Branding mistake #2 —

adopting the wrong trends.

mistake falling to differentiate

When Evelyn first pitched a slick new animation for the company’s website, she was sure it would dazzle customers and boost engagement. A quarter later, it was time to confront the reality: This project, which had taken a huge bite out of her team’s time and budget, was actually making it harder for customers to find what they wanted on the site.

For most creative leaders, this scenario is a familiar one. A digital marketing trend comes along and gets eye-popping results for a competitor. Soon, everyone is buzzing about it. Maybe a designer brings up the idea of trying it, or perhaps someone from the C-suite marvels about how cool it looks and wonders aloud why your team hasn’t done it yet. In short order, a proposal gets the green light and the project is underway. Everyone’s feeling upbeat — until the analytics come in.


To be fair, creative leaders have good reason to keep a close eye on trends. Trends can and do deliver impressive outcomes in the right circumstances. Small and midsize businesses only have so much budget to invest, however. If they get distracted by the wrong trends, creative teams could find themselves off course, strapped for resources, and dealing with burnout.


Fortunately, creative directors like Evelyn can determine whether a trend will actually support their goals by keeping a few key points in mind.

There are pros and cons to following trends.

Kalie Kimball-Malone is the chief creative officer at The Garrigan Lyman Group, a creative agency whose clients range from small nonprofits to Microsoft and T-Mobile. In her experience, trends can help you understand your customers better.

“To be a good creative leader, you need to be immersed in trends, just in general, to understand where your customers are,” she says.

With your finger on the pulse of digital marketing trends, you’re better able to adapt to new consumer behaviors and new technologies, such as messaging apps, voice search, and Internet of Things (IoT) gadgets. Trends can help you differentiate your brand, enabling you to stand out from competitors in a crowded marketplace. They can also help you cut costs through more efficient creative tools and practices, freeing up precious time and resources for your creative team.

However, the wrong marketing trends can pull you away from other projects that are less sexy but actually drive the outcomes you want to achieve. As your team struggles to catch up with its overflowing to-do list, it could suffer from creative burnout. Trends can also disappear as quickly as they appear, making it difficult to justify the time and expense to chase them.


Before jumping on a trend and committing resources to the project, you’ll want to make sure it serves both your brand and your customers.

“To be a good creative leader, you need to be immersed in trends,
just in general, to understand where your customers are.

Kalie Kimball-Malone

Chief Creative Officer, The Garrigan Lyman Group

Make sure the trend fits your brand.

Kimball-Malone begins with one strategic question whenever she’s looking at a trend: “Does it make sense for the brand ethos?"


“There may be some really exciting trends around AI or digital learning, or even bringing animation into experience design that just don’t match with what the brand means for the customer,” she says.


A mismatch with your brand identity can throw a wrench in your marketing goals, as in Evelyn’s case. It could also confuse your customers. For example, if you run a hyperlocal business like a fish market whose inventory changes from day to day, investing in the most advanced artificial intelligence (AI) technologies could signal a departure from the brand image you’ve cultivated — or if everyone hops on the same flash-in-the-pan social media trend, your brand could risk being seen as a bandwagoner. Your loyal customers may be turned off — or worse, they may feel that they’re not your top priority anymore.

On the other hand, a cutting-edge technology trend may be perfectly appropriate if your brand is tech-forward — and that’s part of the appeal for your customers. A B2B software as a service (SaaS) firm and its customers might find an AI-enhanced chatbot perfectly suited for on-demand troubleshooting, for example. It could also reinforce the brand’s image as a tech-savvy company.


Kimball-Malone recommends that creative directors consider the brand feeling they want to create and then decide whether the trend will enhance or detract from that experience. When you keep your brand mission front and center, you’ll be more likely to pick the trend that’s right for you.

Make sure the trend fits your customer.

Kimball-Malone also believes creative directors should put themselves in their customers’ shoes when considering a trend.

“Who’s the customer on the other end of it? Is that trend going to be experienced by the customer in the way that we want it to be experienced? Are we going to alienate a customer because we’re going to be design-forward in something, or are we going too simple and we need to be a little more forward-thinking in the design trend?”

The better you know your customer, the easier it will be to answer these questions. Before beginning any project, Kimball-Malone’s team talks about the audience and who they are. “What are their reference brands? What is their understanding of technology? What culture do they surround themselves with? That helps us understand if that new marketing trend or creative trend fits with who they are,” she says.

Not all trends are customer-facing, of course. You may simply be adopting new technology and processes as new creative tools become available. Even in these cases, though, it’s always a good idea to ask yourself whether these tools will impact your customer and envision what the customer experience will feel like.

“What are their reference brands? What is their understanding of
technology? What culture do they surround themselves with? That
 helps us understand if that new marketing trend or creative
trend fits with who they are.

Kalie Kimball-Malone

Chief Creative Officer, The Garrigan Lyman Group

Pick the right trend and advance your brand.

With so many emerging trends offering endless opportunities to reach audiences, it’s tempting to explore all of the creative possibilities. When brands get distracted by the wrong marketing trend, however, they may find that it duplicates existing efforts and even causes creative burnout among the team.


As a creative leader, if you ask yourself whether a trend is a strategic match for your brand and your customers, you’ll have a better chance of advancing your brand and reaping the potential benefits of staying on the cutting edge.

Adobe can help.

Adobe Creative Cloud for teams gives you the world’s best creative apps and services in a single, secure, integrated platform. With 20+ desktop and mobile apps, Creative Cloud Libraries for keeping assets in sync across apps and devices, and 1TB of storage per user, this complete creative software solution is designed to support your business at every stage of growth. Plus, you can count on simplified license management and total control over your software to help your team stay focused on creating great work.