Dead. Mummified. Cremated. Knock, knock, knockin’ on heaven’s door.

We all know of brands and business identities which have about as much charisma as an eight year old’s Target trakkies. We won’t name names, as we probably can’t remember them. And we all feel a rush of recognition and affection for brands that are larger than life, flaring learjet trails of character and personality behind them. They’re identities – big and small – which have really earned their place in our psyche. From Tiffany to JB HiFi to Lorna Jane or Chisholm & Gamon, they’re unforgettable thanks to their commitment to conversation with their audience across multiple media.
Sometimes we make excuses for brands – our own or others – when they’re less than sparkling. We make out that it’s money alone which defines a brand or business’ capabilities when it comes to influence. Which is absolute pish-tosh. Having worked in digital strategy for businesses small and large for nearly eight years, I know a couple of things about what makes brands memorable. And I know what makes them utterly unmemorable too. Here’s what to avoid if you don’t want your brand to become one of the ‘Deader Brands’ of the Australian business community.

  • A Lack of Branding

Many perfectly competent and capable small businesses go down the gurgler for lack of custom. Whether in retail or B2B services, some business owners think that they’ll get custom simply because they are. Or that their friends and family will support them. Or that the magic of osmosis will transport awareness of their service to the masses. Whatever the excuse, failing to brand yourself is a one-way-trip to struggletown. Branding needs to be executed by someone who knows what they’re doing – by a graphic designer who can interpret your services and personal values into simple visual cues which you can build a reputation upon. (NB. This doesn’t mean your nephew’s best friend who is doing graphic design at RMIT. It also doesn’t mean using a word font like the Comic Sans, no matter how much it tickles your funny bone.) Branding means consistent use of logos and a schema of colors and fonts. Without the foundations of branding, you will fail at marketing in both the digital and traditional media arenas.

  • Corporate to the Bone

Are you part of a franchise group? Are you a real estate agent, a gym, or do you offer home services? The success of your arm of the franchise will depend upon how much levity you have to brand your business locally. Franchises offer so many brilliant things – structure, and a brand which is already known in the market. They can really give you a head start in your category of expertise (so long as their monthly fees aren’t eating away all your profit!). But if they are too controlling about the way you represent your business locally in the area you hope to have influence, they can strike the death knell for your enterprise. We work with many large franchise brands who are happy to let their franchisees use key brand elements and develop ‘sub brands’ within their market which complement their corporate brand rules. Unfortunately, some large corporates are rigid and threatened by diffusion iterations of their brand. They are freaked out by social media. They are on high alert for any innovation around their core brand. In short, they are more concerned with their brand than your success.
Of course, there are degrees to this. A balance between respect for the mother brand and your own business values and location must be reached. If you engage digital strategists who are experienced in respecting corporate brand values whilst carving a niche for your own success, you’re onto a good thing. You’re benefiting from both the strength of a known brand and the skills of a strategist who will help you connect with your actual community.

  • Staying Mum

Only recently, I was invited to the most amazing restaurant. It looked as if it were part of a chain – so thoroughly and artfully was it branded. From the packaging to the artwork to the frickin’ gorgeous copper USB ‘courtesy chargers’ beautifully installed at every table – this business was impressive. Reader, this restaurant no longer exists. And it no longer exists because all the resources for this business were put into branding and building. There was nothing left for marketing of any kind. Instead, they were half-heartedly having a crack at social media, without the knowledge of how to use digital strategy for business. This is not an uncommon story: many businesses fail because of an inability to market rather than an inability to deliver their product or service. This doesn’t mean spending a bajillion dollars on marketing. Or trying everything at once. But to neglect this aspect of running your business? To pretend that marketing doesn’t matter and that you can do it all yourself?
That’s a one-way trip to a Deader Brand. And when you realise that three out of four Australian businesses fail by their fifth year, it won’t take ESP to realise that my advice is well worth taking.
Iolanthe Gabrie is the Director of leading Australian digital strategy agency Ruby Assembly. Learn more about Iolanthe and Ruby Assembly here.