Why do different brands that sell similar products achieve different levels of success? Very likely, because of branding.

Branding comes in all shapes and sizes, and each business has its own look, tone, personality, and characteristics. But some brands stand out more than others, getting more buzz than other businesses—even those selling all but identical products or services.

You know those successful companies... They're the ones you stalk on Instagram because their content is always on point and their images seem straight out of a magazine. Or perhaps that business is the local store that everyone recommends to friends, or that one must-see e-commerce website.

What are those businesses doing different from the rest?

They're branding their gutsy.

Gutsy is having an idea to do something and following through with it. It's going against the grain by trying something new that no one else is doing, knowing that it could stick or it could fail. If we want to get really technical, the definition of "gutsy" is "showing courage, determination, and spirit." Essentially, it's a willingness to take a leap of faith.

Often, the most successful marketing and branding campaigns are the ones willing to take a risk with the business's identity. Let's take salad dressing, for example. There are thousands of companies that make, manufacture, and sell salad dressing. Most take a similar approach with their messaging and labeling, and they sell a decent product.

But consider the brand JUST. It sells salad dressing, but its labels are so simple that they grab your attention. The logo, a simple black and white mark, is placed on a clear bottle that displays the color of the product within it. That's it.

The website reflects that simplicity, but instead of explaining why its ranch dressing is out of this world, JUST tells you its story. It shows you the faces of the people behind the brand and what they stand for.

JUST has branded its gutsy by doing something different, and that branding sticks.

Another brand that carved the path for quirky, candid branding is Dollar Shave Club. It broke the Internet with its causal and funny take on shaving.

Let's face it (pun intended), shaving is not everyone's favorite thing to do, but it's a daily necessity for many. We've all had our fair share of undesirable razors that have left us searching for pieces of toilet paper to blot the blood, and we've all stood in the grocery store, debating whether spending $25 on something that you don't really feel like doing is even worth it.

Dollar Shave Club revolutionized the razor, making a quality product for a price that's a fraction of many razors' cost. And it shows up at your doorstep every month with a snarky package insert that makes you laugh—and that's what turns you into a loyal customer. Dollar Shave Club branded its gutsy by humanizing the pain point of shaving and providing a better experience, which is what people relate to.

The coolest part about branding is any business can do it, whether you're a one-person show operating from your kitchen table, or a business that's been operating for years and wants to reinvent itself.

And my favorite part? Any business can brand its gutsy. Here's how to get started.


The way you talk to your customers creates an opportunity to relate to them—specifically, to their pain or need. When you can relate enough to make someone laugh, you've gained a customer—or at the very least, someone who's going to talk about your brand to friends.

Each brand is unique in what and how it sells, and finding your unique voice is a chance to speak to your customers on their level. Know who your audience members are, what problem they're having, and how you're going to solve those problems.

For instance, a snack brand might make light of busy moms' not having a chance to eat their own food uninterrupted; it might show a mom sneaking a snack in the laundry room and a silly headline about getting a snack in whenever she can.

Be real. Talk to them like they're your friends. Help validate what they're going through, and then show them how the solution is possible.


Like tone of voice, visuals are a way to communicate with your audience. Your colors, fonts, images, and marketing should be consistent, whatever the message's platform. Visuals are a way to send a message by creating a feeling, with or without words.

In the earlier example, those harried moms don't want to see images of perfect moms strolling through the park on their morning run. They want to see moms just like them, having the same issues. They want to see a house with cereal stuck to kids' faces, clothes on the floor, and a frenzied mom with a messy bun on top of her head. Why? Because they can see themselves in those situations and know they are not alone.

Know your audience inside and out, and create visuals that resonate with them.


Somewhere along the way, a fictitious person created a fictitious book on how businesses need to be perfect. It created this idea that to be in business, you must have it all together and never make mistakes—and if you do, never speak of them.

I'm a big fan of being real and vulnerable. I guarantee that the business leaders you look up to have lost a night (or 30 nights) of sleep over a problem, idea, or sacrifice.

Share your story with your team and your audience. Let them know you're just as real as they are.

Share your story on your website. Create videos that aren't always perfectly produced. Let people see behind the scenes so they understand what's really going on. You'll gain respect from a lot of people, and the folks who aren't on board weren't going to be your clients or customers in the first place.


The biggest difference between small coffee shops and national coffee chains is the drive to grow. Have the gutsy to know where you want to grow your business, and put people and things in place to make it happen.

Admit your faults, and build a team of people that have unique abilities—preferably ones that you don't possess. You can't do it all, nor should you.

If you want to stay small and local, then do that, but do it well. If you want to be an international company in the next three years, you've got some work to do! But know your goals, and then use your gutsy to stick to them.

* * *

Gutsy isn't a magical formula or something that can be purchased, but it is something that you have the ability to use. Find what makes your business unique, what makes it tick, and what it is known for, and then build your entire brand around that.

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Four Tips for Gutsy Branding: How to Make Your Business Stand Out

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image of Laura Wallace

Laura Wallace is the owner, creative director, and resident fire-starter at Worx Graphic Design. She is also the author of Brandstarter and the founder of The Green Couch Project.

LinkedIn: Laura Wallace