Startups dilute their branding potential when they set their eyes on big brands like Apple or Nike. Not saying those brands aren't respectable, they are for many reasons, but they are not startups. They can't afford to be something unique because the reputation at stake is too high. In short, they cannot afford to turn people off.
But you, the scrappy startup, can.
You can nurture your brand to be bold, daring, and different from what is expected and it will give you the edge you are looking for. In fact, it would be a good bet to double-down on the elements of your startup's personality to make sure you are recognized as something different.
Now, I want to be clear, I'm not asking you to go Miley Cyrus and do weird shit for shock value (please don't twerk on Robert Thicke). But you can absolutely veer away from the staid and trite phraseology, colors, and rigid nature you see from your competitors. You can turn on a dime and move fast without getting approval from 30 people. You can do something truly impactful for you and your audience. All the while saying, "you don't have to like what we're doing, because it's probably not for you."
The win of being small is that you can do the things big brands cannot. Small wins.
The most common answer a startup will give to "what is a brand," is something along the lines of "logo," or a "visual representation of your company." While the visuals are a key part in making a brand, they do not describe its entirety. Marty Neumeier, author of the Brand Gap describes it this way:
The brand is a gut feeling. It's an emotion felt by someone after interacting with an entity, usually a business.
What is a brand? A gut-feeling, don't let anyone else tell you otherwise.
Nothing is ever perfect. Every brochure, marketing collateral piece, logo, company name, website, all of them have things that could be better. Now, you have two choices: try and attain perfection, or make something good and prepare to iterate based on feedback.
You cannot keep throwing spaghetti at the wall and expect to go anywhere. You need to launch, get actual feedback, and then pivot.
Whatever you are working on, launch it. If it sucks, at least now you know and can change.