Your MVP Will Strike Out Without Its MVB

Posted in Articles, Branding by Frank Cowell

How your Minimum Viable Brand (MVB) is crucial to your MVP’s success

Lately, it seems everywhere I go I hear startups talking about their "MVPs," their Minimum Viable Products. An MVP lets companies get their products to market without all the bells and whistles, gain valuable feedback from customers, and use that learning to refine the product so it more clearly matches what customers want. While this modern day “lean” approach to product development is sound, it has a big, gaping hole. Read on and I’ll explain...

In the community of startups, there’s a lot of great education, mentorship, and models to leverage. This is a very smart group of people. Their insights and energy are contagious. Hang out with them and you’ll get energized, too. Yet within this group, there’s much confusion over what kind of "brand" is needed to support an MVP.

The people I talk to in this space are almost always uncertain about...

  1. How far to develop their brand
  2. How much to invest.

So they turn to agencies for answers, only to walk away with sticker shock and even more confusion.

Gaining clarity about brand "dos" and "don’ts," especially for MVPs, doesn't have to be so daunting. The problem, as I see it, is nobody has bothered to define brand requirements for lean startups... at least not yet.

MVP is a great concept, but it assumes customers only buy "product”—the features and benefits of your "thing." Yet this limited view of product leaves out all of the intangibles that make up a large percentage of what customers actually buy. For example, if it were simply about "product," in theory we could strip away all of Starbucks' attire, lingo, interior design, experience, etc., and not affect their sales, right? The product would not change—the coffee is still the coffee—so sales shouldn't be affected. After all, isn't coffee what their customers are buying? Hardly. Yes, they are buying coffee, but they are also buying the "Starbucks" experience.

Herein lies the first lesson in understanding your company's "product." Your true product encompasses much more than what's on the receipt/invoice. In fact, it's what's not on the receipt/invoice that customers are actually buying, and, thus, that's where your brand is born.

When a sale is made, the customer is buying the product for what it can provide, but they're also making a statement about who they are as individuals and how your brand helps reinforce that aspect of themselves, i.e., "I buy my coffee at Starbucks," "I buy my dinnerware at LeCreuset," or "I buy my clothes at Tommy Hilfiger."

Now, if you believe this line of thinking only applies to B2C situations, think again. Even in a B2B situation, choosing a vendor is as much about how that particular vendor makes the customer feel as it is how well that vendor's product fits a need.

Product alone is not enough to complete the story customers form in their minds during the buying process. Brand needs to be part of the narrative as well.

So what can a lean startup do about its brand conundrum?

Startups need a counterpart to their MVP. They need something I like to call their "Minimum Viable Brand" or MVB.

An MVB should consist of...

  1. WHO AND WHY—Who you're for and why you're for them. This should help drive inspiration within the organization.
  2. MENTAL MODEL—Your brand's "Mental Model," which completes this sentence: "We are in the business of...". This should be concise and provide a path for innovation.
  3. VISION—Your vision for your desired marketplace position in the next 3 to 5 years.
  4. OBJECTIVES—The high level business objectives that support your vision. Don’t be afraid to expose these objectives—everyone should know what success looks like.
  5. BEHAVIORS & BELIEFS—Documenting expected behaviors and beliefs let everyone know how to live the brand on a day-to-day basis.
  6. KEY MESSAGES—Everyone in the company should be able to articulate key marketplace messages, not just the marketing and executive teams.
  7. IDENTITY—The look and feel of your brand done in a way that conveys brand attitude and marketplace differentiation.
  8. PLATFORMS—Your place, Web, collateral, tradeshow booth, etc. These are the basic items needed to "do business."

As you can see, the visual aspects of the brand appear only in the last two bullets. That's because, contrary to popular belief, the DNA of your brand isn't simply a logo, a Web site, a video, or anything else. The DNA of your brand rests squarely in the strategic language of the brand—in who you are, the role you play in the lives of your customers, your vision, and the messages you communicate to the marketplace. It's not in some graphic you create online in 30-minutes through some unknowing, unseeing logo-mill.

Once you wrap your mind around the symbiotic relationship that exists between brand and product, it's easy to see just how much more potent MVP offerings can be when teamed up with similarly effective MVBs.

Maris had Mantle, Canseco had McGwire, and Manny had Ortiz. Where is your MVP's brand counterpart?

Interested in learning more about how Elevator might be able to help your organization craft an exciting MVB? Contact us today.

About Frank Cowell

Frank Cowell is President at Elevator, a digital brand strategy agency based in the San Diego, California area. He works regularly with CEOs, CMOs, and VPs of Marketing who are looking to create amazing brand experiences while driving inbound leads. A self-taught programmer with a deep understanding of technology, Frank enjoys a unique blend of brand development and marketing savvy that enables him to offer fresh perspectives on often-complex marketing concepts that he distills into actionable, easy-to-understand language. An energetic and entertaining speaker, Frank presents regularly to regional and national organizations on topics related to branding and digital marketing.
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