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

One of the recurring issues we run into during the discovery and investigation stage is the imbalance between where a brand thinks it stands – and learning where it doesn’t stand. You can spend an eternity on perfecting an idea, product or service – and you might also discover that you forget who it is actually for anymore. Sure, it is one thing to want to sell a million widgets, but do you have support behind those sales? Do you have a million followers or brand advocates? Most likely not. So, before you go anywhere, you need to work out where you are first, where you could be, and if your strategy can guide you in the right direction.

Truly understanding the market for an idea, product or service, and how it is perceived, is the first step to creating a brand that stands out. For every CEO who thinks they are following the brand values, we run into an employee who doesn’t have a clue that those same brand values even exist. It is one thing to present as a calm, steady ship – but something completely different when beneath that surface of illusion is an ocean of confusion. One way to bring that internal story to light is by asking the right questions and listening, not just hearing, to polarizing point of views in brand identity, and clarifying key decisions. Don’t point fingers. Navigate through the difficult information you find and steer the brand back to a safe and profitable harbour.


The role of the audit is critical for learning if the actual physical, verbal and visual branding lags behind its core purpose. When laid out on a table for all to see, the discovery and investigation process can examine if the elements, logos and designs make for a proper fit. A brand can promise a great ‘experience,’ but the reality doesn’t always deliver on that same promise. The brand identity and physical experiences fall short of matching community expectations and results in a toolkit that struggles to stretch into all areas or even flex across the screen. Matching the high perceptions and positive attributes that your community attaches to your brand can be solved by simplifying the approach and ‘unpicking’ your market.

Mapping brands into matrixes or grids with quadrants of left, right, up and down based on polar parameters is one way to measure and examine the market fit. Is your brand economy or premium? Is it a brand liked by most or not liked at all? Is it based on individuals or families? Is it personal or impersonal? Brand mapping is an excellent place to start to confirm if your brand caters to a market, fills a gap no one else occupies or worse – misses the gap entirely. What looks good on paper does not always translate well into the application. A combination of mapping, intuition and sheer bravery can open up new approaches – and dare you to go where others won’t.


There are many ways to uncover a brand’s truth. Digging deep into its history is one way and can sometimes find the inspiration for today and, more importantly – the future. We see it daily, from movies to vehicles to soft drinks – what was once retro is now modern. One primary example of why you need to implement traditional research is studying previous successes from the past for a viable market fit for 21st-century versions of the old. Alternatively, look at how your brand can amend and modulate its offering to clarify what it stands for in order to be more transparent and better understood. By taking issue with what’s there, or ‘isn’t’ there, you can challenge the status quo and tip your brand over from underdog to champion. Refusing to take everything at face value opens up the time to search for something better. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, from a base of food, water and sleep, still matters – some brands just decided to approach those needs in more innovative ways, from SkipTheDishes to Soda Stream and over to Endy. It doesn’t mean there will always be space in the market – there is typically an overwhelmingly great reason why no one has filled the gap. Think of how a small handful of global giants has historically dominated the cola market. However, for innovative and disruptive brands, the principles of examining your market and searching for opportunities can often lead to product innovation.

Want to effectively and quickly start somewhere for creating and building a great brand? Start with these basic approaches.


This is a more functional approach to branding. The brand is closely linked to planning and executing creative advertising from commercials to posters or our favourite - micro advertising. This approach comes with a risk - failing here means brand failure. But it can also produce a memorable and tangible campaign.


This approach places the customer at the heart of the brand strategy. By putting its resources into designing and developing a compelling experience for its buyer personas, versus mass advertising, a brand can transform itself into an experience of sense, touch and sight - and promise something unique and unlike anything else.


An approach long practiced by industries from fashion to sporting goods, it puts the brand partially in the hands of your community. Building a relevant and meaningful brand in this market means contributing to a personal or individual brand. Your brand will be seen as a tool or symbol to mix or match and express who they are - and what they aspire to be.


The auditing and researching phase is critical in the discovery stage – it tells you where a brand sits, or could sit, in a market. Using brand mapping to ‘unpick’ and understand a market can lead directly to great ideas and insights – and make your community comfortable in its own skin.

Do you want to grow sales? Plan for a year out. Do you want to grow marketing channels? Plan for three years out. Do you want to build something great that lasts for decades? Then you have to plan to grow a brand. As the personification of an idea, product or service, a brand must mature and change its offering over time.

Its character and personality shouldn’t.

The Bottom line

So, on that note, in terms of starting-up a start-up from the eyes of a starter-upper, we love to dig deeper to uncover brand truths because it helps boil down a brand to what it really says. We ask questions that get to the heart of it because by simplifying the process and simplifying the core belief – we simplify the brand. Get the balance right between the internal desire and external reality – and learn if the actual physical, verbal and visual branding lags behind. This priceless information determines early client approval for full content creation and direction – and informs our strategic and narrative stage.

Hopefully, I have not borrowed your attention for too long, and in return for that time, you will leave with something more valuable. Also, since we are pushing for making more outrageous decisions when it comes to your brand, well… next on the docket will be why thinking the opposite means different things to different people. So we thought we would start somewhere with why it is making the difference for us.


Interested in learning
more about story branding?