Bootstrapped Branding Basics: Planning Framework & Early Traction

Bootstrapped Brands must find creative, resourceful ways to stand out.

This is where being low on resources is a blessing.

You can’t afford the ad placement, the agencies, or the large-scale pricing advantages of big brands.

So you must find other ways.

You zig, where the others have zagged.


Standing out starts with:

  • Understanding norms of your category
  • Developing a brand position that is off the pattern of those norms

Here are some notable examples:

Tony’s Chocolonely is a chocolate brand based in Amsterdam. It was started by Teun van de Keuken after discovering rampant slavery in the chocolate supply chain.

Most chocolate brands rely on a fixed set of common themes. They tend to evoke feelings of warmth and special moments, or decadence and indulgence.

Tony’s Chocolonely does none of that. This brand is an equality crusade. It is on a mission to right a systemic, abusive wrong in the world. It operates more like a non-profit, complete with an impact report on the website.


TomboyX is an underwear brand that, unlike the stalwarts of that category, is built on pure reality. The category is traditionally defined by black-and-white gender division, and often, overt sexualization of the product.

In contrast, TomboyX prides itself on products designed for comfort. Their sizing is based on “real people”. This is brilliant writing. It repositions the other brands in the category by implying they test sizing on something other than real people.


Let’s revisit the initial steps to standing out.

Understand the norms of your category: A very practical way to do this would be to list the brands in your category. Namely the large incumbents.

Then study them. Create a document where you track recurring themes. Note how often they pop up and any other contextual information you feel is important. Also note price bracketing, retailers, co-brands or collaborations, etc..

Ensure you take time to think about why these decisions were made.

Ensure you notice which themes become trends. These are your keys to the next step.

Next, we’ll examine how we turn those trended themes and data points into tangible aspects of a brand.

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