Personified villains have hilariously made an impact on advertising. Think of character's like Mayhem, the chaos-curating nemesis of Allstate Insurance and their members. Or Mr. Mucus, the scumbag jabronie who gets his ass kicked by Mucinex on the regular.
What's the point here?
Your audience is your hero and heroes do their best when they fight a villain. This villain stands for everything your hero doesn't, they are at ends with each other. If you can identify this villain, you can give your hero tools to defeat them (products, services, training, etc.).
Who is your villain?
There is a lot of science and research to building a brand. Knowing the right things to say, the right colors to differentiate yourself from the competition, all that other stuff that is tactically important to the job. It is important, absolutely. However it is easy to approach branding with all head and no heart, which is where things go wrong. Most likely, it is because entrepreneurs and change-makers overlook a giant piece of the puzzle: themselves.
That's right, you. You have a story. You have been places others haven't, you have a personality, and you have envisioned a world different than the one you currently inhabit (that's why you're in business after all, to change the world). You are a rebel because you've decided that the current way things are is not satisfactory. You are driving change.
My ask is this: don't lose sight of how important your story is. It is your biggest asset in building a brand.
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.