10 things I've done wrong in branding projects and that you can learn from

crossA brand I haven’t created or believe in. I did however shoot the photo on a cemetery on Ireland not far from my favorite surfing spot.
I’ve had the privilege of being involved in many different brand projects that have resulted in logos, graphical guidelines, advertising, POS, digital platforms, interior decoration, products, organisational impacts and future strategies. I’ve created and launched new brands and repositioned existing ones. My experience also stretches from being responsible for the hands on design process to creating entire brand platforms including strategies on how to communicate and implementing brands.
I first had the privilege to work with branding in 1995. Back in those days I was probably taking on to much responsibilities in relation to my knowledge about branding. But hey! How was I supposed to learn if I wasn’t prepared to make mistakes. Since then I’ve worked with some of the worlds largest brands as well as national brands driven by entrepreneurs in Sweden.
At the moment I’m also a partner in a clothing brand. Right now we’re in the midst of launching a new brand platform that steers the tonality of the brand, the product development, photography of products, POS material, advertising, online communication, sales activities and even the process of hiring new people.
Mountain-WorksMountain Works. I’m a partner, board member as well as responsible for the repositioning of the brand. Expect to see the results in the end of 2013 and beginning of 2014.
Today I don’t care about the size of a brand instead It’s all about authority. I want to work with brands that understands what I can do for them and that are prepared to listen and let me do my thing. I’m really glad I’ve got a broad portfolio filled with success stories. But there’s a saying: “You don’t learn from success. You learn from mistakes” and I’ve done a portion of those to. So I though I’d share 10 things I’ve done wrong that I hopefully don’t do wrong again.

Here are 10 things I’ve done wrong in branding projects over the years:

1. Taking on project without having the board and management team onboard
The management team of a company is short term in the sense that they leave the company every now and then. A board however is much more stabile. If yo got them on board you’ve made sure that the brand will stay more intact. Demand to take part in presenting brand activities to the board.
Initially in my career I was happy to meet with the project managers on the marketing department. Not good. Every now and then someone left the brand I worked with and in came a new hot shot that couldn’t wait to make his/her mark. This often led to unstable processes and poorly implemented projects. 50% of a branding project is a political process where you make sure people buy into your ideas. 50% is making sure decisions made stay that way. 25% is about the actual creative process. Ah..that makes 125%. But who said working with brands was easy!
2. Not spending enough time mapping brand contact points
When you design a new brand or create communication that is supposed to communicate a brand you can never map brand contact points enough. Once your strategy or design goes live it will suddenly be used in placed you never thought about. That puts new demands on your strategy or design.
In the beginning I focus on the details. That was not a good idea. Today I focus on the big picture. As long as you have that in your mind when you create things, you can always correct and adapt the details.
3. Creating things that require to much from the client
That logo looked fantastic on the computer. Those signs kicked ass. The advertising campaign was great. The color palette you used was stunning. But what sense does that make if the client hasn’t got the knowledge to implement those things you’ve created.
I’ve done these mistakes many times. Created something that the client first loves but then when it’s up to him/her to take over the brand platform they’ve just haven’t got enough experience of implementing complex things. Make sure you get a good idea of what your client can and cannot master before you create stuff.
4. Wanting to implement the new strategy to fast
A year is a very short time. Three years is also a short time. When you are involved in creating or repositioning brands, keep this in mind. Rome wasn’t built in one day and neither should your brand. Don’t worry, your existing and potential customers might be a little bit confused when you are changing things. But don’t overestimate the importance of your brand in peoples lives. You are not that important. On top of that you also want the employees to catch on. That also takes a while.
Many times I’ve been to eager to implement everything. That’s not a good idea. It takes time for the client to adapt to the new brand and to all the communication activities you’re about to implement. If it’s a good sized brand (a brand that is visible in any way) think of a three year implementation plan. But stick to it.
5. Not securing budget for implementation
A no brainer. But, many times I’ve been happy that we’ve been able to sell the project. The first thing you do isn’t shaking things up with the question “what kind of money do you have once we’re done burning the first batch of cash . You work, work and work a little more then you deliver a set of ideas. That’s when you realize that you and the client had totally different point of views of what was included in the first phase of the brand project.
It doesn’t matter how well you execute your first phase if the client cant finalise second phase out of budget reasons. It’s a failed project…and yes I’ve done that mistake too.
6. Expecting to much from the organisation
If you’re involved in a bigger project for a bigger brand there’s a chance the people around the table in the conference room won’t have anything to do with your solution. They’re expecting a thick brand manual (which I personally think sucks) that then should work as a bible. They then want to distribute this bible in the organisation and expect nothing but wonders.
This always fail. Delivering thick brand manuals results in two things. First, the brand you’re about to reposition or launch becomes dull. After all, who wants to look at things over and over again that only follows a set of rules. Secondly there’s big chance people within that organisation don’t even know how to interpret your bible. This sooner or later leads to an organisation who don’t care about the brand book at all. In other words they spend shit loads of money on clipart instead of brand art.
7. Spending to much time on documentation
Brand platforms should be simple and understandable. When I was young I sort of thought the value could be found in the number of pages that was included in the document that outlined the brand platform. Today I think the opposite. A brand platform executed in a couple of pages is a good platform. The brand should not sit on a piece of paper. It should be bolted into the spine of the co-workers of the brand you’re helping out.
8. Allowing the client to choose only a slice of the pie
Your work is not a smorgasbord where the client picks what he likes. When I work with brands I aim to implement everything. My work is to recommend a strategy that takes tons of things into account. You can’t just extract a logo but not the colors. You can’t go with some things without destroying the full picture. A brand platform is a platform not a set of lego pieces that works on their own.
Sometimes I’ve been in the position of having clients say that they like this and that but not that and this. Being afraid of destroying my relation with the clients I’ve answered “Of course we can take those parts out”. Months later I’ve realized that I didn’t benefit the client by listening to him or her. I only destroyed a great strategy or design. Of course you should listen to your client. But listen to feedback and not their solution.
9. Not taking education of the organisation into account.
Your communication is live. The brand sits on a sign. A TVC reaches the masses. People click into the brand site. Basically the brand you’ve created is live and kicking. But inside the company there’s an organisation that doesn’t understand shit. If that’s the case you’ve done what I’ve done – forgot about educating the organisation. Spend as much money on education of the organisation around the brand as you do on implementing brands. Later in life I’ve worked with global advertising campaigns that only had one purpose – to educate the organisation about the new brand.
10. Not spending enough time on the presentation of your brand concept
Ok, so you’ve developed an idea for a client. You’ve spent weeks, maybe month on finalising a monster strategy that will take the brand you’re working with to the other side of the moon. Your work will kick ass.
Hold it! You’re not quite there yet. It’s time to present your ideas. At first when I started working with communication I worked forever with solving the problem. Then once I was about to present that to the client we wrapped up our ideas the day before. Not very successful. Today I start to think about presentation of the ideas very early in the creative phase. The success of your presentation has nothing to do with your ideas. At least 50% of the success depends on how you present your ideas. In one sense you could say that the success of implementing your ideas lies in how well you managed to convince your client that they should do what you suggest to them. If they buy in 100% into your ideas you will have a much bigger chance of implementing 100% of your ideas.
Think of your presentation as if you we’re to do the opening act on a big theater. Every detail should be thought of. Foresee what the client will ask or criticise  Don’t only create presentation material, also create a drama that starts when you enter the room and ends when the client calls out WOW! And finally – rehearse the presentation more than once. If you’ve got more team members in the room, make sure they join the presentation. I’ve written more about presentations before. Go ahead and read my 15 keys to delivering a fantastic keynote.
Now, there’s a couple of pointers. I hope it helps you to avoid some mistakes. Rock on!