Making the World More Understandable
Nail Down Your Message! (Mixed Messages Kill Your Brand)

Nail Down Your Message! (Mixed Messages Kill Your Brand)

Immaculate ConceptionI was in Kaua’i and saw a sign for the Immaculate Conception Cemetery. For reasons that seem obvious – and yet indescribable – that struck me as just wrong. With one exception (my Buddhist aunt), everyone I tell about this sign agrees that something is off. Then it occurred to me, it is a mixed message.

Fundamentally, I loathe mixed messages. However, this one was such a brain twister that it does have amusement value.

Do you ever look at a sign or other marketing piece and think, “What?” Or wonder what the maker was thinking? Well, mixed or confusing messages happen when the owner is unclear about their message.

On the other hand, when everything is in sync, you know exactly who does what where.

The last thing a business wants (I hope) is for their target market to be confused. To avoid that, the business needs a clear message, and they need to be consistent about it. Not just consistent, but devout. They do not let anything confuse or conflict the message.

And the little things matter. For example, I once saw a Mazda with dealer plates. OK, so the driver owns (or is related to the owner of) a Mazda dealership. However, the license plate frame said Nissan. That is a contradiction within the message. Many people would probably not notice this detail – but some will, I did.

Now, if the owner of the Mazda dealership ALSO owns a Nissan dealership, bravo for them. However, the mix and match is still inappropriate. When driving a Mazda with license plates that identify you as a Mazda dealer, then everything about that Mazda needs to say MAZDA! Similarly, everything on the Nissan with dealer plates needs to scream Nissan.

Your message is yours, I can’t really help you with that here. However, some things to think about for consistency:

  • Have ONE brand/logo. There are, of course, exceptions to this rule. All of the exceptions fall in the realm of same root logo, less or more information. For example, my base logo is the Kanji character Tora:

Kanji Only

For my letterhead, Facebook page, and such, I use the logo, my company name, and my tag line:

kanji and Title

Finally, my full business card and email signature includes the tiger (the translation of Tora) and my contact information:


Notice how I’m consistent with the color, words, and font?

  • Brand everything. What’s everything?
    • Business Cards
    • Brochures
    • Fliers
    • Emails
    • Contracts
    • Stationary
    • Forms
    • Uniforms
    • Signage
    • Coupons
    • Give Aways
    • Anything else that is somehow related to your business
  • If you change your brand in any way shape, shape, form, font, or color, UPDATE EVERYTHING.

That third point is why it is a really good idea to have your message and corresponding brand set BEFORE you start making things that you can’t undo. When you’re new, you can try things out – test them – and make changes as you need to. So when you’re still in that “amorphous” stage of starting up, keep things small and avoid purchasing anything in bulk. Order 500 cards, not 500,000. Do minimal orders of stationary if you can’t just print it as needed. And if you’re the type to wrap your car, WAIT!

You are your business, message, and brand. Know what you do, for who, and why. From there, create your message and brand. Once you’re happy with the design of the brand, become a disciple.

-Lorrie Nicoles

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