10 mistakes in branding with Johan Ronnestam

Johan Ronnestam is one of Sweden’s most influential brand experts, and at 41 has an enviable list of achievements to his name. Having worked with some of the world’s biggest brands across the realms of branding, design, strategy and advertising, Ronnestam admits he’s made a few mistakes along the way. Here he shares 10 of those mistakes in the hope that others can learn from them. 

Points 3 and 8 ring some pretty loud bells for me! Are there any pearls of wisdom here that resonate with you?

1. Taking on a project without having the board and management team onboard
The management team of a company is short term in the sense that they leave the company every now and then. A board however is much more stable. If you’ve got them on board you make sure that the brand will stay more intact. Demand to take part in presenting brand activities to the board.

Initially in my career I was happy to meet with the project managers on the marketing department. Not good. Every now and then someone left the brand I worked with and in came a new hot shot that couldn’t wait to make his/her mark. This often led to unstable processes and poorly implemented projects. 50% of a branding project is a political process where you make sure people buy into your ideas. 50% is making sure decisions made stay that way. 25% is about the actual creative process. Ah… that makes 125%. But who said working with brands was easy!

2. Not spending enough time mapping brand contact points
When you design a new brand or communication you can’t map brand contact points enough. Once your strategy or design goes live it will suddenly be used in places you never thought about. That puts new demands on your strategy or design.

In the beginning I focussed on the details. That was not a good idea. Today I focus on the big picture. As long as you have that in your mind when you create things, you can always correct and adapt the details.

3. Creating things that require too much from the client
That logo looked fantastic on the computer. Those signs kicked ass. The advertising campaign was great. The color palette you used was stunning. But what sense does that make if the client hasn’t got the knowledge to implement what you’ve created.

I’ve made this mistake many times. Created something that the client first loves but then when it’s up to him/her to take over the brand platform they just haven’t got sufficient experience. Make sure you get a good idea of what your client can and cannot master before you create stuff.

4. Wanting to implement the new strategy too fast
Rome wasn’t built in one day and neither should your brand. Your existing and potential customers might be a little bit confused when you are changing things, but don’t overestimate the importance of your brand in peoples’ lives. You are not that important. You also want the employees to catch on, which also takes a while.

Many times I’ve been too eager to implement everything. That’s not a good idea. It takes time for the client to adapt to the new brand and to all the communication activities you’re about to implement. If it’s a good-sized brand, think of a three year implementation plan. But stick to it.

5. Not securing budget for implementation
A no brainer. It doesn’t matter how well you execute your first phase if the client can’t finalise second phase for budget reasons. It’s a failed project…and yes I’ve made that mistake too.

6. Expecting too much from the organisation
If you’re involved in a project for a bigger brand there’s a chance the people around the table in the conference room won’t have anything to do with your solution. They’re expecting a thick brand manual (which I personally think sucks) that then should work as a bible. They then want to distribute this bible in the organisation and expect wonders.

This is always a fail. Delivering thick brand manuals results in two things; first, the brand you’re about to reposition or launch becomes dull. After all, who wants to look at things over and over again that only follows a set of rules? Secondly, there’s big chance people within that organisation don’t even know how to interpret your bible. This sooner or later leads to an organisation that doesn’t care about the brand book at all. In other words they spent shit loads of money on clipart instead of brand art.

7. Spending too much time on documentation
Brand platforms should be simple and understandable. When I was young I thought value could be found in the number of pages in the document that outlined the brand platform. Today I think the opposite. A brand platform executed in a couple of pages is a good platform. The brand should not sit on a piece of paper. It should be bolted into the spine of the co-workers of the brand you’re helping out.

8. Allowing the client to choose only a slice of the pie
Your work is not a smorgasbord where the client picks what he likes. When I work with brands I aim to implement everything. My work is to recommend a strategy that takes tons of things into account. You can’t just extract a logo but not the colors. You can’t go with some things without destroying the full picture. A brand platform is a platform not a set of Lego pieces that work on their own.

Sometimes I’ve been in the position of having clients say that they like this and that but not that and this. Being afraid of destroying my relationship with the clients I’ve answered “Of course we can take those parts out”. Months later I’ve realised that I didn’t benefit the client by listening to him or her. I only destroyed a great strategy or design. Of course you should listen to your client. But listen to feedback and not their solution.

9. Not taking education of the organisation into account
The brand you’ve created is live and kicking, but inside the company there’s an organisation that doesn’t understand shit. If that’s the case you’ve done what I’ve done – forgot about educating the organisation. Spend as much money on education of the organisation around the brand as you do on implementing the brand. Later in life I’ve worked with global advertising campaigns that only had one purpose – to educate the organisation about the new brand.

10. Not spending enough time on the presentation of your brand concept
So you’ve developed an idea for a client. You’ve spent weeks, maybe month on finalising a monster strategy that will take the brand you’re working with to the other side of the moon. Your work will kick ass.

Hold it! You’re not quite there yet. It’s time to present your ideas. At first when I started working with communication I worked forever with solving the problem. Then once I was about to present that to the client we wrapped up our ideas the day before. Not very successful. Today I start to think about presentation of the ideas very early in the creative phase. The success of your presentation depends on how you present your ideas.

Think of your presentation as the opening act in a big theater. Every detail should be thought of. Foresee what the client will ask or criticize. Don’t only create presentation material, also create a drama that starts when you enter the room and ends when the client calls out WOW! And finally – rehearse the presentation more than once. If you’ve got more team members in the room, make sure they join the presentation.


A little bit about Johan Ronnestam

Having started his career as a professional snowboarder, Ronnestam felt the need to tap into his creativity and joined the digital revolution to become a concept developer at Internet consulting company, Framfab. After moving on to the highly awarded agency, Abel & Baker, Ronnestam founded his own company, Foreign. The agency grew quickly and launched campaigns for many global brands, including BMW, MTV, H&M, IKEA, Omega and Adidas International. Now, In addition to brand consulting and creative direction, Ronnestam runs several of his own brands and is one of Swedens most hired speakers on the future of communication.

This post is derived (with permission) from Ronnestam’s blog, which is a great resource for branding, innovation, trends and digital communication.


Tamarin Watson
Design Creative

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