If you’ve been reading our blog for any period of time, you know what a brand is. You know a brand is a company or other organization’s overall persona that communicates their values, offerings, position and ideal consumer. You also know that brands signal this persona through branding, the strategic use of their brand identity: design choices like their logo, color palette, fonts, shapes and other images.
But how many design choices does it take to create a brand identity? Put another way, at what point does a collection of designs become something coherent that communicates who a brand is and what they do? There’s a term for that point: minimum viable brand.
Your minimum viable brand, defined
A minimum viable brand (MVB) is the most basic version of a brand identity that can communicate a brand’s values and overall essence.
To understand the minimum viable brand concept, it’s helpful to first understand the minimum viable product (MVP) concept. The idea of a minimum viable product was first developed in 2001 and popularized by Eric Ries, author of The Lean Startup. To describe it concisely, the minimum viable product is the most basic version of a product a brand can release and receive feedback on. It’s functional, but that’s it—it doesn’t have all the bells, whistles and extra features the final version will have. A minimum viable brand is essentially the same concept, except it’s with a brand identity, rather than a tangible product.
The entire purpose of a minimum viable product is to gauge the product’s viability. It needs to:
- Demonstrate sufficient potential by connecting with audiences
- Provide actual value to users
- Enable users to give the brand feedback about the product
The term “minimum viable product” is not interchangeable with the terms “beta” or “prototype.” A prototype is a concept. It’s the idea of the final product that might get built out into a mockup. The purpose of a prototype is to determine if the idea is worth sinking more time, money and other resources into developing. It doesn’t have the same functionality as the final version—rather, its purpose is to make it easy to spot any mistakes in the design.
An MVP comes after the prototype. The MVP demonstrates how the final version will work by offering a basic, yet functional, version. After that comes the beta version, the last “pre-release” version of the product. The beta version is almost the same as the version that’s released, but gives creators critical feedback for last-minute changes from the curated group of beta testers.
An MVB works on the same principle. It’s the most minimal version of a product’s brand strategy that can demonstrate whether the brand, as a concept, works. We live in a world dominated by brands…and when a brand is poorly positioned, it’s very likely that brand will flop. Generally, it’s ideal to develop your product (and corresponding MVP) before developing your brand, or at least get that started before you focus on brand development. This is because your brand largely follows your product—without a product, you have no brand.
With a minimum viable product, you can develop a product strategy. This is your focus on how to launch the product. As you develop your minimum viable brand, you can develop your brand strategy, the plan your teams follow to launch a product/line/service so it connects with audiences effectively. After identifying the brand’s values, market position, ideal customer and goals, the brand strategy is the set of guidelines the company’s teams follow when making design, development and marketing decisions.
What an MBV needs to do
An MVB is used internally, not externally. In other words, this rudimentary version of a brand is very rarely unveiled to broad, general audiences—rather, it’s used by the company’s teams to create their designs and strategies. Having an MVB provides a cohesive brand for the teams to work with, ensuring that they stay focused and in sync throughout the development process. It’s a way to bake the brand into everything you do, at every touchpoint from inception to your brand launch. For example, as developers craft the beta version, your MVB is there to give them direction on things like colors and tone of voice.
In this role, an MVB needs to:
- Connect emotionally with its audience
- Express the brand clearly
- Provide guidance development and design teams can use as they move forward with the product and brand
- Facilitate a feedback loop between teams
The 6 “whats” of an MBV
- What do we stand for?
- Example answer: soft, lovable plushies that are irresistibly soft
- What do we believe in?
- Pure luxury. Bringing the same luxury you’ll find with designer products to stuffed toys. Every child deserves nice things.
- Who are we trying to engage?
- Parents, grandparents and others in positions to purchase toys for children
- What distinguishes us?
- Our stuffed animals’ unique texture, our attention to detail, and an overall luxurious look and feel to the packaging and products.
- What do we offer?
- Uniquely positioned high-end velveteen stuffed toy.s
- What do we say and show?
- Toys can be sophisticated. We show this in the materials we choose and the elegant packaging.
You might recognize these kinds of questions from other blog posts we’ve published about brand development and branding. These are the questions that your brand, even in its most rudimentary form, should be able to answer.
With a set of responses to each of these, you’re ready to explore visual ways to communicate them. Familiarize yourself with concepts like color psychology and font choice as well as how other brands in your industry are presenting themselves—the ones who are doing it effectively and the ones who aren’t. Color psychology is the study of how different colors impact our emotions, and colors aren’t the only design choice that can do this…font choices communicate values and emotions as well. In your branding, you need to effectively communicate your answers to the questions above through visual design choices.
Ultimately, the purpose of your brand identity is to make an emotional connection with your audience. An emotional connection is what drives engagement, sales and loyalty. And we’ve got the stats to back that claim up: According to Oberlo, 46 percent of consumers polled are willing to pay more for goods from brands they trust. 64 percent said they would boycott a brand if the brand’s position on a political or social issue opposed their own. 77 percent of consumers said they buy from brands that share their values.
Any emotion can work—joy, fear, hope, satisfaction, and feeling “seen.” After determining who your audience is and the emotional connection you need to make in order to be successful with that audience, you can go on to design a brand identity that makes this connection. Don’t overthink it—right now, you’re taking the first steps toward creating a brand. You’re most likely going to revise whatever you develop at this stage, so just focus on zeroing in on keywords that drive your design choices, like “comfort=pastel tones” and “accessible=sans serif font.” .
Use these keywords to sketch out designs like a basic logo concept and ideas for other assets like packaging designs and a website layout. As you do this, you’re designing that minimum viable brand—which is why it’s best to save money and time by using a logo maker or otherwise quickly sketching something out. Depending on your budget, perhaps you’ll work with an agency or hire a designer later to create the final version of your logo.
I’ve got a minimum viable brand. What now?
Now it’s time to see if it works! Show the brand concept to the teams you’ve selected to provide the feedback you need to develop it into a fleshed-out, ready-to-test beta brand. These could be people at your company or a small group of outside early adopters who opted into testing your brand.
Keep in mind that you’re still in the early stages of brand development—you did just finish the minimum viable brand, after all. Your designers are going to revise it, refine it and eventually, launch a version of the brand that might look quite different from its first iteration. Brand development is a never-ending process…and your minimum viable brand is its first tangible milestone.
Get your branding started with an experienced designer
Your MVB is the starting-off point, not the final point in your brand development journey. Think of the MVB is a foundation you can use to build out your brand identity and develop a look and feel that perfectly expresses all that you are and all that you offer. It’s a way for you to determine what works, what doesn’t, and what needs some tweaking as you turn your concept into a ready-to-launch brand; a sandbox where you’re free to play and learn from any mistakes without the risk of those mistakes sinking your brand.