Is your brand a toaster oven?

Toaster ovens are great. Wait, no they’re not.

At best, a toaster oven is a cheap substitute for the tool you really want – the toaster, or the oven (clever name, though). But as an oven, it’s too small and inconsistent and as a toaster, it’s too big and inconsistent.

Some brands are like that. But most don’t start out that way. They get like that by contorting themselves to try to meet the needs of anyone who knocks on their door. As scrappy entrepreneurs we’re taught that you never say no to a potential customer. You say yes and then figure out how to do it.

Board-led brands can become toaster ovens over time because as leadership changes, people shift the brand oh-so-slightly to meet their approach. A few Board Chairs later and the brand is a shadow of its original self. Not for profits often have the same challenge for a different reason, they stretch their core mandate a little here, and a little there, to take advantage of funding opportunities.

So, like people, brands often go through a kind of mid-life crisis, when after years of trying to be everything to everyone they find they’ve lost sight of who they are and why they started down this path in the first place.

There are some tell-tale toaster oven signs:

  • You’re not getting the clients, customers, or types of projects you really want.
  • A new year isn’t really a new year, it’s just another year.
  • Clients ask you to take on random projects that aren’t your specialty.
  • You’re making money but it’s boring or grinding most days, or worse, you’re also not really making money.
  • You’re not attracting top talent.
  • You’re not really sure what your unique value proposition is anymore.
  • Your brand is off-brand.
  • It feels like everyone is your competition, and most of them seem better at what they do than you.

Think you may have become a toaster oven? 

It’s time for some brand introspection. Who are you really? Where are you going? What do you stand for?

Uncertainty around these questions may be uncomfortable, but it’s not all bad news. If you look more closely, you may discover that you really love being a toaster, or finally declare that you always wanted to be an oven.

Most people start asking these questions because they’d rather be a specialized tool in a chef’s kitchen than just taking up counter space in a dorm room. To do that, they discover that they need to move one way or the other.

Your brand can go anywhere – but unless you are actively guiding and managing it, it will be shape-shifted by every influence and request, becoming something no one intended, something people default to, when they can’t have what they actually want.

Feeling toaster oven-ish? We can help.