Written by Canon Wing

I teach entrepreneurs and organizations the proven action steps to stand out within their market, improve the perceived value of their business, and better connect with their audience through naming, branding, storytelling, and communication platforms.

October 6, 2020

The Key Reason Good Brands Fail

The Key Reason Good Brands Fail – And How Not to Go Down That Path

Good brands sometimes fail. You could have a great product, the sincerest of intentions and a formidable marketing budget, and yet, it could all fall short. There is one key factor entrepreneurs sometimes miss when branding, and this one key factor can make all the difference. Let’s see what it is…

Many entrepreneur clients come to me in the early stages of their enterprise, while they’re naming their brand, brainstorming a tagline, and defining what it stands for. And each of them hopes that I will give them some magic success formula. You know – that one trick that can take their brand from new-in-the-market to come-out-of-nowhere-successful…A kind of key to long lasting brand loyalty.

And you might be surprised to hear this, but I do have such a trick for them. A key ingredient in their branding formula that can make all the difference to how their brand is received and perceived. In fact, the absence of this key element while branding can make even the best of products fail eventually. It’s simpler than you might think, so if you’re just starting out, this episode is going to teach you the exact mindset that will help your brand take the market by storm.

The key reason your brand could die in spite of a great product.

So you’ve designed a great product that works well and caters to a genuine need in the market. It does what it’s expected to do, and more. Is that enough? A number of good products fail due to incorrect branding. Why is this? When everything about the product is fantastic, what makes the brand fail? And more importantly, what can you do to avoid these pitfalls, and make sure your brand doesn’t meet an untimely demise?

Let’s get right to it. The one key reason why even good brands fail is because they think more about themselves and less about their ideal individuals. Let me explain. Branding should never be a dictation. It can never be a one-sided communication. It needs to be a conversation; a dialogue, an interaction. Remember that old adage about the best conversationalists being the ones that listen? Connect with your ideal individuals, interact with them. Figure out ways to make their lives better than what they are today, figure out ways to walk with them toward their greater future. You might think this key element is very obvious, but it is in fact rather elusive. Major companies have lost millions of dollars because of how common it is to skip this important step.

Some brands are born but doomed to failure.

Remember Cosmopolitan Yogurt? It’s alright if you don’t. In 1999 the hugely successful magazine decided to launch a yogurt brand. The brand failed for several reasons: one- people weren’t quite sure why they would buy yogurt from the same people who gave them how to tips, told them about  which colors to wear in the fall and how to drive your partner wild with desire.. It was, quite simply, too incongruous. Cosmopolitan thought that yogurt in the bedroom would turn into a fetish, but their ideal audience didn’t quite think that way. The yogurt lasted all of 18 months on supermarket shelves before it was withdrawn completely, leaving a lot of higher-ups at Cosmopolitan quite embarrassed. The concept was flawed, and Cosmo readers wanted to read a magazine, not eat Cosmo yogurt in bed!

Learn from this engineering marvel but branding disaster.

Another classic case in point here a one trail blazing automobile, an engineering marvel, by Tata Motors, an Indian car manufacturer. CEO Ratan Tata made it his dream project to create a car that everyone could afford – the Nano would be the cheapest car in the whole world! A car for first-time car buyers across the globe costing less than $2000. It was a noble thought, with an established, highly respected brand like Tata behind it. A lot of effort went into engineering a good small car at a low price point. And it did turn out to be an engineering marvel. Unfortunately, what it also turned out to be was a branding disaster. So much so, that it’s commonly featured in case studies on how not to do branding.

Let me tell you more about where the company went grossly wrong: Their Brand Story. The story was about people of modest means – people able to afford only a moped who could now afford a car. How everyone, everywhere, even poor people, can now be the proud owner of a car because it’s just that cheap. The thought was noble. The product was good. The effort was sincere. The key factor they missed was listening… keying in to their ideal individuals’ thought process; their aspirations. Tata branded for what they thought the consumer needed, as opposed to listening to the consumer, and branding according to what they really needed or desired.

So here is an engineering marvel, a product people could afford that fulfilled a specific need in the market. So why was it also a product that the consumers rejected? In a product segment like a car, where big and flashy and feature-loaded are desirable elements, the Nano felt too modest, too cheap, and not ‘hip’ enough. And then the story. Telling the story of a poor man’s car proved disastrous, because no one wanted to feel poor. Owning a Nano came to be associated with lack of money. Tata thought people wanted an affordable car, so they could all drive. People wanted an affordable car, but one that made them feel good about themselves, not one that made them feel inadequate. People want to buy cars that others would envy, not mock. Buying a Nano made one look as though this was all they could afford!

The company thought the consumers were utilitarian, whereas the consumers actually were aspirational. By their very nature, they wanted to impress, buy things their friends and family would admire and be in awe of. Nano didn’t tick any of those boxes. And young first-time buyers, their target consumers, preferred a hip $1000 motorbike to a cheap $2000 car. People wanted status enhancing cars, and this was the exact opposite. Even the poor aspired to live like the rich… so they refused to drive a car that reminded them of their limited means..

The car failed every branding test. Export demand dropped drastically. What started as a legendary businessman’s dream project ended up costing the company over 160 million dollars in losses. What could have taken the market by storm, redefined the auto industry across the world, became a threat to other car manufacturers… was reduced to a failure, a mockery and the subject of countless memes. Just 275 units of the Nano were produced in June 2017. And only one in June 2018. That’s right. One single car in a nation with a population of over 1.3 billion. That’s how disastrously low the demand plummeted. The company has now announced plans to shut down manufacturing of the Nano car entirely. And that spells the demise of a great product and one that people needed and wanted!

It was a classic case of breakthrough engineering brought down by disastrous branding. If only the company had listened to their ideal individuals and actually heard what they were saying. If only they had understood their desires, their wants, their needs, their aspirations. If only they had branded the Nano as the ‘smart car’ instead of the ‘cheap car’. If only they had proposed it as ‘your dream come true’ instead of ‘affordable for the common man’! They could have done any number of things, if only they had listened. If only they had branded for what the consumers really wanted, instead of branding for what they thought the consumers should want. They did the thinking from their own point of view; they didn’t think from the point of view of their ideal individuals and maybe they didn’t have that all-important conversation.

The best listeners win the long game.

In the words of Scott Cook, “A brand is no longer what we tell the consumer it is — it is what consumers tell each other it is.” People might forget your brand name, your brand story. People might forget your latest social media post or what your website looks like. What people won’t forget is how your brand makes them feel – in the case of the Nano; just not good enough! And the only way to make them feel good about themselves while being a part of your brand family is by listening to them. Understanding what they need, where they stand. And meeting them there, right where they are now. And guiding them gently towards their greater future. For any successful brand, you don’t brand according to what they want or need, you brand according to how they want or need to feel.

It’s a subtle shift in mindset, and seems very obvious, yet it’s amazing how many entrepreneurs fail at incorporating this key element in their branding process. You must remember what it was like to be a beginner, even if you’ve come far along in your journey. Your ideal individuals will be at a different point in their journey compared to you. Why else would they need you or listen to you?

So it’s really about listening, and also being honest with yourself. About where they are and what they want. Your ideal individuals are walking around looking for validation for themselves, so when you are the provider, you need to break that habit of only thinking about yourself, from your point of view. Don’t brand for what your likes are. Don’t brand for what you need or what you can put out. Meet your ideal individuals where they stand, and brand from their perspective. Your ideal individuals can grow with you and meet you halfway over time, but entrepreneurs must meet them where they are right now.

Speak to your ideal individuals in their language to find out what’s in their heart.

Do this today. Catch a friend or a random stranger. Ask them to tell you their honest opinion about your brand. Get your finger on the pulse of public opinion.  Listen to what they have to say about your brand, about how they perceive it. Does their perception match yours? Does it align with what you intended? If it doesn’t it’s because you’re not listening on the same frequency. To make your brand hit the right chords, listen to the music your ideal individuals are playing – figuratively, but literally too! Listen to what they have to say, and redesign your brand to align with what they need and want, not what you want them to need and want. Do this to Come Out of Nowhere and be an Inspiration to Millions!

Thank you for joining me for this episode. And before I say goodbye, let me leave you with one last thought. Good branding makes you look good. But great branding makes your ideal individuals feel good. And customers that feel good about being a part of your brand, are the ones that will stay with you forever. Strive to inspire brand loyalty. And to do that – always – love what you do and love how you do it.