Your Brand Is AliveA brand is a living, breathing thing. You must feed it and nurture it to make sure it stays healthy. Even healthy brands, like other living things, can become very unhealthy when treated poorly or neglected. Unfortunately, many of us do great harm to our brands despite our good intentions.I’ve had the opportunity to manage brands in multiple industries and at various stages of the brand life cycle. This experience has included established brands that were number one in market share to spanking new, freshly launched brands. Regardless of size or age or industry, they all needed proper nurturing to become healthy and grow.The Damage We DoIt is possible that external events can cause damage to the brand, but there is often little we can do to protect against that other than damage control after the fact. Even if you make all the right moves with your brand, unforeseen events may still occur that are beyond your control. Since it does us no good to dwell on those things we can’t control, we’ll focus on the things we can control. Brand Management, or mismanagement, is something we can control and is the point of this discussion.In my experience, most of the harm we do to our brands is the direct result of the decisions we make and the actions we take. While the abuse we sometimes cause may be unintended, it is generally not accidental. Following is a quick breakdown of what I consider to be the three most common ways we abuse our brands despite very good intentions.Abuse #1: NarcissismQuite simply, this is when we, as marketers, attempt to make our brand a reflection of our own desires. Here’s a newsflash for you. It isn’t about you! The single most important role for any manager of brands is to serve as the voice of the consumer within your company. This means you set your personal wants and needs aside and focus on satisfying those of the consumer.I ran into this at every company I ever worked and with many people both inside and outside marketing. My favorite response when I encountered this was a pointed reminder of the role of brand management. It went something like “What you like doesn’t matter…we focus on what our consumers like”. Any company unwilling to adhere to this approach with their brands will eventually have some very weak brands.Abuse #2: Everything to EveryoneOur brand is a great brand. If we water down any brand attributes that strongly define it as belonging to a particular segment it can appeal to everyone, right? Wrong. Your brand is what it is and the attributes that clearly differentiate your brand from the competition are strengths. It is rare that a strong brand can have universal appeal.I’m a firm believer in the philosophy that, if you focus on everything, you’ve focused on nothing. If you want a brand that is built to last, it is absolutely essential that you remain disciplined in your brand positioning. This means you appeal strongly to the target consumer base and you accept that this means your realistic market potential has its limitations. Even the biggest brands have to live with this if they’re going to survive.Abuse #3: Handyman SpecialThis may be the worst of the bunch and I’d wager that it’s the most common. This is the death of your brand through excessive tinkering. I’m guessing most of you have seen this. You have a healthy brand experiencing steady organic growth and you have some turnover on your brand team. Then a new guy comes in and he’s god’s gift to marketing and decides it’s time to change your brand strategy.Big mistake. A brand strategy is a long-term plan. While it is healthy to periodically evaluate your plan and refresh your tactics, you don’t change your strategy if your brand is healthy. I don’t care if you change out your brand managers every six months. You don’t change your strategy to match. You are much better off to maintain consistent implementation of a good strategy that to keep changing in pursuit of a great strategy.It’s About DisciplineThis is by no means a comprehensive list of all the ways we abuse our brands and just knowing what they are won’t guarantee that you avoid them. At the end of the day, brand management success will be much more dependent on remaining disciplined in your brand plan that brilliant innovation. I know big, radical change is fun and it’s sexy but that’s not the key to long-term success. Your brand team, like any other team, should be well versed in the fundamentals of brand management and kept within the boundaries those fundamentals provide.