5 Branding No-No’s for Small Businesses

Small businesses are the backbone of our country . They are an important factor to local  economies and supply millions of jobs around the nation. And as all small and start-up businesses know, you need every advantage you can get to compete with the big companies. With all the issues small business owners need to think about, the fallout from branding mistakes shouldn’t be one of them. From bad logo design, to social media slip-ups, here are the top five branding mistakes you need to avoid – especially as a small business.

Branding No-No #1: Not Knowing Your Company’s Values, Purpose, Personality, or Customer

The Greeks said it best: know thyself. Not understanding your company’s values, purpose, personality, or even its target market will doom your brand and marketing faster than a bad logo or color pallet will. A company’s brand, especially the brand of a small business, encapsulates the essence of the company itself. Is your company hip and playful, modern and clean; is your primary customer urban or rural, male, female, or undefined; is your culture cutthroat or supportive, playful or serious? All these things affect your brand and image.


Don’t make the mistake of not understanding your company, or worse, thinking you know your company’s brand and then pushing contrary or off-brand messaging.

A great example is the case of a company called She’s FIT!, an extension of Trevor Linden’s Club16 fitness studio, geared specifically towards women. In a Branding No-No case study by Visnja Milidragovic, a Digital and Brand Specialist, all the issues with this company’s brand is gone over with a fine-tooth comb. And one of the mistakes listed is how the brand values lack the connection to understanding their customers. “While at first glance, their product passes the test – the gyms appear well-equipped, modern, as well as positive and fresh with their green backdrop – – the “Out With Judgement” lettering on the wall beckoned me to unleash yet again. Honestly, it looks like the most judgmental motivational statement in the world, and at least for me, would only serve to remind me of the feeling of being judged,” says Milidragovic. She continues to explain how that phrase and branding doesn’t work for She’s FIT, but does for a company with a different atmosphere: “If the same statement hung at a Semperviva Yoga studio, I’d beg to differ, though. After all, the essence of your brand works to frame your messaging. And in this case, it really does – and to the company’s detriment, in my opinion.”

“After all, the essence of your brand works to frame your messaging.” – Visnja Milidragovic, Digital and Brand Specialist

For a budding brand, make sure you “know thyself” before you move forward. And then return every time you create a new campaign or design – Does this fit with our values? Does this match our target market? Does this accurately represent our company and culture?

Branding No-No #2: Not Doing Your Research

No one likes a copycat – especially the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) and companies with lawyers. When developing your logo, tag lines, and color schemes, make sure you do your research first.

via Gify

Check for trademarks, registered logos, and your competitors color schemes. The USPTO Trademark Database is a great source to use when doing this research, but also check out your top competitors and social media. Google can also be especially helpful. Make sure that your logo isn’t too close or resembles someone else’s. You could get sued, lose a lot of time and money, or even have your business shut down if you don’t go through the proper due diligence. And then, once you do develop your logo, protect it by registering it!

Branding No-No #3: Forgetting to Look at Your Branding with an Outsider’s Perspective

Don’t be the small business who accidentally has hidden genitalia in their logo (Google “Bad logos” and you’ll find more than you thought there’d be). Don’t be the company that doesn’t read their website or hashtag in all lower caps (WhoRepresents, an agent database, becomes Don’t be the brand that sticks with simple initials and forgets to read them (PMS Mortgage, for example).

bad-logo_Doughboys         Bad-logo_Junior-Jazz-Dance

Always try to have a second set of eyes look over your name, message, website, hashtag, etc. If you’re doing business internationally, have a native translate your company’s name or tagline. Research colors and how certain words might be perceived in those countries. For example, Coors translated its slogan, “Turn It Loose,” into Spanish, where it is a colloquial term for having diarrhea. You can find 20 other fantastic examples in this Inc. article here.

Create surveys and focus groups using subjects from your target market to test how your branding is perceived, and then make changes as necessary. Look over your logos and other marketing elements with a critical eye. Have people outside of the project (ones that don’t see or deal with the creation process every day) and ask what they see or think. Trust us, you’ll save a lot of time, money, and reputation if you just take a second look at your branding.

Branding No-No #4: Making a Social Media Faux Pas

The surest way to gain the ridicule and negative attention of social media users is to try to profit off of a disaster or tragedy – especially if the product/service is completely unrelated. Unless you’re a company that sells necessities (food, water, clothing, etc.) and you’re sharing with people how your company is donating its products to the victims (and it matches your values), don’t say anything about your products.

You can show support, remorse, or send prayers, but do not use a tragedy as a platform to sell. “Don’t be the company that blindly continues to promote itself when the rest of the Twitterverse is updating, conversing, and mourning the fallout,” explains Lisa Tilt, founder of Full Tilt Consulting, a branding firm. For an example of what not to do, look to Kenneth Cole, an international shoemaker company. They’ve used debates over gun control and riots to try and sell their shoes.


And a faux pas can happen beyond being tone deaf to tragedies – just look at any hashtags that have been hijacked by social users (Twitter is especially prone to this): #McDStories, #ILoveWalgreens, #SusanAlbumParty (when all lowercase reads #susanalbumpary).

Branding No-No #4 goes pretty much along with #3 – have someone else take a second look, or use surveys and focus groups for major branding and marketing campaigns. And ALWAYS before determining a hashtag, view it in all lower case and see if it says something different than what you planned.

Social Media is one of the best and most inexpensive ways for small businesses to build their branding and customer base. When navigating Social with your brand, the best path to success is to keep to your values, stay on brand, and really, just be human. Social media is a place to have a conversation, not be a door-to-door salesman. The best way to succeed is to be genuine and authentic.

Branding No-No #5: Being Inconsistent across Marketing Materials and Platforms

If you ever go through a re-branding, or are simply updating, make sure you update EVERYTHING. It may be expensive, but nothing makes potential customers disconnect more than inconsistency across a company’s marketing materials and platforms. Use the same handful of colors on everything to present a unified and cohesive brand. Don’t use different colors for each social site (unless they’re your top 2-3 brand colors) or only reprint brochures with updated branding but not flyers, business cards, or display graphics. The inconsistency comes off as disorganization, sloppiness, and carelessness to your prospects. Those are things no brand wants to be associated with.

And don’t forget, like we mentioned in No-No #1, stay consistent between the company’s main message and the actual message you are marketing (for example, your target client is female and a Millennial, don’t use photos and copy that speak to male Baby Boomers).


Branding sets the stage for your company. It’s the lens with which everyone views your business. Remember to avoid these branding No-No’s the next time you’re looking at a new marketing campaign or starting a new business. We’d love to hear examples and other mistakes to avoid that you’ve come across – comment below!








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