When’s the last time you had a hunch something wasn’t quite right with your brand (or any other brand, for that matter?) Consumers now – and your audience – crave genuine brands so let’s go look at a couple of clues that are getting brands into trouble.

Start with wearing the hat of Brand Detective. Sniff out the brands that don’t ring true. If you need a dose of inspiration, there’s a crafty duo on FOX. They’re eclectic and highly idiosyncratic. (What’s more, the frisson between them is killing me.) I’m talking about Tim Roth (Dr. Cal Lightman) and Kelli Williams (Dr. Gillian Foster) who star in Lie To Me. In any case, they know a lot about deceit. After all, it’s their business to play detective. Always on the look out for clues, they have a formalized system of tapping into behavior, expression, language, gesture – all complex signals and codes – which leads them, of course, to solving the nasty problem on their hands.

Lightman and Foster work with humans. We get to work with brands. Let’s start sniffing:

Clue 1: Lack of Congruence  (Look for mixed messages.)

Never underestimate the power of congruence in any kind of communication. If a brand is not congruent, it’s sending out mixed messages. (It’s a sure sign of a brand you don’t want to trust.)

FYI The word congruent describes the quality of all parts being in alignment, agreement and in harmony – with each part communicating the same consistent message. By the way, when people are not congruent in their own behavior or personality, their brands are usually not congruent either. There’s a lack of clarity in the person behind the brand, and you can bet their brand’s message is going to be off kilter or murky.

Notice the congruence between the name of a brand and the nature of what’s being offered. If there’s a lack of connection or synergy between the two, you’ll have that gut feeling that something doesn’t measure up, and people will walk away scratching their heads. (A confused mind never buys.)

Apple is a good example of the quintessential congruent brand. Its name, product design, messaging, store design, merchandising, people and entire energy – right down to the color palette – are in total alignment. No confused minds here. Good energy. Pure acceptance. Astonishing congruence.

Clue 2: Lack of attention. (Look for bad behavior.)

Brands will act out if no one behind the scenes is paying attention. Brands misbehave, too. (This is another sign of a brand you don’t want to trust.)  At least once a week, amazingly enough, I have a business owner confiding that they’re so preoccupied with working on their business, they’ve totally ignored their brand. Some haven’t touched their site in months. I call that an abandoned brand. You can tell when:

• The lights are out, so to speak. No one’s home. (So what I am sticking around for?)

• Listed offers, events or classes are all out of date. (No sign of being up to date. Good example of Dead Brand Walking.)

• Photos or images online are all standard stock photos.  The ones you see on other bland brand sites. (No indication of any individuality or desire to set this brand apart from the pack.WOW. )

• No pics of founders, team, people, dogs – nada. (FYI Avatars don’t have a pulse.)

• Style of writing feels like a robot at work. The kind of entity that doesn’t have any blood pumping through its veins. Plus, you’re being kept at arm’s length. (What’s to trust?)

You want visitors to stick around your site, lean closer to hear your message, get the feeling that you are who you say you are, get that you have blood running through your veins, you’re congruent and hugely energized? Be your own Brand Detective – and make sure the complex signs and signals are sending the right message. (The message you want to send.)


Mary van de Wiel is best known for her global expertise when it comes to coaxing out the real power in brands to dramatically increase sales. Van is founder and Creative Director of ZingYourBrand.com. She is the author of soon-to-be-published Dead Brand Walking: A Brand Therapist’s Viewpoint. Follow her on Twitter