Young brands need to nail the magic first, not the maths.

By James Golding

There are a daunting number of challenges to juggle for young brands, not least making the numbers stack up. It’s easy to get side tracked with business development and finances, and lose focus on the exciting bit, the magic, the critical objective: offering something that’s brilliant and unique. And it’s all for nothing if you can’t persuade your target audience that your brand is as brilliant as you know it is.

Todays consumers are more switched on than ever, and less trusting of brands. They’ve had marketing messages rammed down their throats from every medium, and are aware of all the old attention-grabbing tricks in the book. Consumer brands are not only needing to work harder to connect with their audience, they’re having to work smarter to develop trust.


To connect with consumers, brands need a clear and compelling point of difference. A story, or something to engage with or better still… something to believe in. To truly define this silver bullet we need to establish some fundamental truths. For example, why does the brand exist? What unique problem is it solving? How does the brand represent the people behind it? How does it represent the consumer who’s buying into it?

A good barometer for a successful brand idea is the Japanese ‘Ikigai’ concept. ‘Ikigai’ means “a reason for being”, and is usually used to indicate the source of value in life, or what makes it all worthwhile.


Brand owners have all the answers to these questions, sometimes buried away in their heads. As designers and creatives it’s our job is to extract and capture the essence of their reason for being, the thing that gets consumers excited, the magic of the brand, and bring it to life in a visually compelling way.

So how does a young emerging brand achieve and communicate this magic (or their ‘Ikigai’) with their audience? Considering factors such as tight purse strings and a business that evolves and changes almost weekly. That is quite literally, the million dollar question. But it’s so important for brand owners to tackle it.

Be loveable
If you don’t love your brand, the chances are no one else will. Make it something emotive, with purpose, and with character. The brand is not the product, it’s not the business plan, it’s not the fonts and colours, it’s the magical idea, the single identifiable concept that distinguishes it from everyone else. No brand is for everyone, but for those who you’re for, you need to pull the heart strings and tick the all the right boxes.

Punch above your weight
It’s important when realising the manifestation of this brand magic that it doesn’t become a creative money pit. Big ideas communicated effectively with great design speak volumes, whether they’re made in Southampton or Shoreditch. The large prestigious multi-service agencies will no doubt produce the goods but young brands need to work smarter than that, and get maximum bang for their buck. To truly realise the brand dream you need a creative partner that can elevate your brand to where it needs to be without taking it to the cleaners financially. So as nice as it is to have ideas pitched to you in W1 postcodes by teams of hipsters wearing tweed jackets and indoor scarves, is it really the best use of limited resources? As with all parts of growing a business, developing the right connections and sustainable relationships is key.

Be reactive
Stay relevant. Embrace change. Roll with the punches. Consumers are fickle, so don’t be afraid to move quickly if you see a chance to engage them. A great example of this is the flavour innovation range we’ve recently produced for Ugly Drinks USA. They spotted an opportunity in the market for short run, collaborative flavour developments and jumped on it. It was a tight turnaround from concept development to product artwork for 6 new flavours and required our studio to pull out all the stops, but we understand the importance of taking these opportunities, and love making these kind of challenges happen. They managed to engage with their audience quickly and effectively, in a way that would never have been foreseen in a business / marketing plan.

Ugly Limited Edition Marshmallow

Be true to your values
As a brand develops there are times you may need to bend the brand rules, maybe even break them. But the brand values support the reason for being, which that magical stuff is built on – so they are your North Star. They must be unshakable, guiding every decision you make.

Don’t underestimate the power of good design
As Paul Earle wrote in Forbes magazine, “Design is no longer just window dressing. If it is good enough, it can be as important in the consumer experience as the “thing” itself.” The visual manifestation of the brand is the first impression (and often the one that counts), it needs to be powerful, consistent, and aligned with the brand values.

So how does this look in reality? Long term Zap client Hippeas are a great example of a consumer brand that saw the value in nailing their magic first.

Livio Bisterzo, founder of Hippeas, put it perfectly when speaking to Food Navigator USA: “Brand was everything for us, especially in the beginning. We had such a compelling proposition, we knew it was a very tough category, very saturated, so first and foremost we had to pop off the shelf”. Working with JKR they produced an award winning creative platform which ticked all the right boxes, and we’ve been helping them implement and develop it ever since.

Hippeas packs

It’s key to put the responsibility for this in safe hands. Whether you commit to a permanent creative member of staff that can cover all your requirements, employ a world class but super-expensive agency, or build a relationship with a small versatile studio, you need to trust that they will be able to nail the magic for your brand, and care for it like you do.

Because once you nail the magic, the rest of it falls into place.


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