No one wants to admit their brand has lost focus. But it’s more common than you might imagine. From small businesses to global enterprises, no one is immune to the pitfalls of an unfocused brand. It isn’t usually the result of reckless behavior, either. More often, it’s an unintentional lack of vigilance that gets brands in trouble.

In fact, most brands don’t even realize they’ve lost focus. In the race towards innovation and relevance, even brands as large as GoPro have seen promising futures confounded as overextended product lines pile up in a shrinking niche market. As the marketplace changes, the temptation to diversify and adapt leads many well-intentioned brands astray.

So, how can you tell if your brand is losing focus? The following are 4 telling signs that you might be drifting from clarity toward a hazy or ill-defined brand.

1. You’re Diversifying Just to Generate Revenue

Diversification is seen by many as a key to success, but when done poorly, it has the power to dismantle your brand’s legacy and leave customers scrambling to understand what your brand stands for. A classic example is Apple’s rapid product expansion not long after the death of founder Steve Jobs. Without the steadying keel of its iconic leader, many thought the brand was just throwing darts at what to do next.

If your brand is struggling, it can be tempting to diversify as a last-ditch effort to widen your sales funnel. But if you can’t attract and keep customers with your signature offerings, trying to reach a greater audience by haphazardly expanding into adjacent markets comes with a significant amount of risk.

At the end of the day, your customers need to know why they should buy from you rather than from your competition. They require clear and consistent brand messaging that’s as easy to understand as it is to share with others. Rather than diversifying (and running the risk of diluting your messaging to the point of irrelevance), it is often wiser to refocus your existing brand on the specific needs of your ideal clients.

2. Your Value Propositions Are Weak

Disney is the happiest place on earth. BMW is the ultimate driving machine. Charmin is squeezably soft. Successful brands are those whose value propositions are imminently knowable.

You may be getting your brand and messaging in front of thousands of eyes every day, but if the brains behind those eyes don’t immediately understand why they should buy your product or service instead of your competitors’, then that exposure is essentially worthless.

Having strong value propositions isn’t necessarily about having snappy taglines though. It’s about clearly conveying the thing (or things) your brand does better than anyone else. And it starts internally. One thing’s for sure: if your employees can’t articulate your value propositions, chances are your customers can’t either.

3. You’re Copying the Competition

Although Uber and Lyft are nearly identical in their pricing and ride-sharing capabilities, the $50 billion difference in valuation is no small indicator that Uber has developed a strategic advantage. To stay afloat in the midst of heated competition, many brands attempt to mimic the success of their competitors by adopting similar business and branding strategies. In the worst cases, short-sighted tactics like these can result in a pricing war that weakens both brands and undercuts their long-term value.

Losing focus and chasing the heels of your competitors can have serious consequences. Brands that do so risk succumbing to endless promotions, discounts and special offers. To avoid adopting a damaging copycat approach, brands like Lyft have learned to educate customers on their authentic differentiators.

Core values, employee satisfaction ratings, and exceptional customer service are the type of profound differentiation with which customers identify. And getting your customers to identify with your brand on a deep and meaningful level is the best way to set yourself apart from close market rivals.

4. You’re Failing to Stay Relevant

When it comes to branding, relevance can feel like a fickle pursuit. The problem is too many brands conflate staying abreast of trends with relevance. Nothing can cause your brand to lose focus more quickly than the relentless pursuit of trends.

Relevance is not the same as trendiness. A brand is relevant when it fulfills the needs of its target audience. The minute your products or services no longer do that is the minute you’re no longer needed by your customers.

Relevance is a characteristic worth pursuing, but only insofar as it is the byproduct of being a useful brand with which your customers can identify. In mistaking trendiness for relevance, too many brands lose sight of who they serve and why. By remaining focused on your target audience—that ideal customer with a distinct need for your unique product or service—you’ll always be relevant, and in the process outlast the ebb and flow of ephemeral trends.

The Takeaway

Reactive diversification, weak value propositions, copying the competition, failing to stay relevant—all are symptoms of a brand that has lost its way. Whether you’ve lost focus internally by forgetting the core tenets of who you are as a brand, or externally by losing sight of who it is you should be serving, the consequences are the same. Unfocused brands are, more often than not, on their way out the door. If you recognize any of these symptoms in your brand, best to take a step back and try and identify where you’ve gone wrong. It’s rarely too late to refocus your efforts and implement the type of critical course correction that can keep your brand in business.

The Ultimate Guide to Rebranding

Everything you need to know about rebranding your business-and avoiding costly mistakes.


A prolific blogger, speaker, and columnist, Brian has two decades of experience in design and branding. He’s written for publications including Forbes, Entrepreneur, Inc. Magazine, Fast Company, HuffPost, and Brand Quarterly.