Fresh off the back of her involvement with CNBC’s new TV series, Pop Up Start Up, our co-founder, Rita Clifton, shares some insights into building a successful brand in the start up world.  The overriding message?  Don’t think the rules are any different just because you’re small and starting out.

There’s no magic formula or special hard and fast rules when it comes to brand building in the start-up world.  The principles and foundations are the same – whether that be in big, established businesses or for small players just starting out.  The only real difference is the intensity of the principles – and how they show up in a very practical way.  There’s perhaps more to lose from the entrepreneur’s personal perspective, possibly more at stake for a business in its infancy.  A big business can take a few knocks and set-backs (especially with a strong brand to cushion the pit falls), but a smaller player, where funding is often tight and very considered, can easily get blown off course… and a few wrong moves can be deadly.

The three guiding principles everyone should attach to their proverbial foreheads, regardless of size, scale or sector are:

  1. Clarity
  2. Coherence
  3. Leadership


Clarity touches a lot of things, and therefore needs a lot of attention.  It’s easy to say and invariably difficult to do. Clarity around who you are, what you’re offering, who you’re appealing to, what you want to achieve, and how you’re going to get there.  A clear view of the business strategy is a must, and brand must be considered at the outset, to stitch in competitive advantage from the beginning. A strong brand is instrumental in providing that essential clarity for the business, and giving it the best chance of generating sustained and sustainable value; it sets the parameters for how the brand comes to life across the customer experience, the marketing strategy, the culture, partnerships strategy and beyond.  It also helps ascertain what not to do.

Clarity around ‘what’s next?’ is equally important to the growth of a business. It’s not all about today’s product (which is likely to become obsolete at some point).  As our dear friend, Andrew Simmons, founder of women’s fashion brand, Simo says – “The clothes are the evidence, but it is the brand that tells the story”.  We see this frequently with start-ups – there’s a tremendous focus on the product at hand, possibly over and above the vision setting for the business and its future growth strategy.  If we’re talking about a tech innovation, there’s potentially a relatively short product life cycle that needs nurturing and evolving to ensure this truly is a long-term business, and not a one hit wonder.


The brand brings everything together.  A clearly defined, unique, fresh and ownable positioning simplifies decisions.  It creates the answer.   In a start-up environment where founders and co-founders are often doing everything from product development to operations to marketing and beyond, the brand is a tremendous navigation and decision making tool.  Ironically, all too often it gets overlooked, or comes later in the process – created to shape communications. But, the brand should be there at the outset to guide those decisions and ultimately to shape the emotional connection, build interest, desire and loyalty. Quite apart from anything else, the brand can create a culture of belief for all current and future employees that makes them great advocates for the brand; this, and obviously having customers who love you, is the cheapest and best value marketing.


As the founder of a business, there’s a tremendous responsibility on one’s shoulders.  Not only to deliver what you’ve set out to achieve, but also to be the brand, to epitomise the business and to ultimately be believable.  Passion and restlessness are core to driving change and making a difference.  These qualities spark interest and get people involved.  Love is a strong word, but start-ups need it more than anyone else.  Establishing brand fans and supporters – whether that be in the people employed into the business, loyal customers, or partners who’ve been there from the outset.  Establishing a nurturing connection, an almost ‘family’ bond with these important stakeholders is critical.

As a start up today, and in a world where everything is visible, everything counts – this is a serious worry for many big, mediocre businesses where employees are indifferent. It is however a great new world opportunity for young, dynamic businesses hungry to make a lasting difference.