Hello, and welcome to another episode of Brand it! with Petchy. In today’s episode I want to dig deeper into a topic I emailed my list about a couple of weeks back, and I want to challenge you to ask yourself: are you falling into the trap of building a shallow brand?
I want to make it clear: I’m not implying that you, as a person, are shallow! Firstly: I don’t think you’d be listening to this podcast if you were, tbh. I would have scared you off a loooong time ago!
And secondly: even if you were, you wouldn’t admit it, would you? I mean, who wants to be seen as someone lacking emotional or intellectual depth; that person who judges others on their looks, their job, their house, or how much money they have. Who is all-consumed with appearances, but flakey af when shit’s about to get real. I’m not saying that at all.
Of course you’re not shallow. But what about your brand?
I hate to tell you: If you are only focusing on the visual aspects of your brand, then… yes. Your brand might be a teensy bit shallow.
— But I want [my brand] to be so much more than just a pretty face! I hear you scream. Well, my friend, I want more for your brand too.
TL;DR — episode links:
- Free brand audit checklist (PDF)
- Free five day micro course: Brand values, not bland values!
- Free brand perception survey (Google form)
- Brand it! strategy hours
- Strategic brand design
- Brand Boost
- Book a free call
I was chatting — or more like having a good ol’ rant — with my friend Rosie a while back (check her out in episode 13), about the current state of the online business world, and the cult like following some of the so called gurus are able to build based on nothing more than cynicism and empty promises. On the surface, these brands all look very impressive, but start digging and often you’ll find layers upon layers of dubious income claims, raving reviews, stories of overnight success, and made-up qualifications that turn into bogus certification programmes that last 8 weeks but cost more than a university degree in the same subject.
Of course, we all know revenue ≠ profits, the negative reviews are never published, and the so-called overnight success really took more like five years — but where’s the fun in that?! Much better to pretend and put up a fancy facade, right?
Not every expert you see is a fake, of course. But you’d be surprised at how easy it is to whip up a pretty logo and keep spewing out the same old shiny crap — until someone starts asking questions.
You can probably get away with that for a while, years even. But sooner or later, the people you attract based on pretty surface-level fluff will realise that your brand lacks the underlying values they were seeking. And what happens then? They’ll feel like fools for falling for it, and they’ll go looking for someone who doesn’t make them feel like shit.
It’s like the online dating scenario where someone has a profile full of gorgeous photos of themselves — and then you meet them irl and discover that despite their pretty face and big smile, they’re a horrible person.
Your brand does not want to be that date.
So, let’s look at what I mean by being shallow — in a branding context.
A shallow brand is one that lacks depth or substance. It usually has a strong surface-level image or a great reputation, but it lacks underlying values or a clear and consistent message. A shallow brand is often heavily focused on image or superficial elements, rather than on the quality or substance of its products or services.
I mean, that doesn’t exactly sound very desirable, does it? Why would anyone want to build a brand like that?
Let’s take a look at some possible reasons why someone might, knowingly or unknowingly, build a shallow brand:
- The first scenario is that they just don’t know any better. Some business owners don’t really understand the importance of the strategic work that goes into building a brand, and dismiss it as just a buzzword.
- Or even if they see the value, they may not have the expertise to develop a strong brand strategy. Then, because they don’t really know where to start, they think they don’t have the budget for it… because they’ve been led to believe that they have to hire in that stereotypical cocky dude in a suit that I so often reference — to do it for them.
So, some businesses may think they don’t have the resources, the time, the money, to invest in developing a strong brand. If that’s the case then that’s such a shame — because it really doesn’t have to be overwhelming or expensive!
- Then of course, you have the business owners who are more focused on short-term gains, such as quick profits, rather than building a long-term brand. Sure, that tactic can work — if you’re only after creating a fad, and your plan is to move on to other ventures. But that mindset isn’t really sustainable; think of the resources you need to put in just to get that quick-fix brand off the ground, and for what? To do it all over again in a couple of years when the first brand fell flat on its own fake promises?
- Then there’s the case of obsessing over what your competitors are doing, and how they’re doing it — so many business owners feel a strong pressure to create a flashy or trendy image in order to stand out, even if it lacks substance or just feels so wrong. I know this first hand, even with my background and years of branding experience!
- When you fall down that rabbit hole, the road to a copycat approach is dangerously short, and leads to some businesses mimicking the branding strategies of other (often bigger and more successful) brands, rather than developing their own unique identity. Some brands have success with this approach, but it’s a huge risk, to take for granted that someone else’s strategy will work for you — in most instances, it won’t. And you’ll end up disappointed. We don’t want that!
- To round off this list (though I could go on!) there’s the trap of creating a brand with only yourself in mind. I especially see this happening with design decisions. It’s not uncommon for business owners to base their brand’s visual identity (logo, colours, fonts, illustrations… all the tangible things) on personal preference — when they really should be adding actual market research and customer needs into the mix, taking into consideration their ideal audience, and what will resonate with them — and using that to inform the brand identity, rather than going with “Oh, I dunno… I love soft pink and hand lettering”.
In short: yes, building a shallow brand may lead to short-term gains. But: in the long run, it will be harder to establish trust and loyalty from customers, which are key if you want to leave a lasting impression and create a brand — and a business — that will stand the test of time.
How do you recognise a shallow brand, though?
Let’s look at some telltale signs:
- A shallow brand often has inconsistent messaging, or inconsistent visual branding across different touchpoints and communication channels. This is confusing as heck for the people who are at the receiving end: who is this brand? Why are they showing up with mixed messages? Is this from the same brand I saw yesterday, it doesn’t look that way? This lack of consistency is so damaging to brand recognition.
- Lack of substance: A shallow brand may lack a clear message or value proposition, or may be overly focused on image or superficial elements.
- Lack of customer focus: A shallow brand may not have a clear understanding of its target audience or may not be providing value to customers.
- When a brand comes across as inauthentic or insincere, and their actions don’t align with their stated values or mission — that’s a red flag indeed. Lack of authenticity shines through in many ways, but if a brand doesn’t follow up by acting in line with the values and beliefs they shout so loudly about… Shallow!
- A shallow brand will often have a poor reputation among customers or in the industry, due to a lack of quality or consistency. Someone bought their product once because they were sold a lie, and ended up disappointed… Do you think they’ll return for more or become a loyal brand ambassador? Nope. A poor reputation, or coming across as inauthentic, means a shallow brand will struggle to establish trust and loyalty with customers.
- When a brand is struggling to differentiate themselves from their competitors, this could be a strong indicator that they don’t have a solid brand core of their own to lean on, and that they’ve opted to go down Copycat Lane instead of finding their own path.
I think it’s important to note that not all shallow brands are bad, some may be in a process of improving their branding and their strategic foundations. But it is key that you are aware of these signs, so you can prevent your brand from falling into the shallow branding trap.
If you’re now in a frazzle thinking “OMG, I think I may have a shallow brand and I didn’t even know, wtf do I do?!”
Breathe. This is fixable.
You don’t know what you don’t know — but now you do know, so now you’re in a position to make changes. This is good!
Here are a few things to consider if you feel like your brand is lacking substance — and I’m going to be mentioning a bunch of free and paid resources that can help you with this — I’ll be linking to all of them in the shownotes too, so make sure you head on over to grab all of those!
- The first thing I recommend you do is to conduct a brand audit to assess your brand’s strengths and weaknesses, and identify possible areas for improvement. This is one of those things that sound more complicated than it needs to be — it’s literally just “take a look at your brand as it stands today, and see if that matches up to where you want it to be”. Download my free checklist to help you get started.
- Get clear on your brand’s values — if you haven’t already completed my free five day micro course Brand values, not bland values! that could be a good place to start.
- Listen to what clients, potential clients and other stakeholders have to say about your brand, and be willing to make changes if necessary. I have a free resource for this too: a brand perception survey template — a Google form that you can copy to your own drive, customise to your heart’s content, and send out to your people to get their feedback.
- Probably the most impactful thing you can do for your brand, is to develop a strong brand strategy to ensure that your brand is rooted in values and has a clear direction.
- If your current brand visuals feel out of alignment with your vision, mission, values and goals, all of the things you worked on as you crafted that brand strategy: consider a rebrand — but never ever base this decision purely on what “looks pretty” or what other brands are doing. Your brand visuals should be a reflection of your brand’s unique personality and inner core.
- But the most important thing is to be authentic! I know that word is so overused, but the easiest way to avoid the shallow brand trap is to stay true to your brand’s identity and values, and avoid trying to be something or someone you’re not. Own your quirks and voice your opinions. Don’t be tempted to compromise your values or integrity in return for a quick win. Make it clear that you stand for something other than your own success, and be ok with the fact that you’re not for everyone.
And I want you to remember, this is not an overnight process! Improving your brand is going to take time and effort. Building a shallow brand may lead to short-term gains, but in the long run, it will be harder to establish trust and loyalty, all of those things that are crucial for long-term success. (And my guess is you’re in this for the long run, right?)
Trust me when I say that with a solid brand strategy and consistency across every touchpoint, establishing a strong, authentic and differentiated brand is going to become so much easier.
If you could do with some guidance as you make your way from splashing in the shallows to making waves on the great big brand ocean, I would be thrilled to help you.
- If you want help with your brand’s strategic foundations, you can either book in for one of my Brand it! Strategy hours (when you book you get the option to buy my strategy workbook that contains my entire Brand it! framework) or if you’re more of a DIY person, you can grab my self-paced brand strategy course The Lone Brandit, where you get the workbook as well as video trainings and a load of other resources.
- If you want help with the more tangible elements of your brand, like a rebrand or a brand refresh, you might consider either going deep with my full strategic brand design experience, or opt for my done-in-a-day Brand Boost service where we make the most of what you already have.
To round this episode off, I’d love to invite you to book a 15-minute call to see if I’m the right person to help you take your brand to where you want it to be — and even if I’m not, we can still enjoy a chat and a virtual cuppa!
You’ll be able to book a chat if you hop on over to my website — or you can email me firstname.lastname@example.org. I know that time zones can be a challenge sometimes, so if you don’t see a slot that suits your schedule, reach out to me and we’ll set it up manually!
Until next time,
Pssst! If you enjoyed this episode, don’t forget to subscribe so you don’t miss the next one! I’d also be super grateful if you’d share my podcast with a biz friend or two, or leave me a review.