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Common branding mistakes: Chorizo, Mushrooms, Jam and your Brand

Common branding mistakes are often logical in nature…


I’m fond of metaphors in business writing, as they’re an effective way to add general interest and increased comprehension to even the most staid and specialised subject matter.

So allow me to use the metaphor of breakfast, as I describe what I see as a major problem in contemporary marcom practice.

Imagine for a moment, that you are sitting at the breakfast table and a plate of grilled mushrooms and chorizo on toast lies before you.

(I know not everyone likes mushrooms, or chorizo, or toast, but bear with me…)

Its been expertly made, the mushrooms are perfectly grilled, the chorizo smells spicy and warm, the toast is crisp and freshly buttered and it’s topped with fresh herbs, ground black pepper and sprinkle of Parmigiano. Delicious!

Now, imagine that whole delightful, enticing breakfast smeared with strawberry jam – and heavily smeared at that.

…Far less appetising!

NOW imagine that the grilled breakfast is your business, the jam is your differentiation, and the person contemplating this whole mess is your customer.

Jam is an appropriate condiment for breakfast.  It’s popular, appealing, relevant, ubiquitous, easily understood, indelibly related to the idea of breakfast and therefore highly desirable – exactly the sort of criteria we look for in brand attributes.

In this case however it’s only hiding the natural savoury flavours that were already there. It’s become an arbitrary, artificial and ineffective attempt to add desirable qualities to something that was already inherently desirable, if only someone had bothered to taste it before they added the jam.

This is how many businesses still approach the subject of differentiation in their brand communications – they impose brand attributes they think are desirable instead of deriving them from the attributes that are already there.

Many brand attributes which are integral and relevant to your business go out the door when it comes time to create your marketing materials.

This happens because either not all the brand attributes in the brief can be communicated easily or clearly, or there is the perception that some attributes are more desirable than others.

So the collective decision is made to focus on those attributes with the widest appeal.

Put simply, it’s a lot easier to communicate the flavour of jam than the flavour of chorizo. Everybody likes jam; everyone has jam in their cupboard – so therefore jam goes over everything.

This is obviously flawed logic and any marketer worth their salt knows it.

And yet, we keep spreading the jam.

Marketers keep going for the lowest common denominators, the widest appeal, the simplest product claims, the most basic ideas, the most attractive positioning – and its often a mistake.

We all know the flavour of jam: sweet, soft, sticky …sometimes it even tastes like fruit. No surprises, no complexity and few applications outside of breakfast.

We also know the flavour of a mushroom too; it tastes like…. well, a mushroom.

It a harder, more nuanced flavour to describe but once you’ve tried it, you know it. And that flavour has many more applications than jam does, without losing its central character.

Chorizo has a distinctive flavour too, though there is far more scope for personalisation – it can have many different textures, tastes, ingredients and applications, but it always remains chorizo.

The lesson here is that by choosing simple, universal brand attributes, we often also choose less variety, less flexibility, less utility and more generic qualities.

Forget the simple path. Dump the predictable brand attributes in your communications -your customers/end users figure this stuff out on their own.

Instead, craft a more textured, layered and flexible branding message. You’ll be offering people a far more desirable proposition, one that is also a far better reflection of the realities of interacting with your business.

And seriously:  ….Chorizo!  YUM!! 🙂