Wisdom//

On Branding: That F Word

Or why failing in the right way is crucial for entrepreneurs.

People frequently ask me what the top tips are for entrepreneurs building their brands. After working with dozens of entrepreneurs building big companies, here’s what comes up the most.

That F word. Failure.

Know when your time spent on something you’re doing stops being valuable. Fail often, fail fast, and test everything.

We’ve heard this before, but every failure brings us closer to success. This is especially true when building a big company with a strong brand. You aren’t going to get your brand 100% right on the first time.

And that’s a good thing — your brand is a living, breathing, sometimes writhing and kicking, sometimes dancing and leaping, thing of beauty.

Remember, your brand is alive. It should evolve, it should move, and it should grow along with your company. And just like your company, there will be some ups and downs along the way.

As long as you are trending up and right, testing new brand strategies, even when it means having small failures, are actually going to push your brand in the right direction.

It takes time to understand your audience, create a strong community, and create the meaningful content that is going to resonate. You might have a great idea for how to build your brand or campaign. Maybe it will work. Maybe it won’t. You won’t know until you try, test, fail, adjust, and try again.

Not all ideas are created equal, it takes some testing to figure out which ones work. So, back to failure — can a brand identity really fail?

Yes, it can. A brand can become a stale, dead thing for a company that neither the employees nor community can relate to. It can become floating deadweight, that “brand we once were…” The vision of your company at conception is not the same as Series A, or B, or beyond.

Let your brand evolve and don’t cling to a the identity that resembles who the founder is, or their driving ideology. There are so many internal moving parts here from your HR team to product roadmap, to external factors like fundraising and market timing that can influence brand identity and cause failures on multiple levels. The problem is that your brand can cease to align with the product, and the voice, content, and vision can fall out of sync with the consumer.

But if not all ideas are created equal, not all failures are created equal either.

The key to failing successfully is to create micro milestones for yourself, so that you have a culmination of micro failures that push you towards your big vision — thus avoiding a massive, catastrophic failure where you find your brand lying dead on the floor.

Set goals for yourself and don’t be afraid to fail on a large or small level. Try testing new things for your community. Feather in some new content and see how they react. Play with your brand voice in marketing email subject lines and test the open rate.

You might have spent a lot of money paying a fancy agency 6 figures to build you a “brand bible.” According to them, your brand voice is “stylish, informative, and educational.” Great. And it matches your cool color scheme to boot. Fantastic. These things helped you define your brand and build a foundation.

But this brand bible you cling so dearly to — Don’t be afraid to burn it.

Set realistic deadlines for yourself to meet or not meet based on engagement. If you don’t meet your goals, re-evaluate why not, and either adjust course, or scrap that idea or campaign and move on.

The biggest realization you should have is being honest with yourself and your team with the direction of your brand. Have it be a discussion. Treat your brand like another person in the room.

And be ready to admit defeat on any “failure,” when it happens. Failure is truly the stepping stone for the next opportunity, and when we manage our expectations and learn to test and iterate effectively, our brands never truly fail — but grow and evolve with us.

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