What is Lean Branding? (Part 2 of 3)

Lean Branding

In part one of our series on Lean Startups, we explored Eric Ries methodology and why it’s important in today’s fast-paced business world.

Today, we’re looking at how Ries’ method can also be used when it comes to developing your brand. In the same way Ries’ work is applied to the creation of a product, you can build your brand as you grow, refining it until it truly speaks to your customers.

One of the key aspects of being a ‘lean’ company is recognizing that not everything will be perfect when it heads out the door. The methodology hinges on the Build – Measure – Learn feedback loop, which requires you to adapt as you go to create a brand (and product) that connects with customers.

How do you start? Lean branding is toughest when the page is blank, and when there is no data to analyze. It can feel like a truly daunting task to try and develop your brand. But breaking it down into smaller components can make it way more manageable. Here’s what you’ll need to pay attention to get your brand out of your head and into the world.

What’s Your Story and Style?
There are an endless number of definitions for what a brand is, but many of them relate to your company’s message and identity. Your brand message is what you say about yourself – your story. Your brand identity is how you tell your story – your style.

Your brand story is directly linked to your unique value proposition (UVP) – the thing that makes you special or different from everybody else. Ask yourself: Why did I start this company or create this product? What sets it apart?

Once you’ve got your answer, write it down and stick it to the wall. That’s your touchstone for every branding decision you make from here on out.

Your brand story is critical for helping prospective customers understand what you stand for – and why they should care. You can share this in a variety of ways – talk about your founders, why you created this company, what problems you were looking to solve, or what your company culture and ideals are.

Keep in mind, this information will change – and should change a lot, especially in the beginning. Your customers will let you know what part of your brand story is resonating with them.

Your style – the brand identity – are the visual and auditory cues that support your story. Brand identity components include elements like your name, logo, design and voice (how you communicate). Thought these probably shouldn’t change as often or as drastically as your story, it’s a common misconception that these can’t change after you launch.

Everything, including your name, can change – but the earlier in your company lifecycle you make big changes, the better. When most large, established companies go through an identity change, it’s a lengthy, costly ordeal. Lean branding means you will be listening to your customers from the get go, when branding changes are easier to both initiate and accept.

Build. Measure. Learn. (Repeat!)
Once you’ve got your brand story and style down, it’s time to let your brand out into the wild. Start socializing with your customers, but ensure you’ve got proper measurement tools in place to help you grasp what’s working and where you’re finding traction. Then you can make informed choices on what needs to be redesigned, rewritten, or repositioned within your brand.

Trust Your Gut – And Follow These Rules
Most people that start a business aren’t branding experts – and that’s okay. Don’t be afraid to trust your intuition. It’s the same thing that helped you come up with a great new product or business concept. Create a brand you would be attracted to as a customer.

Most importantly, don’t waste time agonizing over your decisions. Too much time spent on a single decision is an indication you are falling into the trap that everything needs to be perfect at launch. Lean branding is about moving efficiently and decisively – remember, you can adapt and change things as you need to down the road. It’s not perfect until your customers say so.

Keep these two rules in mind when getting your brand off the ground:

1)     Limit ‘Decisions by Committee’: Too many cooks in the kitchen is the quickest way to derail your brand. Every choice, including your business name, should come down to the key players only.

2)     Avoid ‘Brand Envy’: While it’s important to understand what your competitors are doing – focus on what makes you different from them, not what you admire about them. Don’t try to mold your identity or message around theirs or in counterpoint to theirs. What they’re doing may work for their customers – but you exist because you have your own customers to attract.

A lean company is a fast company and a smart company. Stay tuned for our next blog post on lean branding, focusing specifically on choosing a brand name.