The Lean Startup methodology and Minimum Viable Product (MVP) approach can be applied to more than just quickly building a product. In fact, it works equally well with establishing a strong, long-term brand. But what does it mean in practice to develop a company’s brand as if it were a product? Why should companies think about startup branding in the same way they think about developing a product? Does lean branding even exist?
Early bird gets the worm
For cash-strapped startups in search of product-market fit, the idea of setting their branding in stone doesn’t really work. It becomes a ‘chicken and egg’ problem. Indeed, how can you create brand identity if you don’t yet know who your customers are?
But… how can you build trust if you look very DIY and your messaging is inconsistent?
Well, you can’t.
That is why you absolutely have to start small and start early. As you develop your product to make sure it fits the market’s need; as you acquire use cases; gain traction; and amass considerable expertise, you gradually adapt, expand, and scale your brand’s identity.
Lean branding, indeed, exists: The Lean Startup approach can easily be applied to your brand in order to establish a more efficient path to a strong corporate identity.
In fact, this strategic way of working on your brand will bring you better results than a polished and expensive brand identity that companies love to order in preparation for their Series B (because their investors told them that their current website looks retro.) Growing your brand alongside your product gives you the required insights to understand your customers faster and win their trust early on.
Lean branding: Introducing the Minimum Viable Brand
An MVP (Minimum Viable Product) is a product with only a basic set of problem-solving features; but a unique and inspired enough solution to capture the attention of early adopters and to really solve the audiences’ problem. Thriving companies such as Uber or Dropbox all started as mere MVPs, before scaling heights.
In a nutshell, an MVP approach allows you to release your product to the market in the shortest possible time at the lowest cost while testing hypotheses about your Minimum Viable Product (MVP) such as demand for the product, user behaviors and preferences.
How can you apply this to your brand? By taking those principles and creating Minimum Viable Brand (MVB). In startup branding, an MVB gives a starting point for brand iteration by looking at the overarching themes of a brand as the primary driver for its development.
Key benefits of an MVP approach to startup branding:
- By having startup branding activities early, you create the strategic platform, define who you are, what is your mission and how you are different.
- Taking time to identify early on who you want to be, what drives you, and what matters most; it helps avoid chaos in communications with early employees, partners, investors, and adopters.
- Having room to experiment with your visual identity and messaging saves in the long-term. A/B test it; run it through potential customer buying channels; adjust it to meet the needs of your target audience (which can also change early on).
- There is always enough time for improvement. After working through several such branding iterations; having tried and tested numerous ideas and found the perfect match; your company is now ready to invest in scaling the brand.
- By trial, error, and experimentation in brand development, as with product development, you can gain valuable insight into what works and what doesn’t work. You can get feedback from your clients and analyze their preferences.
- A quick branding turnaround helps entrepreneurs present professional and polished materials for fundraising success. (This approach also doesn’t cost the fortune that founders typically have to pay upfront for traditional agencies.)
- Working in iterations helps bridge the gap between what you need and what you can afford. By choosing this cost-efficient route your startup can grow with you as your business gets funded and acquires its first customers.
Minimum Viable Branding in practice
This startup branding process, in practice, involves building a foundation, exposing it to the market and getting feedback, learning from those results, improving on it, then repeating the cycle until you’ve created a brand that truly speaks to the market.
According to the Harvard Business Review, an MVB is comprised of the core elements of a brand that are necessary to ensure internal focus and alignment, as well as external relevance and differentiation.
The Harvard Business Review outlined a framework for defining and developing an MVB which includes the “6 What’s”:
- Brand essence: What we stand for
- Defining values: What we believe in
- Target audience: What people we seek to engage
- Key differentiators: What distinguishes us
- Overarching experience: What we offer
- Our logo, typography, colors, look, and lines (key messaging): What we say and show
At this stage, an MVB also practices developing basic marketing collateral that can help communicate with the target audience, whether it’s a pitch deck, infographics, a landing page, or social media templates.
When it comes to brand strategy, agility and lean branding helps in adjusting to the fast-changing startup environment. Testing your Minimum Viable Brand will help you define what exactly you’re bringing into the world, and help you to bring it with confidence and style.