Branding mistake #5 — 
putting your stakeholders before your audience.

Part of our series “6 Mistakes You’re (Probably) Making with Your Digital Brand”

mistake falling to differentiate

You’ve got a brilliant digital marketing campaign in mind — one
that aligns with your digital brand and all the metrics about your
customers’ needs. But your internal stakeholders have another
idea, and you think it might not resonate with customers quite as
well. Sound familiar?

It’s a fact that creative teams are often caught in the middle, working to please both customers and internal stakeholders — from marketing and sales to senior leadership and even HR. It can be a stressful situation. A campaign that hits the wrong note runs the risk of alienating customers and impacting the business bottom line or frustrating stakeholders and muddling the brand message inside the company. 


It’s a balancing act — who knew leading a creative team would require advanced diplomacy skills? But it’s worth the effort to find a creative direction that speaks to every audience. Here’s a look at what can go wrong when you choose one audience at the expense of another, the signs that it’s time to push back, and how to find a resolution that balances your stakeholders’ needs with the things you know your customers want.

When things go wrong.

Back in the late 1990s, consumers were frustrated with poor service from airlines. So United Airlines decided to tackle the issue head-on. Their “Rising” campaign acknowledged the problems and promised customers that they were improving their service.


But the creative team behind the campaign neglected to take the folks inside United into account. Hardworking employees felt discouraged and demoralized by a campaign that highlighted their shortcomings. As a result, it became harder to keep up the employee morale the airline needed to deliver on its “Rising” promise.


The United example shows how easy it is to misstep when you neglect one audience for another. So how do you strike a balance?


It’s often a matter of looking deep into the customer research and talking straight with your internal stakeholders, according to Lee Lawrence, creative director at Brand New Day Marketing.


Lawrence remembers working on a campaign for a brand with a 50-year history. Internal stakeholders were deeply wedded to their look — especially their brand colors — but research showed that target customers found the brand’s look outdated. It didn’t resonate with a younger audience — the exact group the company wanted to attract with their new campaign.


“We knew they were very emotional about the brand colors,” Lawrence says. “But since we knew customers wanted to see less of those, we tried to dial that back and still keep the branding strong.” Finding a balance that could please everyone was a challenge, “but we stuck to our guns and were able to get the stakeholder to agree to dial it back a little bit and give it a go.” The result was a campaign that resonated with both key groups: the company’s longtime leadership and the new audience they needed to reach.

It’s often a matter of looking deep into the customer research
and talking straight with your internal stakeholders

According to Lee Lawrence 

Creative Director, Brand New Day Marketing 

A creative team’s role in matching the inside brand to

the outside brand.

When stakeholder visions don’t match up with customer demands, a deeper challenge may exist. Whether it’s a disagreement over which marketing trends to follow or when to update the brand, it might be time to get back to basics: making sure your company’s campaigns are truly authentic. It’s a matter of finding that sweet spot where the brand promise meets the needs of customers.


For Lawrence, executives are the starting place. “My best approach is always to start with the leadership to get them on board.” Once leadership is on board with a concept that truly represents the brand and meets customers where they are in the journey, they can help get the entire company behind a campaign.


Oftentimes, an internal branding campaign can help get stakeholders on the same page as employees and customers. This can be especially critical in times of change, whether it’s a merger or acquisition or a shift in mission or corporate direction. 

When should you push back?

One of the big challenges as a creative director is knowing when to push back. Should you go with leadership’s ideas, even if they don’t feel like a fit for the brand or for customers? Or should you stand firm behind customer research and your role as brand watchdog? 


In the end, it’s a decision each creative leader has to make. Lawrence shared some of his guiding principles.


“If people want to evolve the brand too fast, that’s a no: It sends a shock to the consumer, you could end up looking like a completely different brand, and people pull away from it. On the flip side, if they don’t want to evolve the brand enough, and here we are 50 years down the road and we haven’t changed colors or evolved the logo or made it look more modern, we’re going to die off because we look like a dinosaur. So that’s when I push back. I always do it with a purpose. I give them a good explanation as to why we should think differently. "

“Design is the silent ambassador of your brand.

Paul Rand 

Art Director and Graphic Designer behind logos for IBM, UPS, ABC

Negotiating is a critical, unsung creative skill.

A campaign that resonates with all stakeholders is good for the company’s bottom line because it inspires employees and wins over customers. Finding that alignment often falls, at least in part, on creative leaders.


As Paul Rand, the art director and graphic designer behind iconic logos for IBM, UPS, ABC, and more, put it, “Design is the silent ambassador of your brand.” That means creative directors are the diplomats — a role that can be challenging. But keeping creative campaigns aligned with all audiences is one of the most valuable, if unsung, ways a creative leader contributes to the overall success of a brand.

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.