50 Smartest Companies of the Year 2022

The Value of Branding and Brand Experience: Meet Starfish, the NYC Firm That Has Mastered It.


Many may think of a brand as a name and a logo, but it is much more than that. A brand is what a company stands for in the eyes of its customers and prospects; it’s how a company identifies itself and a proxy for its image, reputation, values, point of view, and more. The components of a brand are crucial assets that can add to or subtract from its perceived value.

The value of a brand is multidimensional and very much a function of the value it offers its customers. The concept of value can be looked at from the perspective of the various types of benefits a brand delivers: (1) functional benefits can be considered the most rational aspects of the offering that drives someone to engage, (2) emotional benefits can best be defined as the feelings a brand evokes when someone engages with it, (3) self-expressive benefits are the benefits that transcend the customer and provide a vehicle for self-expression (real or an ideal self-image), and (4) social benefits are generally present in brands that enable people to be part of a social group as they represent shared values and ideals.

And while branding is only one driver of sales, it is a crucial driver of customer loyalty and long-term performance, no matter what your business is or who your target audiences are. Yet many internal marketing departments lack the infrastructure or specific expertise to manage the methodologies and processes needed to properly develop a solid and sustainable brand.

So when is it time to hire a branding agency?

In essence, branding agencies help businesses gain control over how they are perceived. They help define a business’s brand strategy—the filter through which everything a business does to ensure that all marketing, communications, and customer interactions are impactful, relevant, and aligned with business objectives.

NYC-based Starfish is not your run-of-the-mill branding firm. Nearly 20 years old, Starfish is an expert in the discipline of brand experience, making the agency a formidable competitor to the traditional branding and advertising giants they compete (and often win) against. 

Brand Experience Is the Brand.

David Kessler founded Starfish in 2002. After spending many years in the New York City advertising industry, he was living in the midst of channel proliferation and saw an opportunity to create a different kind of an agency—one that specialized in helping companies create more pervasive and integrated brand experiences.

Starfish is a master of brand experience. Their core philosophy is built on the belief that the brand experience is the brand, and a brand is an idea that is developed in a person’s mind as the result of every direct and indirect interaction a person has with that brand, including but not limited to advertising, retail immersions, websites, social posts, customer service interactions, email, and, of course, the actual products and/or services. Starfish’s job is to define the actual experience a company wants its customers to have, and then design strategies and initiatives to ensure all of its expressions are in sync.

Often this process begins by identifying a business’s core brand idea: the brand essence boiled down to the simplest possible language. Then Starfish works with clients to align and synchronize this brand idea with all expressions across five vital operational segments: sales, marketing communications, internal culture, product/service offering, and operations. Through these efforts, Starfish creates customer experiences that change people’s impressions and deepen their relationships with brands.

Of course, we can’t talk about brand experience without acknowledging the imminent rise of the metaverse. As tempting as it might be for companies to stay in their comfort zone, businesses must take advantage of the opportunity to explore the implications of the metaverse for their brand and their consumers. The metaverse is an always-on immersive environment that spans multiple platforms and worlds. From Starfish’s perspective, this means more opportunities for brands to engage with the world. So the firm is developing a specific service offering to manage clients’ brands in the metaverse.

Starfish’s extensive range of B2B and B2C clients spans real estate, direct-to-consumer, start-ups, government, healthcare, tech, education, and more. Notable clients include PwC, 24 Hour Fitness, Principal Financial Group, Avis Budget Group, Dunkin’, Gallup, Optum, and more. In fact, for Atlas Air, one of the world’s largest air shipping firms, Starfish is conducting employee value proposition work to help the aircraft carrier build a durable culture and retain top talent. And one of Starfish’s most meaningful projects was with Hologic, an innovative tech/medical company that specializes in women’s health. Together, they launched the Hologic Global Women’s Health Index: the first globally comparative, statistically valid study of women’s health.

The Ardent Visionary at the Helm of Starfish

David Kessler is the Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Starfish. He is renowned in the industry for his strategic acumen, business savvy, and customer focus, which has driven Starfish for over 15 years.

“We define, reinforce, and bring vitality to your brand so your audiences experience it optimally at every touchpoint of its existence.”