Have you heard about the Minimum Viable Brand (MVB)? It’s a marketing and branding cousin of Minimum Viable Product (MVP), a concept made popular by Eric Ries for product development and the lean startup. I developed a model for the Minimum Viable Brand last year, but it is still early days for an agreed upon definition for the MVB.
Long-form before short-form
As a brand catalyst, brand researcher, and brand developer, I co-developed a brand model with brand identity designer, Dave Philmlee
while at a firm that focused on brand development for large global companies. The model included an outline and process to fully define a brand, along with a robust set of brand building blocks. This is the ideal for long-term brand management.
Creative teams, agencies, and corporate marketing departments love the long-form brand model because this approach to brand infrastructure informs the brand mark (logo, icon, avatar) and all marketing activities. Life is easier when there is a blueprint for content marketing, both written and visual.
One problem. The model is dependent on a set of time-consuming sequential activities. The reality for many marketers is that they typically do not have six months or more to engage in the optimal process. Deadlines are measured in weeks, not months, and the long-form process does not allow for iterative feedback from the market.
To be clear, there is nothing wrong with the long-form model. In fact, a fully-defined brand is ideal.
The right level of effort for the minimum set of brand elements
Unless you are involved in branding projects for multi-billion dollar companies like the rebranding of United Airlines after the merger with Continental Airlines, the question is, how many brand elements do you need for your blueprint, and what is the timeframe that is sympathetic to “gotta have it now” deadlines?
Another way of looking at it is how much brand do you need to capture the attention of your customers, community, and prospects? Is the brand definition and brand mark “good enough” to do business?
A military reference reflects this best.
“A good plan violently executed now is better than a perfect plan executed next week.” -George S. Patton
One of the first priorities for business, after completion of a MVP is sales. Using the same logic, what are the minimum requirements for a brand for the sales effort to be successful?
Solution: Minimum Viable Brand
Take a page out of the lean startup movement manual and apply what product developers have learned. According to Eric Reis, the Minimum Viable Product, MVP is achieved by a build-measure-learn feedback loop. One of the inherent benefits of this approach is the ability to launch and learn in a compressed time frame, while making necessary refinements to the product.
The same process can be applied to the MVB, where other brand elements can be added over time.
The brand development diagram highlights the process: 1, 2, 3. Speed to market is a competitive mandate for business. A brand can be developed with a minimum number of 3 essential steps that can be fortified in incremental steps once the brand is launched.
- Build the brand
- Create the brand mark
- Apply short-form guidelines
Step One: Build the brand with two building blocks
How to create a position statement
If you understand who you are, what you do, what industry you are in, and why anyone should care (differentiation) about you, this is your position statement. The basic form includes the following elements:
- The target market
- The need of that target market
- The name of your company of product
- The statement telling how your product satisfies the need in a way that is different from the competition
A position statement for the Cubs might look like this:
For fans of the Chicago Cubs who care about
cheering for the underdog
The Cubs franchise delivers the fantasy of a winning breakthrough
by tapping into feelings of fanciful optimism
This is NOT the official Cubs position statement, rather my effort to describe why after all these years a team (brand) that is referred to as the Lovable Losers (Urban Dictionary) sells out to a happy crowd for every game.
How to create brand values
Your values will provide your attitude and the way that you interact with customers. It will also describe how customers feel about you. It will include the set or expectations, memories, and stories that Seth Godin so aptly describes as brand and why customers choose one product over another.
Choose the phrases and words that will best summarize precisely who you are. Are you remarkable, or are you irresistible? Is your brand smart, or is it fashionably edgy? Is collaborative a part of your spirit or do you dominate?
Position and values create the platform for messaging and equip vendors and internal staff to create content that is consistent and on target for the brand.
Step two: Create the brand mark
If you don’t already have a name, create a name based on your core values and design a logo, icon, or avatar. Using the core values and position statement as a foundation, a branding firm or brand designer will reflect the current brand elements in its visual form.
Make certain that a company with eccentric or quirky brand values is supported by a similar visual brand. For example, elegant and streamlined values do not support a fanciful detailed brand mark.
Step three: Apply the brand.
Generate a one page short-form set of brand guidelines that describe the brand: typeface, color, tone of voice for copywriting, position statement, and values. Distribute to internal staff and all vendors who help with marketing, content development, communications, PR, design, and web development.
Once these items are complete and you are off to the races with generating leads and filling the oh so important pipeline, you can gradually fill in the blanks with the balance of the brand model. Mission, vision, promise, and taglines are important parts that complete the brand model, but these elements can be developed with what you learn from your MVB.
Once launched, a brand cannot help but be dynamic. Interactions with the brand over time will continue to shape the brand.
Who needs a MVB?
- Any company who needs to move fast, yet work smart
- Lean startups that are still iterating their product offering and value proposition need a flexible framework to grow and become fully defined brands
- A company that is in need of a brand refresh, where mission and vision of the company are still current, but position, values, and the icon need to be updated
What others are saying about MVB
David Aycan at the HBR blog network provides a cautionary note that you should be careful about the minimum if it wins out over viable. Agreed, but there is some merit, especially in the cases of lean startups, where it is advantageous to let a brand breathe in the market to get feedback before fully defining every aspect of the brand.
Another firm, Distility, has written about the MVB. It is clear, however, that their minimum requirements are more similar to the complete brand model, including everything from business strategy, brand strategy, brand system, business system, brand education, all the way to brand fidelity and brand monitoring. This approach, while valid and consistent with a fully-defined brand, does not leverage the benefit of brand feedback from a more modest definition of the MVB.
Marc Shillum, inspired by a conversation with one of his clients states in his blog that brands have to become more iterative in order to remain relevant to the product and the user experience especially when you’re a startup.
The MVB is a refreshing departure from the constraints of traditional brand development models. With the spread of the Agile Marketing movement, where sprints support the breakdown of big projects into smaller tasks, the marketing world will continue to adapt to flexible methods.
This is one situation where minimum can have maximum impact on getting down to the business of creating demand for your products and services. Good enough brand for now; more for later.