It’s very easy to give advice on the hypothetically perfect brand process. But in the real world brand building isn’t perfect. It almost never starts with a blank page. Usually you’ve inherited a little strategy here, some leftover messaging there, a bit of visual language here. If you find yourself picking over the crumbs of your brand’s buffet, don’t worry – we’ve all been there.

Taking our ingredients for a perfect brand – substance and standout – and flipping them on their heads, we’ve developed a two-step checklist to help you audit what you’ve got.

Step 1: Tap the walls

You’re looking for that familiar hollow sound. Messages that sound like press releases – full of boastful, empty adjectives. Ask yourself hand on heart – is there anything in here that’s too much of a stretch? What bits would fall down if we put weight on them? Your brand isn’t just for show – it should be load-bearing.

Make sure you show more often than you say. Do you constantly have to use words like ‘innovative’ to convince people (or maybe convince yourself) that’s what your company is? The more you have to say it, the less true it probably is.

Don’t be ashamed of hollow walls. Be honest and knock them down.

Step 2: Strip the wallpaper

Nobody will notice if you fade into the background – no matter how beautifully crafted your velvet damask is.

Don’t be the car ad where it’s on a road going round a mountain track. Don’t be the perfume ad with the athletic person in the water. Don’t be the dependable, navy blue bank claiming they’re more human than every other bank. Don’t be the packaging copy that thinks it’s the reader’s best bud.

These ideas are deader than disco.

Look at everything your brand does with brutal honesty and ask yourself if it’s original or unusual in the market. Would you notice this brand if you didn’t have a hand in building it? Is there a more interesting way to say what you’re saying?

If you get rid of the dead wood – the hollow and the dull – you’ll be well on your way to making something that’s not just passable, or okay-ish, but sharp. Something with substance. Something that stands out.

Something with guts