Starting up? Why you should build a Minimum Viable Brand
Updated: Aug 11
“Often, a small business will run into problems when the owners don’t take that time early on to understand and build their individualized brand… Small businesses become bigger when their marketing strikes a chord. They fail when they struggle to stay average… If you build your brand right, you won’t need to allocate more funds for marketing.”
~ Seth Godin, Forbes, 2007
Starting a new business is easy if you like to do hard stuff. Let's face it. There's a lot of work involved just to get your business to the point of... well, not failing. If you want to set the odds in your favor for success you have to be really clear about your business. Branding and strategy development is a somewhat newer concept and the lesser of priorities for most founders overwhelmed with a new business endeavor. Fair enough. Strategy is an ambiguously abstract and murky space for any business. Who has time to invest in full brand strategy before designing your logo when you are busy with other labor-intensive beginning stages of launching a new business? When it comes to branding for small business, a lot of founders are perfectly content with hiring a Fiverr designer for quick-turn logo design services specified with their favorite colors and calling that a brand. Because who needs to invest in a professional logo let alone the strategy behind that logo? It's just a pretty picture, right?
If you don't know it already, you need to understand that your brand is human. It connects with others, builds relationships, engages in conversation, and supports and assists others in accomplishing their goals and fulfilling their dreams. “Knowing thyself” as a business encompasses basic human aspects of your brand such as the beliefs and values that you stand for and the aspirations and vision that you have for the future. But it also embodies a personality with a voice and distinctive behaviors as well. When developing your brand, every aspect should be considered from a human perspective. At a minimum, you should have a basic but solid branding framework established so you can launch your business with strategic messaging, a valuable marketing strategy, and a meaningful logo and identity. This will enable you to confidently put your brand out there, listen to your customer feedback, and make informed iterations later on.
Enter the MVB.
Many startups utilize the MVP (Minimum Viable Product) approach when developing their products or services as a way to test them in the market. This approach allows a company to roll out a product or service with limited but core features to gain valuable feedback. The features included in this Minimum Viable Product are so fundamental that without them the product would be weak, useless, or altogether non-existent. Think of an MVB similarly. In fact, when starting out, think of branding as if you were baking a wedding cake. A Minimum Viable Brand approach isn’t about selecting minimal ingredients to build your brand or wedding cake. Eliminating a critical ingredient could make the cake inedible. It’s about building a base recipe with foundational ingredients on a smaller scale before adding the frosting, sprinkles, edible glitter, and wedding cake people. The objective here is to construct a minimum viable framework that can serve as the foundation for iterations and adjustments to your company identity in the future. Done this way, you not only save time and effort in having to rebrand your business or rebuild your core message in the short term, but you also guarantee that your brand will be received and resonate with the right people.
What's the MVB recipe?
The MVB recipe isn't about the fancy ingredients yet. In fact, your full brand identity with its logo, palette schemes, patterns, assets, and detailed guidelines is a little like the icing on the cake. The MVB recipe is about getting clear about your business so you can consistently craft key marketing materials that allow you to attract your customer, capture feedback, and most importantly, iterate on your brand and identity design.
Minimum Viable Brand - The brand infrastructure
Knowing who you are and your purpose in life can be challenging on an individual human level, but it's critical to understand as a business. As humans, we all know our own basic values and beliefs, but we don’t always get to choose how those values and beliefs get expressed by our own behaviors which can often be subconscious. As a business, you can be intentional about who you are, what you do, and why you do it. You have some control over what you stand for, and who you attract as part of your tribe. These intentional attributes are the fundamental building blocks of a brand and they are the biggest ingredients in your MVB.
KNOW WHO YOU ARE
If you don't know it already, you need to understand that your brand is human. It connects with others, builds relationships, engages in conversation, and supports and assists others in accomplishing their goals and fulfilling their dreams. “Knowing thyself” as a business encompasses basic human aspects of your brand such as beliefs and values that you stand for and the aspirations and vision that you have for the future. But it also embodies a personality with a voice and distinctive behaviors as well. When developing your brand, every aspect should be considered from a human perspective.
Beliefs, Behavior & Values | What you stand for.
Your brand, like most humans, has values and beliefs that are an integral part of its human personality. These values and beliefs guide behaviors on a daily basis and are at the core of every action and decision that the brand makes. Core values are unique to your brand, meaningful, and inspire action. Without these values, there is no direction. Your brand's beliefs influence the path it takes and provides solid direction for your tribe, both internal and external.
Your values are developed with intention by the leadership at the onset of the development of your brand. This is a concise list (usually an internal document) with short descriptions of what your brand believes in and how it behaves. These values are often imbued in the customer experience, service, and support, and may be mirrored back in customer feedback. When developing your brand values as part of an MVB think about the kind of behavior you want your brand to inspire. This list doesn't have to be exhaustive just yet. Have at least three solid values that are authentic and relevant to your brand for starters. You can always go back and iterate later on.
The Brand's Vision | The future goal.
As humans we all have dreams and aspirations that encourage us through our life journey. So should your brand. Goals motivate us to achieve our deepest desires and challenge us to become better people. Big scary goals can provide meaning and have the potential to change our lives and the lives of others in a big way. Where does your brand aspire to be in ten years? What impact will it have on its journey there?
The brand's vision is a core piece of the MVB. This statement is developed by the founders and needs to have unanimous buy-in from all the leadership involved. Without vision, a brand can get lost and distracted. This is a meaningful statement that is ambitious enough to motivate you, but not so big that it can't be achieved. Remember, if you shoot for the moon and miss, you will still land among the stars.
The Brand's Mission | Your daily commitment.
To achieve any goal, we have to make daily commitments that move us closer to that goal. The brand's mission is a general guide for everyday actions that move the needle closer to its future aspirations. The mission's objective is to internally inspire and motivate the brand to achieve its bigger goals. How are we going to act every day to achieve our vision of the future? Your mission could be devoted to an idea, a group of people, or a specific organization, and should be clear and easy to remember.
Personality/Voice | Your business’ best self.
Your brand must communicate to your target market in a human way. People are drawn to people who are like them. Understanding your core desires as a brand helps you identify your brand's personality type. If you set your company up to be perceived by your audience in such a way that they feel like you are a kindred spirit you have a better chance of connecting with them on a deeper and more meaningful level. Your personality isn't incepted from thin air. Your brand must be authentic to resonate with your customer. Shaping your messaging becomes easier once you have identified your personality type. Choose a tone of communication that's relevant to your brand's characteristics and behaviors. If your company were human would it be athletic, adventurous, sophisticated, pragmatic, or safe? When you speak to your audience do you use language rich with humor? Is it sensual and seductive? Your personality is unique. Infuse your personality in every piece of marketing content you create.
As part of an MVB a brand should explore the 12 Human Archetypes to develop and establish a deeper understanding of its main traits and human characteristics.
KNOW WHAT YOU DO
Communicating to your audience about your product or service clearly and concisely is key. This may sound simple, but if you can't explain it to a third grader no human on this earth will attempt to decode your technical specs until you have solidly captured their attention with a simple explanation. Our brains crave simplicity. But, knowing what you can deliver to your customer and being direct about its key benefits isn't enough. You need to understand how your product or service stacks up to your competitors and how it will make a difference in the lives of your customer.
Your Differentiator | Make a difference.
Meet the needs of your customer that your competitor isn't meeting. Does your product or service get something done faster, better, or cheaper? Communicate how your product or service supports, informs, revolutionizes, inspires, or otherwise enriches the lives of your tribe. What solutions are your customers currently using and where can you do better? Find that gap. Mentioning key benefits to your customer in the simplest of terms will enable trust in your brand. No one wants to be misled with vague and ambiguous reasons to buy.
Emotional Benefits | Fulfilling a need.
It’s important to know how your product or service will make a difference in people's lives. Knowing key benefits is helpful but it's just as important to know how your customer will feel if they use your product or service? Does it make them feel more efficient? Smarter? Happier? Healthier? Your brand has the power to influence individuals on a meaningful and emotional level. Consider consulting The Elements of Value Pyramid to determine your impact as well as your customer's desires. When consumers feel a certain way about your product or service they associate their identity with your brand. As humans, we are very attached to our identity, and rightfully so, as it defines much of our values and beliefs in life. When your brand evokes a strong human emotion, people will identify and bond with it because it represents a part of themselves.
KNOW WHO YOU HELP AND WHO IS HELPING THEM
Getting clear on who you help is vital. Let’s face it, without customers your marketing efforts are useless. Understanding your customer's achievements, goals, and daily struggles will provide valuable insight when positioning your brand in the market.
Know your customer | Include them all.
Your brand is "in the eyes of the beholder" – your customer. Your audience will connect with you if your values and personality align with their own. They will be loyal if they trust you. Look for them everywhere and be open to unexpected sectors that find you. Consider other market segments like investors, press, and talent. Do you have a primary and a secondary audience?
Knowing where to find your tribe isn't enough, though. The key to connecting with them is in identifying their biggest challenges in relation to your product or service and understanding how these challenges impact their emotions. Your customer needs to feel that your brand "gets them." Knowing your audience along with their needs, desires, and objections allows you to not only build a better product, but target your message related to that product specifically to that demographic.
Know who is helping your customer | Competitor Research.
Understand how and why your customer is currently getting their needs/desires met. Researching competitors' messaging, customer experience, and brand personality through the eyes of your customer can reveal critical pain points as well as positive experiences that you can leverage to position your brand.
Craft a customer profile to get solid on who your ideal customer is and clearly identify what challenges them most. Data captured from surveys and statistics can provide helpful demographic insight. Investigate competitor reviews and social media posts to gain a sneek peek into a specific demographic. Don't skimp on the details. Get specific when creating customer personas. Put some effort into thinking about their:
marital and parental status
whether they have pets or hobbies
what competitor is meeting their needs
Understanding your customer at a deeper level will enable you to consistently match your messaging to your audience. The more detail the better.
KNOW WHY IT MATTERS
"People don't buy what you do; they buy why you do it."
Knowing why you do what you do can help build the bridge to your customer. But sometimes the why, (your purpose) can seem abstract and difficult to nail down. If you can clearly articulate your why, you have a better chance of rousing your customer to calls of action. Ask yourself if you are driven to do what you do beyond the short term. Do you genuinely believe that what you are doing will help others? Do you do what you do because it's a passion that sets your soul on fire and makes others happy? Your why will be reflected in everything you do and has the potential to attract your tribe and inspire them to action.
Brand Promise | Your commitment to your customer.
The relationship with your customer is like any other human relationship - it requires reciprocity. Your commitment to your customer is returned with loyalty only as long as you hold to your promise. Your promise is your investment in serving the needs of your customer. No one likes empty promises. Without commitment and promise, there's no trust. And without trust, there won't be customers. Setting and meeting expectations consistently makes people feel safe and happy. People build trust and adore brands not on what those brands say they do, but on their consistent daily actions month after month and year after year.
Whether you are promising customers consistent low prices, elegant luxury experiences, or a time-saving process, your commitment to them matters.
Some examples of famous brand promises:
The Ultimate Driving Machine. - BMW
Quiet luxury. Crafted experiences. Intuitive service. - Marriot
Save Money. Live Better. - Walmart
15 minutes or less can save you 15% or more on car insurance. - Geico
THE MVB TOOLKIT
Once you are clear on knowing who you are, what you do, who your customer is, and understanding why it all matters, you will have a solid brand foundation in which to build a basic brand identity and marketing plan.
The MVB Simplified | Your Brand Positioning Statement.
Now that you've identified the ingredients in your MVB, it's time to crank up the oven to bake your branding statement by filling in the following blanks.
We help ______ [ target audience ] ___________
(We want our customers to know we are committed to helping them)
Who ______ [ paint-point ] ________
(We want them to know we understand their needs, desires, or emotional pain they go through)
To achieve/experience ____ [ key benefit/emotion ] _____
(We want them to know the tangible benefits they receive from us and what that will mean to them emotionally)
By ______ [ differentiator ] _________________
(We want to show how we are different and why we have a better solution than our competitors)
Because ______ [ commitment ] _________________
(We want them to know we are committed to helping them)
This is your compass bearing. This distilled statement can serve as a point of reference for all your messaging. Each individual part can be further broken down into messaging to further build out your brand story.
While it's a great start, you should always be striving to iterate and optimize by using this foundation to guide further dissections of your brand but for now, it's a great start. You should be able to put together a basic brand toolkit containing the following:
Social media story
Brand positioning statement
Product marketing message
By utilizing the ingredients in this basic MVB toolkit you will be able to confidently launch your business from a strong brand foundation rather than a single weak Fiverr logo.
Imagine a year from now you have a brand identity and logo with its look and feel that you are proud of. Not only does it represent who you are as a company, but resonates with your target audience in a way that builds community and connection. It has become the symbol that your customer personally identifies with and that your employees are proud of. It's the symbol that represents your promise and your values. You have built a strong bridge to your tribe and are beginning to reap the rewards of that relationship. Your brand has valuable equity because you took the time to invest in the strategy that will define it for years to come.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . .
I help businesses/entrepreneurs rebrand, refresh, or evolve their business identity based on Who They Are, What They Do, Who They Help and Why It Matters.
Curious how that works? Learn about my Brand Explorer Workshop