A Case for Minimum Viable Brand

by Andy Snuggs, Managing Partner

Photo by Matt Antonioli on Unsplash

Building a business without knowledge of the market, your customer needs or your individual value proposition is like trying to assemble Ikea furniture in the dark and hoping it’ll be usable when the lights turn on.

It’s guaranteed to have missing screws, jaunty angles and look more like an avant-garde art installation than a working product. At Future Kings Ventures, we believe that brand is a strategic tool to help express a startup’s business in the most compelling and relevant way. Having a brand strategy mitigates the risk of irrelevance, invisibility and vagueness by ensuring the business is built with an audience in mind, stands for something and has an easy to grasp benefit.

The hard, bleak truth is that 75% of startups fail¹. So, being able to communicate how you are different and having a message that doesn’t dilute as the company grows is essential for business success. You need to find a unique angle, not only in product offering, but also in key messaging, to stand out in your market. It could be the difference between being ‘one-to-watch’ and being forgotten.

However, startups don’t need a full brand strategy before launch — they just need strong brand foundations.

They need a Minimum Viable Brand (MVB).

It’s enough of what startups need to align their team and identify their unique proposition, without all of the trimmings. Believe it or not, this is not a new idea. Denise Lee Yohn explores this concept in her Harvard Business Review article, Start-Ups Need a Minimum Viable Brand (2014), stating that startups need MVB to ‘ensure internal focus and alignment as well as external relevance and differentiation’².

She defines the basic tenets of MVB as the ‘6 What’s’ — what you stand for, what you believe in, what people you seek to engage, what distinguishes you, what you offer, and what you say and show. At Future Kings Ventures, we simplify this to What? Why? How?, but the principle is the same: you need to be able to define your story, your brand identity and your visual expression to get customers and investors excited.

Equally, with technological leaps happening in the space of months rather than years, businesses need to offer more than a new product feature or function.

Faster, smarter and more innovative products are always around the corner, so ‘to be perceived as truly distinctive, a brand must convey more compelling, sustaining differentiation’³.

Think Starbucks. They sell more than just sweet, sweet caffeinated nectar — they sell connection and comfort. By positioning themselves as the ‘Third Place’, an additional meeting space outside the customer’s office or home, they’ve reimagined what a coffee shop is. And it sells!

The real challenge for startups, scaleups and established businesses, is to redefine what ‘brand’ means.

It’s not just a brandmark or a collection of images, or even a tagline. It’s all encompassing — it’s everything the company is, does and says. And on top of all of that, it’s got to be emotive, otherwise it will appeal to no one. Too many startups try to get their product to market quickly and bypass branding due to low budgets and limited resources.

But that’s where Minimum Viable Brand can help.

In Yohn’s words, MVB’s lean version of a full brand strategy ‘provides the right balance of structure and flexibility’⁴. It delivers enough of a brand framework to align the internal team, inform design and appeal to audiences, but allows room for the iterative growth of the company and post-launch refinement. That’s why Future Kings Ventures has developed a MVB programme for ambitious startups — because we believe a strong brand foundation is essential for business success.

MVB provides an affordable route for startups to build a compelling brand to get investors and customers excited.

So, startups need to stop assembling furniture in the dark. Brand should be built into every fibre of the business. To be viable, visible and appealing, they need to know their market, their audience, who they are, why they exist and how they are going to get their story across.

[1]Fast Company, 2017. Why most venture backed companies fail.(https://www.fastcompany.com/3003827/why-most-venture-backed-companies-fail)[Accessed 13 August 2018]

[2] Yohn, D.L. (2014). Start-Ups Need a Minimum Viable Brand. Harvard Business Review [online] Available at: <https://hbr.org/2014/06/start-ups-need-a-minimum-viable-brand> [Accessed 16 May 2018]

[3] Yohn, D.L.

[4] Yohn, D.L.