Building a vitamin brand for a healthy exit


SISU is a vitamin brand based in Vancouver, BC. We were brought aboard by investors who had just purchased the company from the founder. Our mission was to enhance SISU’s value for the investors, prior to their planned 2 year exit.

The SISU engagement perfectly illustrates the power of a Brands Investors Love Value Proposition Ladder, Ripple Brand and Bow Brand – tools we used to jump the adoption curve chasm from a niche audience to mainstream consumers.

Jumping up the adoption curve chasm

Like many founder-driven ventures, SISU was a product-led company that appealed to a niche audience – vitamin store employees.

The vitamins were indistinguishable at shelf, which meant sales depended on employees recommending them to consumers. Being top-of-mind with these employees would’ve required a never-ending information and persuasion campaign (to an audience that wasn’t loyal, expert, or stable in their jobs – employee turnover at vitamin stores was high). This was an unsustainable strategy for ‘jumping the chasm’ to scalable growth.

The goal was to enable SISU to sell itself at shelf, bypassing vitamin store employee gatekeepers to appeal directly to mainstream consumers. We needed to build a brand-led company.

The value ladder

The first step in transitioning from a product-led to brand-led company was to create a strong value proposition.

We discovered that SISU was Finnish for ‘inner strength’. This northern European concept was not only fresh, but entirely consistent with the founder’s Finnish heritage.

Inner strength elevated the value proposition from the rational to the highly emotional, unlocking a deep, rich narrative of northern European hardiness that gave consumers a vivid idea of how the product would make them feel. Climbing the Value Proposition Ladder from the rational (features and benefits) to the emotional (inner strength) created strong resonance with non-expert consumers.

The ripple brand

When you toss a pebble in the water, it creates ripples. The tightest ripple is the most focused and powerful. As ripples radiate outward, they lose their power, and eventually dissipate.

Certain brands with an at-shelf experience (grocery stores, for example) thrive by offering an exemplary experience to consumers in the store – the ‘ripples’ nearest the brand. We built the SISU brand to stand out at shelf, because of the unique conditions of the vitamin market. We chose cobalt blue bottles (the only blue bottles for vitamins at the time) and uniquely labels with visuals that showed the effect of the vitamin. Thus, the vitamins stood out in the store setting, and could sell themselves without help from vitamin store employees. The bottles were complemented by strong point of sale advertising, completing the closest ‘ripple’.

Only when the in-store marketing was complete did we turn our attention to weaker, broader ripples – advertising.

The bow brand

A bow brand, like the bow of a ship, has two unique qualities. First, it points the company toward the mission and vision. And second, it draws along the rest of the company, from operations to innovation – into its universe. This consistency throughout gives the company focus and alignment. Stakeholders and employees feel better, and consumers benefit from a better experience.

The SISU brand brought the story of Finnish inner strength to life. It also launched unique sponsorship packages, giveaways, and staff incentives. Consumers embraced the brand, which led to a rise in sales.


The investors exited SISU on schedule, and at a higher valuation than hoped for.