Written by Ariën Breunis | Netherlands
on September 07, 2023

Strong brands make more money than weak ones. Consumers flock to recognized names and strong brands. They also tend to pay premium prices for them. And what’s even better, they repeat this behavior again and again and again. This is obviously beneficial for both your revenue and your margin. That is, if you indeed have a strong brand.

Over the past couple of weeks, I have spoken with many start-up entrepreneurs. They all recognize the importance of having a strong brand working for them. However, they also feel they could and should improve their brands. In other words, they feel they are leaving money on the table.

Here are 5 signs that your brand is actually working against you and what you can do to turn it around.

1. You have no clear vision for your brand. Or, it’s there but not shared well enough internally.

My people don’t seem to be particularly motivated.

The majority of the people I spoke with reluctantly admit this. Often employees don’t exactly know what they’re working on. Of course, every single person in the organization should know what they do. Some even know how they do it, but very few people in the organization know why they do what they do. What’s the higher goal?

When you’re employed at a company with a strong brand, you know why you get out of bed in the morning. Strong brands have a clear vision. This inspires commitment. An IBM employee is in the computer business, certainly. However, he (or she) is particularly motivated by his (or her) contribution to building a smarter planet. Closer to home here in Amsterdam, Tony Chocolonely strives to achieve 100% slave-free chocolate. This inspires both clarity and commitment.

ADVICE: Make sure it’s crystal clear why you do what you do and make sure you share this internally. Ensure visibility of this vision within the entire company. Take every opportunity to let your people know what the brand stands for. Even better: engage and embed from the start. What I mean is get your employees on board during the process that ultimately leads to developing a compelling brand vision. An important saying in marketing goes: ‘People don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it’. The same holds true for your employees. 

2. The vision of the brand inspires too little action.

My people sometimes seem paralyzed and hardly show initiative.

I hear what you’re thinking… Another internal characteristic. Rightly so, because strong brands start from within; paralyzed people are what you get if a clear and guiding vision is absent. A strong vision inspires people and drives action. It serves as a compass that guides employees in the right direction, and it enables the right ‘on-brand’ decisions. Without a compass, people have a hard time deciding what they should or shouldn’t do in their jobs.

The best example I know where this really works well is Red Bull. Yes, the brand that inspires the mind and the body. That’s the vision. That’s what they sell. So, when is something in line with the brand and when is it out of line? Red Bull employees have an easy time figuring this out. All they have to do to find out is answer these 3 questions. The first question: is it cool? The second: is it something no other brand would do? And the third: will people talk about it? Three times yes means on brand. To me, this is a very powerful translation of the brand’s vision into a practical tool that enables employee empowerment. At Red Bull, that’s behind its controversial events, iconic advertising and overall brand consistency. 


ADVICE: A strong brand vision inspires action and clarifies where exactly the brand should be heading. Ensure you give your employees practical tools to act ‘on brand’. This will lead to empowerment rather than paralysis and procrastination. 

3. The target audience description consists of only meaningless criteria.

I think I know who my target audience is, but I have no idea what it is they want.

When prompted to define their audience, entrepreneurs often describe their target audiences like: "Our shirts are meant for men between 25 and 40 years old with an above-average income." Or, "for our b2b construction work we focus on SMEs in the big cities." These are target audience descriptions, no doubt. However, they do not guide you on the drivers and motivations of those people. What needs are you satisfying with your product or service?

Just think about the car brand MINI for a second. People who are buying this brand are buying adventure, testing boundaries and discovering new things. That’s what they want, and that’s what they buy. That is precisely why MINI created a world around the brand that’s all about experiencing freedom, spending energy and feeling alive and kicking.

ADVICE: Make sure you go beyond describing the target audience in terms of socio-demographic items like age, sex and income. That may be useful for targeting and media buying, but a clear picture of the consumer and his needs doesn’t end there. A psychographic target audience description focuses on the consumer’s needs and desires. This is crucial information when it comes to how the brand should communicate and express itself.

4. My brand vision doesn’t provide me with guidance on the content and look and feel of my brand.

When I consider my marketing efforts altogether, it’s a mess. There’s no red thread.

In the same category goes: “I’m thinking about a new product, but can I launch it under the same brand?” “I’m thinking of starting a monthly newsletter, but what exactly are my themes, and what can I credibly address?” “My website requires a make-over, but what’s the right tone of voice and visual identity for it?” The common denominator here is a lack of clarity that often causes an inconsistent brand experience.

An exemplary brand when it comes to consistency is Disney. Its essence and what it sells is ‘magic’. That magical feeling is what you get whenever and wherever you interact with the brand. Not only when you watch a movie but also when you’re in a theme park or buy merchandise and toys. The essence and vision around adding magic to people’s everyday life are consistently translated into a total brand experience across all touch points.


ADVICE: Make sure you begin your branding and marketing adventures with the question of all questions: what is the most inspiring and compelling thing you can convey about your brand to your audience? In short, what is the essential promise of your brand and to whom do you promise it? If this is clear, so will be your choices on how to bring the brand to life. There’s a reason why they say: identity is destiny.

5. The brand essence is too fluffy and, therefore hard to communicate.

I lack a clear 30-second elevator pitch for my brand.

A lot of effort in crafting a brand essence leads to pages, pages and even more pages. The most horrifying example I’ve ever seen was the essence of a brand described in 11 pages in a Word document. And believe it or not, this was done by one of the leading positioning agencies on their own brand… A strong brand equals focus and hence has a good elevator pitch. A credible short story for the brand, distinct from the competition and relevant to the brand’s audience.

For a long time, Apple’s pitch has been: “We are here for those who dare to think differently. Our products are beautifully designed, intuitive and user-friendly. We sell creativity and fun. We can do this since in everything we do. We try to challenge the status quo.”

ADVICE: Make sure you have clarity on your elevator pitch ingredients: your target audience and its needs, what differentiates you from the competition and why your audience should believe what you say.

A strong brand is one of the most important assets of every company. Strong brands are made, not born. It’s nurture over nature. The key to a successful brand is clearly defining what you do and for whom you do it. It’s about nailing that essence and living by it. This will give you clarity and commitment internally and inspire the right actions. Externally it helps you drive a consistent and relevant customer experience. And as we’ve seen: healthier revenues and margins.

Want to know how we can help you evaluate your brand? Contact UP.


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