How can I derisk my branding project?


Branding can produce massive value. But every now and then a story about a conspicuous failed branding initiative goes viral. 

CocaCola’s been there. Gap’s done that. HSBC has too. Then there are branding projects that for one reason or another are completed but never launched. Or are launched but don’t achieve their objectives. Or sort of meet their objectives but no one is super happy with the results. 

Highly visible brand building failures occur despite the resources allocated to them. Bungled branding can embarrass the smartest people, the wealthiest organisations, and even powerful nations.

So what can be done to significantly reduce the risk of a branding project so it delivers on its potential? 

It begins with understanding the possible failure points. Those who know the risks are better equipped to address them.



Why projects fail to reach their full potential

The root cause of all brand building failures appears to be human error. This can be broken down into several risk areas, and serve as a derisking checklist (presented in no particular order): 

Strategy issues

  • Misalignment in business and brand strategy
  • Brand fails to be distinctive in one or more dimensions
  • Offering is presented in an overcomplicated way (stakeholders don’t understand it)
  • Business does not deliver on the promises explicitly made by the brand
  • Brand name coined is too generic or fails to project a positive aspect (for a new offering)
  • Managers are unaware of how to, or don’t, leverage brand to address KPIs
  • Brand fails to appeal to the most valuable audiences, or key aspects get lost in translation
  • Attempting to move from premium to value positioning (or vice versa) without success
  • Brand does not keep up with changing tastes and trends
  • Branding is considered only at the end of a product development process, instead of at the beginning, where customer needs should be prioritised

Process issues

  • Project scope lacks clearly defined objectives and KPIs
  • Key personnel change mid-project
  • Brand has no internal champion or policing and is presented more or less randomly
  • Final branding project decision-maker does not directly engage with brand builders leading to a misalignment between management objectives and approved solutions
  • Failure to segment an offering to reach and be relevant to different audiences
  • Misunderstanding of the needs or motivations of one or more stakeholder groups
  • Not recognising the cultural implications of launching an existing brand to a new market or audience
  • Not changing a brand in the face of changing markets, audiences or cultural considerations
  • Brand project participants lack relevant skills or experience
  • Brand building decision-making is biased by ego rather than analysis
  • Brand is not managed or directed by a suitably experienced individual
  • Managers do not understand the value of branding, or how to create value from branding in a disciplined way
  • Managers make brand decisions based what they like, versus what appeals to their key audiences (when fishing, bait the hook with what the fish wants to eat, not what you want to eat)
  • Empirical testing takes a back seat to instinct and intuition
  • Stakeholders are not involved and their views are not considered when making branding decisions

“Brand building decision-making is biased by ego rather than analysis”


Timing and resources 

  • Project inadequately scoped (initial assumptions seem straightforward, but progress reveals complicated interconnected business realities that affect the project scope) 
  • Insufficient time allocated for adequate completion
  • Insufficient budget allocated 
  • Rigid project specifications are not adapted to a changed understanding
  • Insufficient time and resources allocated when remedial work becomes necessary

Continuity and architecture issues

  • Brand consistency is diluted or compromised due to inadequate guidelines or rigour 
  • Internal teams go off and do their own thing without following guidelines, and unchecked by non-existent approval processes
  • Brand communications are aligned to an internal company structure rather than audience needs and top-level KPIs
  • Sub-brands cannibalise each other
  • Focus on me-too loyalty programs and promotions that create no loyalty or distinction
  • Following competitors instead of innovating
  • Licensing third parties’ brands instead of creating desirability for your own brand IP
  • Licensing owned brands to unsuitable partners
  • Unsuitable co-branding


Great branding looks deceptively effortless

Businesses built on branding make it look easy. Think fashion, luxury, hospitality, food.... It’s hard to overstate the danger of this illusion. Often the most simple-looking branding is the one that took the most sweat.

And despite focusing almost all their resources on their brands, even the most talented, experienced and successful brand builders can make a mistake that wipes out years of success – as we saw with Dolce & Gabbana’s 2018 China misstep.

Checklist for derisking your branding project 

In our experience, successful branding projects will have most of the following characteristics:

  • A proven process that can be described in detail, and which addresses risk management
  • A detailed scope with clear objectives and built-in flexibility
  • Sufficient resources (time, budget, stakeholder availability)
  • Focused research component 
  • Focused strategy development component
  • C-suite leaders are directly involved in decision making and communicate directly with the team producing the work
  • Brand building team who can demonstrate the right skills, experience, and attitude
  • Understudies for key roles in the brand building team (can your brand building collaborator replace project leaders that unexpectedly become unavailable?)
  • The opinions of a wide range of people, solicited at certain points in the project
  • Willingness to start afresh if the business situation or objective changesnecessary
  • Stamina to maintain standards in the face of unforeseen setbacks
  • A testing protocol


Follow the plan and expect the unexpected 

The essence of all brand building is to create positive change. Embracing change, managing change, communicating change, learning from change. 

Whether introducing a new product, attracting new customers (investors, colleagues), or pivoting a business strategy, changing people’s perceptions is integral to the process.

The nature of changing people’s thinking means you can never anticipate every complication. However there is much you can do to derisk your brand building initiatives.

Apply a proven process most appropriate for your project, invest sufficient time, money and effort, work with the right people, and when practical, test assumptions – you’ll have done your due diligence to minimise risk and maximise success.

Key takeaway: Create brand building success with a derisking checklist

Stepworks has contributed to the brand development of numerous hospitality properties facing pivotal change. Offering brand strategy, messaging frameworks, design, campaigns and digital, we aim to put performance into your KPIs. We’re happy to share our views about your hospitality branding. Get in touch.

Stepworks has contributed to the brand development of numerous hospitality properties facing pivotal change. Offering brand strategy, messaging frameworks, design, campaigns and digital, we aim to put performance into your KPIs. We’re happy to share our views about your hospitality branding. Get in touch.