June 16, 2020
Case Study

4 Lessons From Successful and Failed Branding Efforts


They say experience is the best teacher.

I say someone else’s experience is an even better teacher — all lessons, no pain.

In this article, you can learn from your peers’ branding triumphs and stumbles.

Read on for lessons from a precious metals company, book publisher, cloud computing company, and real estate agent about launching a brand for a new company, entering a new market, failing to live up to the brand promise, and getting your logo designed.

by Daniel Burstein, Senior Director, Content & Marketing, MarketingSherpa and MECLABS Institute

4 branding lessons hero

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Lesson #1: Build the brand on the company’s value proposition

The founders of Heartland Rare Coins & Collectibles worked with MECLABS Conversion Marketing Services to launch the company and build its new brand.

The process started with crafting the value proposition question for the company: “If I am a current precious metals investor, why should I invest in precious metals with you rather than any other precious metals provider?”

The MECLABS team then worked with the Heartland team to come up with potential claims of value to help answer that question. Here are some of those claims:

  • Because we were founded by a team with a proven record of consumer advocacy
  • Because we are trustworthy
  • Because we offer transparent comparison charts
  • Because we provide clarity in the cart (spot, premium, time)
  • Because we automatically guarantee the lowest spot price while in the checkout process
  • Because we provide an in-market buyback guarantee
  • Because our products are almost always in stock
  • Because we offer budget and subscription services
  • Because we provide excellent customer service

The team then ranked those claims to see which had the highest level of appeal to the ideal customer, and which were the most exclusive.

Creative Sample #1: Ranking of appeal and exclusivity for precious metals company’s value claims

branding lessons-1

The team used this information to create a value proposition argument — essentially, an answer to the value prop question — supported by evidence for each claim.

Because customers can trust our relentless dedication to integrity1 and unparalleled market transparency2 so that they are empowered to make the most informed precious metals investment decisions. 3

1. Our founders have over 50 years of experience and have earned the highest industry awards for ethics and integrity for their tireless efforts to root out dishonest practices in the precious metals trade, winning settlements for defrauded customers. Our founders also have years of experience advising the FTC, the SEC, various State Attorneys Generals and the PNG.

2. We provide clear pricing during both the buying and selling process, ensuring that your spot and premium are locked in during your purchase. We provide clarity around the market feed source. We also have a history of exposing bad price skimming practices.

3. Our patented tools platform offers precious metals investors unmatched asset management control, providing up-to-the-minute market updates, price alerts and portfolio configuration. We also offer a 100% “buy back” guarantee.

That value proposition argument informed all brand work for the company. From brand symbol sets …

Creative Sample #2: Brand symbol sets for precious metals company

branding lessons-2

… to brand guidelines …

Creative Sample #3: Brand guidelines for precious metals company

branding lessons-3

… to, ultimately, the brand implementation.

Creative Sample #4: Brand implementation for precious metals company

branding lessons-4

This example was taken from The Myth of the Brand Promise: The 3 biggest reasons brand projects fail to positively impact results from MarketingExperiments (MarketingSherpa’s sister publication).

Lesson #2: Let the audience help shape the brand

The first company Mansoor Alam founded was an end-to-end publishing firm called Fort Box Publishers that focused on social commentary and human rights. It was eventually acquired.

“After landing our first international contract for the publication of Night [by Elie Wiesel] in Indonesia, we hired a firm to undergo a rebranding to help us recruit local talent for both production and distribution,” said Mansoor Alam, co-founder and former CEO of Fort Box Publishers, and currently co-founder and CTO at Memoir Health.

Alam did not want Fort Box to be perceived as another U.S.-based company that would take away market share from smaller, Indonesian-based businesses. The publisher completely changed its branding for this market, dropping its modern and techy identity for one that more closely resembled a social enterprise. At one point, the company even considered obtaining non-profit status and pitching local distributors on the idea of sharing revenue with local charities.

“That failed miserably. We were no closer to working with local bookstores and educational institutions to improve our distribution pipeline. Our intentions seemed to be questioned,” Alam said. So why didn't it work? “We were trying to rebrand to fit a market we knew nothing about. We hired a firm that did not brand test with the actual individuals and companies in Indonesia we were hoping to work with,” he said.

Alam gave the website and email copy that was used to rebrand the company with a mission-driven identity as an example.  

“The problem was that we were speaking authoritatively to a community we were not a part of. We used words such as ‘antipathy’ and ‘harrowing’ to strengthen our narrative, which neglected one of the most important aspects of the project — accessibility. We were translating a book into Indonesian for native Indonesian speakers. Our marketing copy failed to reflect that,” he said.

Creative Sample #5: Copy for new “Why Indonesia?” tab on publisher’s website

branding lessons-5

The original book cover image used in marketing material was also out of line with local mores. “While it's certainly a powerful image, depictions of faces on books (and just in general) is not common in Indonesia and generally discouraged as a potential form of idolatry,” he said.

Creative Sample #6: Original book cover image used in marketing material

Branding lessons - 6

“We dropped the PR firm and engaged with U.S. students that were part of the Fulbright [Scholar] Program in Indonesia — a coveted scholarship where students continued their studies overseas,” Alam said. The student scholars were easily accessible, largely aligned to the company’s social values, and provided the publisher with a direct connection to its ultimate end-users. The students also led seminars prior to the launch of the book.

Creative Sample #7: Students leading a pre-launch seminar

Branding lessons - 7

The brand became entirely localized to Indonesia for the project. It hired local academics to produce the actual translation of the book and built a leadership committee that helped refine the messaging and actively approached the local distributors the publisher had struggled to connect with.

The team developed a new book cover that was more abstract and utilized a color set that was user tested to ensure they achieved the “darkness” aesthetic they were going for.

Creative Sample #8: New book cover used in marketing

branding lessons-8

This localized approach helped the company achieve it’s two key conversion goals. First, it needed translators since Night was in French. Online ads and cold emailing yielded 15 prospective translators, none of which were a good match. With the localized approach, the company had a representative on the ground in Indonesia recruiting talent at universities. That talent attracted the rest of the team that was needed with no additional spend.

The localized approach also helped increase commitments 10x from local and regional bookstores in two target regions in addition to securing a contract with a local print company. That contract allowed the company to massively reduce costs for bulk orders, which would have otherwise racked up excess international shipping expenses.

“The lesson learned was simple — for your brand to resonate with an audience, allow them the opportunity to help shape it. What worked for us was not redoing our website or creating catchy taglines — it was inviting our target demographic to work with us and be the spokesperson for the project,” he said.

“We succeeded by being vulnerable rather than trying to control a narrative of who we were as a company through content branding. We invited individuals embedded in these communities to lead a new narrative with us as partners,” Alam said.

Lesson #3: Make sure your company lives up to the brand promise

“In tech, everyone wants to be like Apple; a strong brand with a cult-like following. The team at Fumarii wanted nothing less. Months of work and thousands of dollars were spent building this image of an innovative and successful company. We were seen by many as a massive business changing the world. In reality, we were a small team desperately struggling to create industry-leading technologies,” said Liam Gill, founder and former CEO of Fumarii Technologies.

“We never lied about what we were doing, but we let people's minds wonder when it came to how we were doing it and the support systems around that. The problem with this was that our brand became too disconnected from our reality,” he said.

Gill feels that when the product was launched, it was innovative and arguably groundbreaking. However, people hated it because the business did not live up to the expectations created by the branding. Customers expected the type of product an established company would have with 24/7 customer support, teams ready to provide technical assistance, personalized communications, etc. The company was not able to provide this level of service.

Ultimately, the company pivoted to a smaller brand image and focus, later being named a top 20 cloud service provider.

“Don't build a brand based on what you read online, in a book or observed from others. Build a brand that is true to you and your business,” Gill advised.

Lesson #4: Cheapest is not always best

When a customer is not an expert in what they are purchasing, they may not understand the value differentiation between different options.

However, they do understand the price. So for that reason, the customer may simply go for the cheapest price. That is true for some business owners when it comes to branding — a complex and unclear process that can have a high price.

For example, Realtor Chantay Bridges wanted a logo. “One of the suggestions was to utilize an online site that provided freelancers very economically,” she said.

Bridges chose three freelancers from the site. “I absolutely hated the first two designers’ renderings. A total waste of time and money. The third one was nice. [It] captured my inspiration. Yet there were a few problems,” she said. “I did not read the fine print or terms of the agreement.”

She discovered the site did not guarantee that any of the work was original, so she was worried her logo could have someone else’s copyrighted material.

Many of the vendors utilized the same stock photos repeatedly. “That logo that was created for you could have already been used for someone else’s project. Needless to say, what you just received may not be original at all,” Bridges said.

Also, she did not see a way to purchase a commercial use license. “Therefore, what I purchased, I may not be able to use for business purposes despite that's the reason I had it created,” she said.

Bridges soon learned a friend had a similar experience. “A friend of mine had a book cover designed and to her surprise, she and I have seen the same exact book cover online numerous times. She went to stock photos and saw the cover there and realized after the fact she could have even done it herself.  There was nothing unique or special about it.”

Bridges ended up having to start all over again. She researched a company that could create a unique branded logo just for her — not something that was already all over the internet. “They weren’t the cheapest by any means but worth their weight in gold,” she said.

“Do not let the cost of a service be your main motivating factor in the hiring process. One vendor may have a higher price tag, but they could be worth more in the long run, therefore, saving you time and a whole lot of money. Cheap can mean a whole lot of things. When you are seeking the best and top work, you have to consider the whole picture,” Bridges advised.

Related Resources

Mini Marketing Case Studies: 8 lessons for effective branding

The Myth of the Brand Promise: The 3 biggest reasons brand projects fail to positively impact results

Brand Relaunch: Stock price increases 5.5% after global firm's rebranding efforts

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