By Sheryl Rinker

The best companies have a brand that speaks to its customers beyond the transaction. A good brand connects with an emotion, evokes a lifestyle or presents a company as a friend that looks out for its customer.

A few things that all strong brands should have are: a clear understanding of who they are, what makes their company unique and why they can best serve their customer. Despite the importance of bringing a company’s message to market, many companies don’t spend the time early on in brand ideation (coming up with the idea) to establish a firm foothold on their brand, from which they can further develop.

Here are some ways to avoid the common mistakes that companies make during brand ideation. Going into the branding process with these tips in mind will help companies avoid the pitfalls in establishing their company’s identity.

Digital marketing isn’t branding

While branding can be an aspect of digital marketing, digital marketing isn’t the same thing as branding. Thinking that the two are interchangeable can lead to problems with your brand right out of the gate.

The increasing importance of a digital presence can even add to this confusion. Clicks and conversions might lead a company to conclude that it’s their brand that is attracting the customer.

But the essence of a brand goes beyond just website activity. Clicks alone aren’t a brand. What a company does to speak to those people after they’ve clicked and converted is representing the brand. Understanding why they came (and leveraging that in a way that creates an environment that encourages customers to return and develop into evangelists for a product) is where the identity of a brand lives.

Interesting features don’t always translate to values

It’s easy for companies to look at click rates as an indicator of their brand, but that is less than accurate. The same goes for product features. Many products have interesting features that appeal to customers, but features in and of themselves don’t stand as company values that can be developed into a brand.

Just as before, understanding the “why” of a product’s value offers a clearer idea that can be evolved into a company’s brand. Why is that product’s feature important to a customer? What problem is it solving? Often the answer might not be a direct one. That’s why many effective brands appeal to an emotion in their customer. Understanding what emotion is produced from a product will help make the creation of an effective brand easier.

Don’t presume that marketing alone is responsible for brand creation

Just as one department doesn’t make a product, so too should the development of a company’s brand involve the whole company. Too often, companies consider branding work to be solely the domain of the marketing department. Even when the marketing department reaches out to other areas of the company for input, it can lead to a project that is passed around and lacks consistent feedback from all departments at each touchpoint.

Making sure that voices from all departments are included at the earliest parts of brand ideation will impact the process immediately. It’s important that the right voices from around the company are at the table during discovery and that strong opinions are encouraged.

Gathering these insights from different departments not only provides unique viewpoints, but encourages a shared ownership of the brand from all parts of the company. This “bigger-picture” approach results in a fully realized brand ideation that is more likely to stand strong moving forward.

But don’t forget the customer

Even though companies should have a variety of strong-opinioned voices at the table during discovery, it’s important to resist the urge to build the brand based on the needs of those voices. Stakeholder voices are important, but they can’t take the place of a clear message that establishes a brand that meets customer needs.

Don’t segment the audience too soon

Audience segmentation is a crucial and important part of developing a marketing strategy, but it can cause trouble when undergoing your company’s brand ideation. Too often, a company will try to be too many things to too many people right away, in an effort to reach as many audiences for their product as possible. This can lead to a weak brand message.

Companies that stay focused on how the product meets human needs are more likely to create a brand that gets at the essence of what they offer customers. Doing so creates a stronger brand position from which to grow later.

Take the bad with the good

A company might visit brand ideation as a way to refocus what their company does, or as a tactic for reaching an audience that they haven’t been able to reach. In doing so, companies often look to dismiss negative audience opinions and focus on the good.

As a result, this kind of confirmation bias can cloud a company’s thinking and create a brand that will ultimately not connect with their target, and even endanger their existing customer base. Consumers are savvy and can tell when your brand is incongruent with reality. Not many people would look at a Lexus and consider it a “working-class” car.

Balance the reality of where your company is currently with the aspirations of what you want the brand to help your company become. A start-up can begin from a place of aspiration much more easily than an established company because consumers don’t know about them yet. But an established company is doing itself a disservice if it tries to ignore reality. Factoring that reality in with brand ideation won’t prevent established companies from reaching their aspirational goals. Instead, it will help that evolution happen naturally and honestly.

Just the beginning

Developing a company’s brand is a process that combines art, data and psychology. These steps will help companies make sure that they start on the right foot during brand ideation—but the process doesn’t end there.

And while some might think that branding takes a touch of magic, the most effective brands are created with nothing more than patience, awareness and clear communication.