4 ways brands inadvertently damage themselves

If you’re reading this, you probably already understand the importance of brand. It influences sales, customer and audience trust, marketing effectiveness, and even your internal culture. Your product is the foundation of your business, but brand is the how and why of bringing that product to life and more importantly, to market. So, it stands to reason that you want to protect that brand at all costs — but are you really? 

The topic of brand damage normally brings to mind grand scandals of money laundering, dramatic executive blow-ups, and horrendous environmental accidents. We’re here to tell you that brand damage often occurs in small increments. These instances are the teeny, tiny events that slowly erode at your brand strength. They create unhappy customers, distrustful prospects, inconsistent messaging, and can hurt sales and culture.


So, what are these sneaky buggers and how can you avoid them?

The 4 "small" things that cause brand damage

Your words and your actions don't match

This particular problem means different things for different brands, but the overall issue is the same. Your label says, “we care about the environment!” but your packaging uses a large amount of non-recyclable plastics and your product is made with a chemical that causes harmful waste. You run a Black Lives Matter ad campaign with an influencer that comes from a family with a history of profiting off of cultural appropriation. Sure, maybe you can’t relate to these well-documented big brand problems, but this happens all the time in a variety of ways.

It could be your local café that uses its status as a local business to drive sales but uses Starbucks coffee instead of a local roaster. Or a company that runs an ad campaign around social issues but is found to treat their staff poorly.

Branding isn’t just logos and colour choices, it’s a complete alignment between your aesthetic, your purpose, your words, and your actions.

Clunky customer service

Great customer service in the digital age is a rarity. Good customer service in the digital age is what we should all be striving for — but even that is tough. Customers (and prospects) get in where they fit in and will ask you questions anywhere you have a profile or inbox. There are two major risks here:

You don’t have someone manning every channel and messages get missed

Leaving people on read is bad — even unqualified leads. It amounts to your brand looking dismissive, uncaring, or disorganized. No matter the adjective, it’s not a great outcome.

Your customer service process is a maze

No one wants to have to go through five people to have one question answered. Even if someone is asking something that is not within your department or knowledge base, respond with a commitment to find the appropriate answer and let them know the time frame in which they can expect to hear from you.

To your customers and prospects, you’re just a brand, not an individual with a specific title and role. They don’t care who at the company helps them, they just want help.

Chasing short-term sales wins instead of long-term brand building

There are certain consumer brands that have trained consumers not to pay full price for their products. I don’t know about you, but it will be a frosty day in the underworld when I pay for anything full price at The Gap. Why would I when they have a sale what feels like every other week? Sure, everyone loves a deal, and they certainly generate a quick revenue boost, but at what cost.

Running frequent sales devalues your brand over time as it erodes the perceived value of your products. All the work you may have done to build your brand as high-quality and a worthy investment go right out the window.

Going fast and loose with your ad spend

If you’re going to spend money running ads, you need to understand how, when, why and where those ads are going to be served. Whether intentional or not, when someone clicks on your ad through a particular website, your money is going towards that site. As marketers, we understand that programmatic ad buying means your ads can show up in all kinds of places without you actively selecting those platforms, but the average internet user does not. And that can lead to some seriously unwanted attention (AKA brand damage).

For example, if a butcher runs a programmatic ad program and accidentally serves ads on PETA platforms, they’re probably in for a rough couple of weeks’ worth of emails, calls, letters, and social media posts.


If that’s not enough to convince you to tighten up the oversight of your ad program, consider the impacts of you servicing your demographic with too many ads and annoying them to the point where they start to have a negative impression of your brand. Some social platforms even allow users to block ads from particular advertisers.

Even great brands accidentally damage themselves

No brand is going to do everything perfect all the time, but ensuring that those little missteps create learnings and not meltdowns is important. If you take anything from this blog, it should be that you need to regularly take off your business hat and put on your customer one. Look at your organizations from all touchpoints of the customer and think how they might interact with or perceive your brand and then act accordingly. Better for you to find the problems than them.

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