Overcoming the agony of brand ambiguity

Man pulling his hair out

Imagine having a pain in your hip so bad it gets to the point where you can’t ignore it any longer – if you don’t do something now, it’ll cause you a lifetime of discomfort and ongoing issues. So, you decide to get that replacement surgery, and suddenly you have a whole new lease on life!

Likewise, for businesses, having poor or brand foundations can be hugely debilitating, from internal inefficiencies and divisions to a poor customer experience – and, ultimately, declining sales.

Just like a hip replacement can make you feel you again, a refresh of your brand foundations – like your values, identity and mission – if they’ve been shaky for some time can pay off massively for your business in the long run.

Drawing from our experience as a financial services marketing agency, we want to break down the common signs that your brand needs a refresh, what causes these issues, their impact and how you can fix them to strengthen your brand foundations.

What we cover

Symptoms: Signs you need to rebuild your brand foundations

When brand foundations are shaky,  here are some of the most common signs you might see:

  • Inefficiency. Team members struggle to find common ground on campaign messaging, leading to an endless thread of emails with varying opinions. This not only wastes valuable time but also drains energy and resources.
  • Apathy. Because stakeholders can’t agree, nothing ends up moving forward as it becomes too difficult and things keep getting put on hold.
  • No standout. Because you can’t internally agree on your lead message, you end up going out with really generic messaging.
  • Inconsistency. People don’t like the brand guidelines or feel they’re too restrictive, so they’re constantly working ways around it – meaning things sound and look different.

In essence, weak brand foundations create a domino effect that impacts every aspect of a business’s operations. Investing in strong brand foundations provides clear direction, better alignment and coherent communication – ultimately driving growth and success.

If you resonate with any of the above, consider taking our Brand Foundations Health Check for insight and tips to help you overcome the challenges you’re facing.

Causes: Why brand foundations start to creak

Some organisations never really figure out their brand strategy and somehow manage to bumble along until they realise they get too big to grow any further without one. For more mature firms that have one, unfortunately having a brand strategy is not a tick-box exercise. A brand strategy needs to be lived by the team every day to be effective – but if it starts to be forgotten and disregarded, you’ll start to see the above symptoms appear.

They need to be reviewed regularly as change is inevitable. New leadership, market shifts, product changes – they’re just some really common examples. If your company gets a new CEO, for instance, they’ll probably have some fresh ideas that don’t totally match up with the existing brand strategy – causing confusion about what your brand is about all round. Likewise, failure to keep up with what customers want or market trends can cause a sudden disconnect between your brand and your audience – leading to internal clashes over what the brand is supposed to represent and to whom.

The business impact of poor brand foundations

Poor brand foundations can have many negative effects on businesses, with just some including:

  • Divisive culture. The business becomes very political and divisive and some people become too scared to share an opinion.
  • De-motivation and poor staff retention: Without a clear brand strategy, there’s no strong employer brand, resulting in de-motivated employees and high turnover as purpose and engagement suffer. According to the CBI (2023), 85% of professionals consider a firm’s purpose important when considering a new role, and 42% of employers reported low employee morale as a negative impact of skills shortages.
  • Missed opportunities: Mixed messages, feedback processes, approval times – everything takes so long that, by the time you get campaigns out, the market landscape might have changed already – and your efforts appear outdated and off-target.
  • Lack of innovation: Without agreement on the fundamentals of a brand strategy, like purpose and customer propositions, innovation becomes too difficult.
  • Lack of respect for marketing. By not taking the lead on implementing a strategy and falling to the whim of every product and salesperson, it turns the whole business into a bit of a mess. Instead of being the glue that holds things together, marketing ends up playing second fiddle as a sales support function or, at worst, is seen as the ‘colouring-in’ department.
  • Poor sales and ROI. If internally you’re not clear on what you’re saying or what you should sound or look like, what chance have your customers got? When no one can agree on the core of your brand, it’s impossible to send a clear, unified message – diluting any potential impact your brand could have.

Treatment: Overcoming the agony of brand ambiguity

If you’re experiencing the above symptoms and keep putting it off, marketing will always be seen as the ‘colouring-in’ department rather than the strategic driving force of the business that you want it to be.  To overcome brand ambiguity, you need a clearly defined and agreed brand strategy. And it really needs to deliver just two things:

  1. It needs to be a true reflection of the business culture and differentiators.
  2. It must connect emotionally with your audience’s needs.

Check out our very own tried and tested 90-day journey to reinvent your brand foundations to set the business up for growth.