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The Voice Bureau Asks: What did you learn from your biggest branding misstep?

by Abby Kerr

in Uncategorized

About this column

We ask 5 smart voices for their 100-word take on 1 provocative brand challenge. Today’s question is . . .

What did you learn from your biggest branding misstep?

Jessika Hepburn

Jessika Hepburn“In my almost ten years of entrepreneurship I’ve built, and worn, a number of brands and identities. Most of them weren’t all that awesome and some of them were downright terrible! Looking through my early branding attempts is like tripping through old school year books — you cringe at the hair but are also attracted by how young and recklessly stupid you were. I was at a Veda Hille concert years ago where she chatted with the audience about her first demo tape. She asked us, and this stuck with me, ‘How could you let me be so young in public?’ My whole business evolution has been one long process of being young in public. I am not formally trained, I have no bits of paper certifying I know what I am doing, everything I know I learned the hard way . . . by messing it up. I can say one thing for sure about my branding (and life) adventures: I’ve turned a gazillion wrong corners but every single one takes me in the right direction.

Jessika Hepburn is the editor and creative force behind Oh My! Handmade, a community where the diverse creative entrepreneurs of the world connect to build the work of their dreams, learn how put food in the fridge, and  find a big hug when things don’t go as planned (and they never go as planned).


Dave Ursillo

Dave UrsilloMy biggest branding misstep was thinking of my brand as something different than who I am as a human being. That includes my name, face, personality, and sharing my flaws and missteps just as much as my successes and victories. Your brand is as simple as being as ‘most you’ as you possibly can be, and proudly owning what you believe and why you do what you do. To many, that’s more terrifying than tossing impersonal copy around a $50 logo. What I tell every writer, artist, creative, blogger, or budding entrepreneur is that your face is your logo, so show it; your story is your mission statement, so tell it; your life is your business, so live it.

Dave Ursillo is a writer and entrepreneur who teaches creative self-activators how to live and love the journey while forging new freedom in their lives through their beloved crafts. Join his writers’ group at

Brit Hanson

Brit Hanson“I washed the poetry
out of my brand.

I replaced
the collections
with code;
my pencils
with pens;
Richard Wright
with his rigid Granny.

No, I’m not
being coy.

I lost my way
the moment I smeared,
crinkled and tossed
those lyrics and lines,
that intuitive atlas,
down the laundry shoot
with my sweaty tees.

Hurry to the basement
there’s still time.

You cannot —
must not —
wash out
the thing
that is
your poetry.

Brit is a poet and digital storyteller who offers story-based social media services at

Jenn Gibson

Jenn Gibson

I didn’t have a clear vision of aesthetic or identity for Roots of She in the beginning; I had this idea for a project, something I needed to birth, and I leapt and dove right in, pulling in pieces of previous projects and online journals. It wasn’t a good fit, but it was enough so I could begin, so I went with it. Within three months, I had revamped so many core items: banner, social media buttons, color scheme — and heck, while I was changing things, I moved from Blogger to WordPress. The end result of that evolution was a clean, simplistic site with an abundance of white space and sleeker lines.

“The huge lesson in it all was to slow down: No, things don’t have to be ‘perfect’ to launch, but not rushing the pre-launch, getting clear on the basics — from blogging platform to color palette to posting schedule — is so important and saves so much time and energy in the end.

Jenn Gibson is a life coach and the creator of Roots of She, a collection of true stories and tender wisdom for women, by women.


Tamarisk Saunders-Davies

Tamarisk Saunders-Davies“There’s no big, face-palm moment but I understand the word ‘brand’ to mean the promise of an experience, so branding missteps happen in my business any time I am not delivering on the type of experience I am promising. That might be a blog post I think is going to have everyone piling into the comments and sharing everywhere — and it has zero effect. It might be the somatic sensation that Twitter feels weird for me right now. Usually, things like that mean the experience that people seek when they hang out with me online isn’t coming through for them.

Tamarisk is a Connection Catalyst (AKA life coach) who helps courageous women take their lives from average to awesome.

In the comments, we’d love to hear:

What’s been your biggest branding misstep and what did you learn from it? And — out of curiosity — looking back, were there any signs you should’ve seen that would’ve told you were in the midst of a misstep?

{ 27 comments… read them below or add one }

Geri December 12, 2012 at 6:55 am

What a great post!
When I first started out my little biz on the side, I thought there was no way anyone would take me seriously unless I was a BIG… meaning it wasn’t just little ole me, but a company with loads of employees or at the very least a partnership. I built my brand around that with (what I thought was) a mixture of personal & BIG. No go.

Carrying around that burden of being something I just wasn’t with the different email aliases & constantly referring to “we” became simply too much. I did a complete rebrand a year ago, bringing it all back to who I really am, what I really do (or don’t) & having a brand that reflects those qualities has afforded me the freedom to be me & create more ;-)


abby December 12, 2012 at 11:33 am

Hi, Geri —

Thanks so much for sharing your branding misstep. Oh, yes, the pressure of maintaining the “bigger than just me” facade. I’m so glad you decided to embrace the solo-ness of your current venture. I hope you’ve felt a whole lot of ease move into your process.

Glad you’re here!


Suddenly Jamie December 12, 2012 at 11:56 am

I confess my early (non) branding misstep in a recent post:–-part-1-a-cautionary-tale/

It wasn’t pretty. I look back on it now and wonder how I could have been so neglectful.

In my experience helping people develop brands, the biggest misstep I see is trying to “Frankenstein” something together using pieces of other people’s brands. If you start to look for it, you can find examples of these mutant brands in any industry or niche. The well-meaning business owner cobbles together all the “best bits” of the brands she admires. Her intentions are good, but the result is not. Without fail, the result of this exercise is a mottled, lukewarm mutant that – at best – reminds people of someone else and – at worst – confuses them.

Developing a brand (especially a personal one) requires some heavy lifting. There are tough questions to ask and elusive answers to seek. It doesn’t come together in a day. BUT – the effort is worth it in spades.

Thanks for being my branding comrade in arms. ;)


abby December 12, 2012 at 12:33 pm

Hiya, Jamie —

I love your “Branding Is Not Optional” post. Thanks for sharing it here!

Ooh, the Frankenstein brands! Built on so many good intentions, but an altogether lack of understanding about where a brand comes from. I think this is a common misstep for new-ish business owners and a totally forgivable one (as most missteps are!). We’re all just trying to get to the next place we think we should be, and sometimes it seems the best way is to ride the coattails of someone else’s color palette, font family, or tagline. ;)


Suddenly Jamie December 12, 2012 at 12:37 pm

Exactly, Abby. Totally common. Totally forgivable.

Imitation is a perfectly normal way to start feeling your way around your own brand. No brand arrives on the scene fully formed. A brand is like a baby and it needs to grow up, experience the world, form its own opinions, and craft its own identity.

I saw a great quote on Facebook today:
“The art of writing is the art of discovering what you believe.” – Gustave Flaubert

Creating your brand is no different. It’s something you need to unearth, so to speak … you need to discover what it is and why its here. And it’s actually a pretty fun journey! :)


Autumn Weaver December 12, 2012 at 12:19 pm

Hello and thank you for the inspiring information!
I found you through Roots of She and love Jenn Gibson, but appreciate the wisdom from each of your contributors. Glad to have found The Voice Bureau!
~ Autumn


abby December 12, 2012 at 12:34 pm

Hey, Autumn! —

Welcome! Glad you’re here. Grateful to Jenn for making the connection.


abby December 12, 2012 at 1:28 pm

My biggest branding misstep was taking the “flavor” of my own writing style OUT of my business in order to serve “best practices.”

When I launched my first freelance brand (Abby Kerr Ink) about three years ago, I brought ALL of my signature phraseologie to bear. It’s not that I made up words, per se, but I DID use the type of unconventional, unusual, slightly erudite language that I naturally use in 1:1 conversations with people. I’ve always talked this way — high brow academic mixed with best friend sitting across from you at the coffee shop mixed with the occasional dip into low-brow street slang (I did grow up going to school in an inner city district, after all — the language of hip-hop is a part of the dialect-in-my-head. Please go ahead and laugh if you want to.).

Then, as part of an online program I was taking, I had a website critique of my site-at-the-time. The program leader (a high profile social media expert) told me to slash and burn all of my signature phraseologie: the branded language I intentionally used to color in my POV. The branded language I was making my name around, that my readers knew me for, that my Right People clients came to me already speaking because they were reading and engaging with my blog posts and sales pages.

So I slashed and burned my brand language. Pulled it back, leaned it out. A lot like what Brit Hanson describes having done in her contribution, above (in poetry, no less!!!).

And the result of that was: a profound loss of uniqueness. To put it in business terms, I’d washed out a lot of my Unique Selling Position (USP): my ability to filter and frame branded language in a way that made it accessible and exciting.

Six months or so later, I re-embraced the aesthetic habits and turns of phrase that made me me, having seen that they were in fact PART OF WHAT DREW MY RIGHT PEOPLE TO ME — because they spoke 1) to a desire my Right People had (to differentiate their own brands online and 2) to a result they wanted (copywriting, brand voice development, and signature phraseologie).

Oh, the advice we take in the name of “best practices.”


Annching December 12, 2012 at 5:29 pm

I love this post (and the comments)!

My biggest branding misstep with going “through the motions” just because it was the advice, and not really listening to myself.

For example, one thing that brand experts are all recommending now is to survey your customers and ask them what they want. I did that very early in my business to help me determine which pieces to design, and as it turned out, the people who answered my survey never ended up buying, and the popular vote were the worst sellers. I hadn’t honed in on my branding, so it was just random people answering because well, people just like to answer questions.

I’m sure this works if a brand is already established, or already has a fanbase that is aligned, but if not, it can take you way off course, as it did for me.

Once I got clear and just designed from my own intuition, the sales started to go up (and I was happier as a designer too, I might add!).

This is just one, but there are so many pieces of advice that I just took – one other was to write your bio in the first person, because people want to hear from you. I did that for so long and it always felt off. Then I realized I didn’t want to become a personality-driven brand, and that the common advice in the online marketing world doesn’t necessarily mean it’s right for anyone’s specific brand. It all starts with purpose and your why. (I can’t believe it took me this long to get it – I used to be a copywriter!)


Annching December 12, 2012 at 5:32 pm

I should add – it really got clear when I heard something Henry Ford said once. Don’t remember the exact quote, but it was the sentiment that people don’t necessarily know what they want, sometimes you have to make it first. Which leads me back to this: To cater to your customers, you have to first know and cater to yourself, then bring it back to them.


Abby Kerr December 13, 2012 at 12:40 pm

Hi, Annching —

Thanks for pointing out that the surveying-your-customers-right-at-the-beginning route didn’t work so well for you. When it comes to reader/customer/client surveys, I think it’s all a matter of what questions are asked of whom and how. I personally hold the belief (as it sounds like you do) that it’s up to us to translate the problems we see our Right People experience into what we believe is a viable product, and then let the market test it out so we can iterate. Really appreciate your input!


Tamisha December 14, 2012 at 8:43 am

Abby & Annching – thanks for discussing this. I have tried 3 different types of surveys over the past 2 years. Oddly enough, the one that got the most answers was the one I did where I asked ONE single question (which was really hard to craft in order to get quality feedback. I got more answers from that survey than the other 2 I did that, like you mentioned Abby, followed “best practices.” I think when it comes to surveys, people generally don’t like filling them out unless they are already fully attached to your brand. I sort of see them as a little piece of intimacy you’re asking for – and you don’t do that on the first date. I am learning the concept above more and more from you, Abby, but that can be a super frustrating process.


abby December 17, 2012 at 1:38 pm

Ramit Sethi (yep, the I Will Teach You To Be Rich guy) has the best resources I’ve seen on effective audience-surveying. Google “Ramit Sethi” and “survey” and “audio” (they were audio interviews) and I’ll bet you can track them down. Like you’re saying, in general his take is, less is more.


Leslie December 12, 2012 at 6:08 pm

I half-heartedly created a brand based on the places I’d lived and what I thought people would like to hear and see about these places. The (gorgeous) logo a friend designed for me inspired a bunch of questions I didn’t want to answer about types of business I didn’t want to devote my time and energy to — an industry full of commodities (very literally – copper and iron ore and cheap manufactured goods) and rampant mistrust.

This title felt too corporate, too big, and too old, like a little girl playing dress-up in her mother’s heels and father’s suit jacket. I hesitated to tell people about it, because it made me feel like a fraud.

I turned away from it not long after creating it, but I actually spent part of the day today doing specific tasks to move away from that brand.

The direction I’ve taken lately is similar to what Dave Ursillo describes in this post. It’s me: my face, my story, my life — and especially how these experiences and perspectives can serve other people and help them reach *their* goals.


Abby Kerr December 13, 2012 at 12:43 pm

Hi, Leslie —

Oh, yes! Your site is looking different these days, isn’t it? It’s nice to hear the background behind your iteration. I truly believe that every brand creator finds her way to what works best for her, and often that’s based on what doesn’t feel so right once implemented. You are on your way there!


Leslie December 14, 2012 at 8:37 am

Hi Abby,

Thanks for your kind words. It’s been a year of transformation in so many ways. There’s actually more to it than what you can see on my site. I created a totally different site and company at the end of last year and beginning of this year and that’s what I’ve been building over this week.

Also, most of the work I do is local, and I know that using online channels in English isn’t the best way to find clients here in Chile. So I’ve turned my site into an experiment. I have connected with dozens of people who I didn’t know before, who have shared all kinds of stories, questions and concerns about living and working abroad, and I’m in the early stages of creating something bigger on this topic.

I’m a few days away from taking a southern-hemisphere-summer sabbatical to take a few steps back and get out of reaction mode. I’ve been so busy lately and I need to stop and breathe.

Happy holidays to you!


abby December 17, 2012 at 1:37 pm

Stopping and breathing, I hope, is what the end of the year is about. I need that, too.

On another note, I’ve recently taken on a mentee (a college student) who’s interested in living, working, teaching abroad. Perhaps you’d be a perfect email resource for her in learning what it’s all about!


Leslie January 3, 2013 at 7:37 am

Hi Abby,

Yes, I’d be more than happy to chat with your mentee. She might be interested in this link: and she can feel free to email me with any questions.

I’m in the early stages of writing a book on this topic and I’m really interested in the questions and doubts that people have when thinking about living and working abroad.

Hope you were able to get some rest over the holidays, and that you’re easing in to the new year!



Mignon December 12, 2012 at 6:39 pm

Thanks guys I really got a lot out of this.
I am just starting out in my little biz & can identify with a number of the things mentioned about especially the whole thing of rushing everything & not realizing that I am connected to the brand of Nittens & Patches – in fact I have only recently become aware of ‘branding’ & its importance. So again thanks everyone for share :)


Abby Kerr December 13, 2012 at 12:43 pm

Glad you’re here, Mignon!


Corrina Gordon-Barnes December 18, 2012 at 2:21 pm

Great topic, Abby. Thanks to the others for sharing your perspectives – very interesting.

When I look back, I see I went “off-brand” when I got very into the angry passion of environmental activism. I blogged quite fiercely around the topic and used my social media accounts heavily to campaign for a local Green MP.

In retrospect, it wasn’t my core message and a lot of people who were connected with me back then and would actually have been my ideal clients were probably alienated by my rants and local politics.

I evolved to have a much stronger focus on my ideal clients and their needs and how I provide for their needs through my business services. Many of them share my passion for mindful use of resources, holistic living and community interdependence – AND they’re very clear that what I help them with is how to get clients when they’re self-employed.

I’m now “on-brand” most (all?) of the time with this and that feels so much better – and more useful for my community.


abby December 19, 2012 at 8:57 am

Thanks for candidly sharing your story, Corrina. You are so fabulous at staying on-brand for you; your consistency is one of the qualities your readers (including me) are most drawn to, I think.


Corrina Gordon-Barnes December 19, 2012 at 11:43 am

Thanks so much, Abby. I found it very valuable to have the Voice Profile done with you – truly insightful, thanks again.


abby December 19, 2012 at 11:51 am

I’ll be in touch soon, as we’re updating our Folio page. Would love to talk with you a bit more about the impact of this.


Susan Miranda December 23, 2012 at 8:58 pm

Thanks for this conversation. I don’t know exactly why the concept of “branding” is so confusing to me. But, I am increasing my efforts to take my sexuality education and writing business to the next serious level online and in person. And, I do understand wanting to be authentically me and that my uniqueness is my greatest asset. So, I am just trying to keep my focus there.

Abby, I am finding your work incredibly helpful to my learning process for how to do my business well. I am reading and listening and may contact you in the future to further my business voice. Thank you.


abby December 26, 2012 at 11:05 am

Hi, Susan —

Thanks so much for joining in the conversation here!

I’m very curious about what, specifically, feels unclear to you about the concept of “branding” — and I ask because I think it’s a commonly held point of confusion for people. I’d love to help untwist it!

As you grow your brand, I’d challenge you with this question:

What, exactly, does taking your business “to the next serious level online and in person” mean to you? Does that mean turning a profit? Increasing revenues? Adding a new income stream? Getting clarity on your Right Person Profile, your Brand Proposition, and your USP? Knowing exactly what you want will help focus your efforts for learning.

I’d love to work with you when you’re ready. Wishing you all good things in 2013!


Susan Miranda December 26, 2012 at 7:57 pm

Thank you Abby. I did B School this past summer. There was an exercise we did that actually gave me a fairly good idea about what a “brand” is. But, I do still get confused as I try to apply it to my actual business.

As to my business, I’m wanting my sexuality education business to be my main source of income. I write and have published articles. Hope to write e books and print books someday. I have presented across the U.S. Wanting to make that be something I get paid to do in the future. My focus right now is smaller groups and one to one sessions in person and via skype. Yes, I am definitely trying to get clear about my right client and my exact offerings. Someday, I will consider tele-seminars as another offering. Someday (hopefully this year) I will have a website and that is where I really will need help of people that understand concepts like branding.

Here is my blogspot so that you can see what my writing and possible presentations are like: At the moment, I’m focusing on earning income with smaller workshops and one to one sessions (which includes talking and bodywork). I know it may seem like a lot of pieces, but I really do want this to be my full time job and find the flow where I can do all of this.

Hopefully, this makes more sense. Susan


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