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  • Writer's pictureHesperus Mak

Startup Founders’ Most Undervalued Tool: The Minimum Viable Brand

Why Startups need branding

Branding is often overlooked in the early stage of a startup.

There are just too many things that the founders need to get it right. Talking to the users, working on the MVP, and thinking about monetization are often top of mind for a new founder and branding becomes an after-thought.

After all, if everything is going to change, why invest in branding?

As a brand strategist who worked with renowned brands like P&G and L’Oréal in the past, I can’t tell you enough that how a strong brand boosts revenue. It helps people to remember you, and trust you. And for you, a strong brand strategy helps you to organize your marketing activities and even product development.

While a full-scale brand strategy might not be appropriate due to the limitation of resources and the agile nature of an early-stage startups, founders should look into developing their Minimum Viable Brand, MVB.

The MVB is the minimum building block of a brand. It captures key strategic decisions while helping to unify the brand narrative and messaging during the early stage of a startup.

When Startups should consider their MVB

There are benefits to developing your MVB as early as possible. During the stage that you are finding your product/market fit and validating your idea, the MVB can help your customers to understand who you are targeting and create trust in the trial. It will be especially important in categories where credibility is a decisive factor, for example, finance, B2B, etc. At this stage, you can consider doing the strategy work on your own if you are bootstrapped.

However, most startups should have an MVB when they achieve product-market fit. At this stage, you have already identified the need and solution. You are thinking about growing your users. Having a clear brand strategy and message will help you attract more users to your product.

What MVB needs to include

From my experiences in working with startups and new businesses, the brand strategy needs to be simple. Therefore, I created a pared-down version of a brand canvas to the absolute minimum that any early-stage business should think about, I called it Why, Who, What, How of an MVB.

Why: Why does your brand exist? This captures the vision of your business and why you created it in the first place.

Who: Who is the target audience that you have identified and what are their needs? Clearly identifying the physical and emotional needs that you are serving can help you clarify how you want to position your businesses. An easier starting point can be Psychologist Steven Reiss 16 human needs.

What: What makes you unique in the market? Your brand should be amplifying what’s unique to you.

How: How do you want people to remember you? A brand is a set of associations that can distinguish your business. There are three key elements of the how:

· Positioning: Positioning is the place that a brand occupies in the mind of a consumer which distinguishes you from competitors. This is the strategic summation of your Why, Who, and What. For example, the positioning of Airbnb is “an online platform that connects people to unique homes and travel experiences, and with their local hosts”

· Personality: Who is your brand as a person? Find the best personality traits that can capture your positioning and makes you feel different from the competitors.

· Brand Expression: This is the area that people usually think of when they talk about a brand – your logo, font, tagline, name, color, key assets etc. The brand expression should be informed by your positioning and personality.

You don’t need a big agency to create your MVB

Most of the founders won’t be able to afford a big agency branding work. However, it doesn’t mean that you cannot seek the help of a professional. There are lots of freelance talents that can provide what you need on Fiverr or Upwork. However, the quality of their work may not be guaranteed.

An alternative would be taking advantage of the waves of freelance talent who left big agencies and started their own practices. There are lots of studios and freelancers who have years of experience and left the agency world in the past 2 years. Ask around or have a look on LinkedIn for that matter.

If you need help in creating your MVB, reach out for a consultation!

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