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Growing Your Business Marketing The Playbook

Does Your Startup Have A Minimum Viable Brand?

EL Johnson Dec 02

Starting a new business can be an exciting, even chaotic time, There are bunch of boxes that need to be checked to ensure that everything is on point and ready for launch. It’s easy as an entrepreneur to think that your product  is immediately ready for the world when it’s only an MVP (minimum viable product), it’s also easy to pack your product with features and hope that they are the features your intended audience wants.

Brand Strategy?

One important factor that is often overlooked is Brand Strategy. Having a brand strategy in place ensures that your internal team is aligned with the same goals, and helps determine how you plan to differentiate your product from the competition.

While some are fortunate to have the funding to launch their venture, most entrepreneurs have to bootstrap, and time is money. Approaching a launch without a solid brand strategy can be detrimental to growth. Most entrepreneurs have some type of Product or go-to-market strategy, but often overlook the importance of building a brand.

Having an Minimum Viable Brand (MVB) can help entrepreneurs launch their brand with the framework of what their brand is, and allow them to iterate as they learn more about their customer/client base. Using an MVB concept can ensure your hypotheses are grounded in strategic intent and market insights.

What is an MVB comprised of?

An MVB is comprised of the core elements of brand that ensure internal alignment and external differentiation. Branding expert Denise Lee Yohn outlined some of these core elements in her Harvard Business Review piece on the topic. She created a framework called the “6 What’s”, six questions you as an entrepreneur should be asking yourself about your brand:

  • what we stand for – our brand essence
  • what we believe in – our defining values
  • what people we seek to engage – our target audience(s)
  • what distinguishes us – our key differentiators
  • what we offer – our overarching experience
  • what we say and show – our logo, look, and lines (messaging)

These Six elements should lay the foundation for a commonly understood brand direction within your organization BEFORE launch (of your business or a product).

A Few More Principals

There are a few principals that Denise outlines that should inform the development of the MVB elements.

The first two principals are that every organization should be brand-led and market-informed. Your brand is the soul of your business, it’s what gives it its identity, and it should be at the forefront of every decision made internally.


Customer perception determines the strength and value of your brand, so brand management is key to ensuring that a balance is maintained.

“As the developer of a new product or solution, a business leader must have a point of view about what their brand stands for and the value they’re offering. This point of view should guide everything the organization does. If they don’t have it figured out, it’s unlikely customers will.”

Your brand strategy should may start as a general idea or hypothesis that is then validated (or not) by the market, but at the very least, it should be clearly defined before the product (or business) is launched.


“Market-informed” means that the founder’s point of view should be informed by market understanding. Customer insights, competitive dynamics, and broader contextual factors like socioeconomic trends should shape the brand strategy, but not drive it.

Focus is Essential

Your brand should be positioned in a specific way to a specific target audience. This is important because you are establishing a clear view to your audience and are more likely to attract loyalty high-quality customers/clients that share those same values. Take Apple for example, they created the type of market segmentation and differentiation where the consumer choice became Apple or “other”. After launch, you my have to refine the focus and customer targeting, but being too broad or open-ended from the start is a surefire way for your new brand to end up missing the target and and lacking in appeal.

Grounded In Emotion

Lastly, your brand must be grounded in some form of emotion, it should touch the psyche of your target audience in some way. There are very few markets that aren’t crowded and it requires some form of nuance or differentiation to get noticed. Creating some form of novelty could give you a leg up in the short term, but then you have to battle with short consumer attention spans, and competition aggressively imitating your success. To combat this, your brand must convey a more compelling, sustainable form of differentiation and the best way to do that is through emotion.

Tying your product or service to  emotional values and seeking to build emotional connections with customers will cultivate a more sustainable customer relationship. Apple, which I mentioned above, does this very well, check out this ad:


In a time where startups are lean and companies are built on the fly, oftentimes a business will have to reset or pivot as customer data becomes more clear. But this approach wouldn’t necessarily apply to your brand strategy if you took the time to develop an MVB. You will have equipped yourself with the right balance of structure and flexibility, allowing for a more fluid brand development process.

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EL Johnson

Creative Problem Solver, Entrepreneur, Co-Founder of Billion Or Bust Media