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What is Brand Fog Anyway?

There’s an old chestnut that says a camel is just a horse designed by a committee. Brand fog is sort of the same because it’s usually the result of trying to tack on too much. A strong brand isn’t about what you are. It’s about what you are not.


An example is probably the best way of explaining brand fog. We had a client that over time had developed into two divisions that did different but interrelated things. Although it was all the same company, they used two different logos, had two different websites with virtually the same content and were themselves constantly confused about which brand to use and when. Not surprisingly, over time they also became muddy about what they did and who they did it for and why their clients would care. Murky indeed, and their own fogginess about their business confused their customers and their marketplace. They needed clarity.

Brand fog isn’t always that obvious because people get used to living in a haze. Here are seven signs to watch for:

  1. Have your sales been flat for some time while your competitors have been growing?
  2. Do you and your employees struggle to answer questions about what makes your company, product or service truly different?
  3. Do your sales people insist on making up their own sales support materials because they can’t seem to use what marketing gives them? Or worse, nobody gives them anything and so they make up their own brand stories?
  4. Do you and your team spend more time trying to catch up with your competition than trying to leap ahead of them?
  5. Do you find yourself trying different messages out so that you have all kinds of online and offline content that says different things and is out of date?
  6. Do you approach sales, marketing and product/service development through trial and error, like throwing spaghetti on a wall to see if it sticks?
  7. Do you sound like your competitors?

If you said yes to any of these, it’s time to lift the brand fog and show your market who you truly are and what you do really, really well.

Brand Lesson 1: Stop Sounding Like Everybody Else

Have you noticed the recruitment campaigns put out by universities and colleges? They all promise to lead to a great career or start me on my future path or help me achieve my goals. Very few of them – and we mean very few – actually state what makes them different, what makes them worth a second look.

We call this isomorphism. It’s the tendency in any industry or category for everybody to start sounding like everyone else. Usually the result of increasing numbers of competitors in a market compounded by lazy thinking and fear, isomorphism is a huge opportunity for the company or organization willing to stand out and say something compelling.

If everyone is wearing white, the person who dares show up in red stands out. That’s where we see breakaway brands take off, when an organization plants their brand flag and says something unique and bold, something that says “Hey, we’re different and here’s why you need to pay attention.”

This habit of everybody saying the same things is often a symptom of misunderstanding the nature of the competition. Let’s consider hybrid cars. When they first started to appear on the market, manufacturers spent their brand and promotion dollars on promoting the ‘good’ of hybrid cars. They were clearly competing against traditional all-internal-combustion cars, and everybody’s message was about doing the right thing and helping the environment. Fair enough. It was time to educate the market.

But as hybrid cars became more common and accepted, manufacturers began to compete against each other and brands became rooted in what made them and the people they appealed to different. It was time for different brands to break away and stake their claim in the competitive market. If you’re in an early market, then it makes sense for you and your competitors to send out the same messages to establish your category. If you’re in a more mature and competitive market, it’s time to stop sounding like everybody else and clarify your offering and your value. Be brave. Be bold.

Feeling a little brand fog? Let’s chat. Contact Us

Comments (2)

  • How to help employee Reply

    […] our first post, we talked about brand fog and the danger signs that a brand is hazy and ill-defined. There are many canaries that will alert […]

    March 16, 2018 at 9:38 pm
  • Are you experiencing Reply

    […] To dig deeper and find out what to do about brand fog, read “What is Brand Fog Anyway“. […]

    February 22, 2019 at 9:53 pm

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