Ask 10 people to explain what a brand is, and you’ll likely get 10 different answers.

Is it a company’s logo, like Apple’s ubiquitous bitten apple? A particular product that everyone knows, like Starbucks’ Pumpkin Spice Latté? Or a slogan, like Nike’s “Just do it”?

It’s actually all of those elements and more, coming together to evoke emotions, communicate key messages, create positive experiences and build relationships (engagement, baby!).

When you visit the Genius Bar at the mall, you’re engaging with Apple’s brand. When you sip a latté at your neighbourhood Starbucks while listening to their coffeehouse indie pop, you’re engaging with that brand. When you lace up your Nikes every morning because you vowed to get fit this year, you are experiencing Nike’s brand by living out its slogan.

Now that we have that covered, let’s talk about your business and your brand. Is it working for you? Does it feel fresh and exciting or bland and stale? Here are four signs that your brand needs attention.

An example between perception and reality

1 ‐ There’s a disconnect between what you do and what you say you do

If you position your company as a provider of eco-friendly, all-natural baby food and products, you better make sure that the ingredients used in your products reflect what’s on your labels and in your advertising. If customers become loyal to your brand because of its non-toxic, child-safe promises and your products change over time to include some decidedly not natural ingredients, you can expect a backlash that affects your brand and your bottom line when consumers find out.

This might be an extreme example—and yes, we are talking about Jessica Alba’s Honest Company—but businesses and organizations both big and small often experience missteps like this. The relationship between a consumer and a brand isn’t that different from our personal relationships. Trust is essential to building a positive and productive relationship, and one of the best ways for a brand to build trust is to be consistent and make sure that its messaging aligns with its actions.

Once people feel that they’re getting mixed or misleading messages, the trust is broken, and even your most diehard customers are likely to get frustrated and switch their loyalty to one of your competitors.

The good news is that your brand can bounce back. The recovery process starts by taking a serious look at your stated mission and values and making sure that everything—from your products and packaging to how your employees interact with customers—aligns with what your brand stands for. If it doesn’t, acknowledge the misstep openly with your customers and commit to fixing it right away.

Rather than a full brand overhaul, you may just need to refocus the brand and come back stronger, authentically committed to your mission and values.

A bird standing out from the flock

2 ‐ Your brand is getting lost in the crowd

It’s not easy to stand out in a crowded and competitive marketplace. Your company might offer unique services and products, but if you’re having trouble getting the attention of potential clients and compelling them to find out more about you, the problem could be a bland brand.

Try this classic branding exercise: if you removed your logo and company name from your ads, website and social media, would consumers still be able to identify them as coming from your company? Would they have trouble telling the difference between your brand and your competitors?

When consumers encounter brands that all look and sound pretty much the same, their purchasing decision will usually boil down to the lowest common denominator: the price. If your business doesn’t offer the lowest price, what else can you offer the consumer? How can you differentiate your brand from the others and build brand loyalty, while also being honest and trustworthy?

A strong, authentic brand will capitalize on what makes you different from the rest and turn those into your competitive advantages. Maybe it’s a unique patented formula, high-quality materials sourced from around the world, an exceptional selection of products, award-winning staff or loyal celebrity fans—you get the idea. What makes you different is what will make your brand stand out. If your current brand isn’t saying anything interesting about your business and who you are, what you do and what you offer, it’s time for a refresh.

For inspiration, check out Fast Company’s year-end list of “The best and worst branding of 2018.”

A man having an uncomfortable phone call

3 ‐ Your team doesn’t like the brand

If your own employees are bored, or worse yet, embarrassed by your company’s brand, that’s a red flag. Your staff should be natural ambassadors for your brand, and their enthusiasm for it should come across in every interaction with customers or potential customers.

If they aren’t excited about the brand and invested in what it stands for and how it’s conveyed, customers may pick up on that and steer clear of your brand.

A dated and unprofessional appearance

4 ‐ Your brand materials look unprofessional or outdated

Nowadays a brand identity can get mighty dated, mighty fast—especially if it was developed on the fly or by someone unfamiliar with best practices for design and branding. Thanks to the Internet and visually driven platforms like Instagram, Pinterest and Snapchat, the average consumer is far more visually literate than the average consumer from 1999 or even 2009.

People will form opinions (good or bad) about your brand based on a quick walk past your booth at a trade show, or a 30-second scroll through your website and Instagram feed. If your brand doesn’t feel current, relevant and professional, you may be turning off potential clients and losing business and opportunities as a result.

Sometimes the shift from an old brand identity to a new one involves major changes: new logo, design elements, colour palette, tagline and more. In other cases, it may consist of small tweaks to an existing logo or an updated font choice. Need to see some examples? Check out these famous and lesser-known brand evolutions.

Is it time for a refresh?

Powerful branding connects the dots between what your company stands for, what it does and why it matters, and it communicates it to your target audience in an appealing, multifaceted package. It can be a complex process, but when it’s done well, it should feel authentic and effortless.

If you think your business or organization could benefit from better branding, g[squared]’s creative team is here to help. Let’s connect today!