Starting-up a start-up from the eyes of a starter-upper.

In a culture of brand sameness, you have to look hard at what’s out there to see the commonalities. However, if you take the time to do so, you will recognize a common thread – the ‘thumb test’ is one strategic point of reference. Find any advertising from the same industry and place your thumb over the logo. See any difference? Neither do we.

Brand identity is more than just a logo in the corner. It is the tone of voice, true points of difference, and a core purpose. Finding out where a brand stands, or more importantly, doesn’t stand, is a crucial first step to identifying the correct problems to solve. That’s why we start with asking the right questions and digging deeper for framing the decisions that come next.


First and foremost, before we begin, know that these exercises are separate from market research or finding your buyer personas. Those are topics for another time and another blog.

Simple branding exercises get the ball rolling for defining, translating and creating strategy and narrative for an idea, product or service. Using a simple structure is key for getting to the heart of a brand and digging deeper to uncover brand truths. There is no hard-and-fast rule about who takes the lead on the research for this step. We suggest that direct consultation and interviews on in-depth strategic questions are best carried out by external parties. Having an internal employee challenge their chief executive team makes for more than an uncomfortable situation – it straight-up kills momentum before the exercises even begin. 

However, do start the process from an internal perspective first. You can’t take an idea, product or service and move it forward to the market without internal buy-in. Be patient here – it’s a learning process.


Some of the basic exercises include a synopsis of strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (SWOT) – but to be honest, this exercise is quite played-out and too safe. You can also analyze the political, economic, social and technology (PEST) landscape – but again, this is also similar to the latter. Sure, both exercises give everyone the chance to ‘have their say’ but doesn’t go the distance for putting a thorn in your thinking process. When it comes to providing strategic insight moving forward, it can be hard to get honest input from your contributors about the opportunities and threats. We like these exercises in a business plan, but find it to be a massive waste-of-time when it comes to branding or re-branding. Moreover, how many entrepreneurs do you know who have time to waste?

Want to effectively and quickly create the right space for all parties to ‘have their say’? Here are a few simple exercises to neatly capture the issues and direction that a brand can go next.


Before we can go anywhere, we need to work out where you are first, where you could be, and whether you are capable of getting there. Here we start with painfully obvious question to quickly identify difficult issues and keep all the information on a single page.


This exercise forces teams to separate the ‘what we do’ from the ‘why we do it’ - and lay the groundwork for the narrative phase. It helps us dig deeper to locate hidden details and reveal truths that are unique - and have something genuinely different in what it says.


Are you clear on what the brand stands for, or more importantly - doesn’t stand for? A simple two-by-two matrix can provide clarity into what makes your brand different from the others. If your response to this question matrix is ‘nothing,’ well… then we suggest starting here.


We can’t and won’t even begin to sugarcoat the fact that research and audits are time-consuming. Honestly, we front-load story branding projects with a minimum of six weeks before we start any real strategic planning. Our social media analysis alone involves 12 simple questions that spread across the social ecosystem. The index includes, but is not limited to, uncovering the brand social presence, how it encourages natural sharing, to how it increases brand awareness or if it is metric-driven. It does not include the qualifying stage where we decide if we are even the right fit for a client – or if they are the right fit for us.

If you are at the beginning of your process, maybe for the first time or what you hope is the last time, know that you don’t get the diamond without the pressure. Story branding is a process, and bit by bit, stage by stage, is where we begin its early steps. We throw down as wide a scope as possible and follow best practices to connect branding (in its widest sense) and brand identity (in its visual sense). We look at how the brand balances its basket of values, behaviours and how it personifies its voice.

The Bottom line

So, on that note, in terms of starting-up a start-up from the eyes of a starter-upper, we love simple exercises for big outcomes. Asking the right questions results in more than priceless information – it can also offer insurance against the future. Involving key decision-makers, and our preference of key trouble-makers, early on in the process is critical. Look at it this way – would you prefer to argue about the ‘perfect future direction’ during the first step – or at the end of the third step when you are signing off on the brand? Traditional research will gather the key data points that will inform your strategy and narrative stage – and is crucial to what your success will look like in the future.

Hopefully, I have not borrowed your attention for too long, and in return for that time, you will leave with something more valuable. And since we see perceiving as believing for attaining clarity in our direction, well… next on the docket will be how asking the right questions to the right people at the right time will help balance internal desires and external realities.


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more about story branding?