'Brand' is the perception of your company held by people external to it. It is created by all the touch points between your company and the outside world.
This includes what people see, hear, feel, and in some cases smell (I'm thinking about Miss Higgins Cookies here).
When you are starting a company, it is your responsibility to create a uniquely valuable brand. You get to make decisions about how your company looks, feels, sounds to people in the outside world. These factors are driven by the values of the company, which in the early stages are usually driven by the values of the founder. Values are the factors that guide decision making, which the company does not compromise on.
Successful founders or brands managers do an excellent job of matching the values of their company with the values of their target market. This is also one of the reasons why many successful companies are started by founders solving problems in an area they care a lot about. In this case, they will have similar values to their target market, so it is easy and natural for them to create a brand that aligns.
So what role does customer discovery play?
When you have an idea, you must decide on how you start turning it into something tangible. This requires taking a broad idea down to some specific components that you will focus on in order to get the first version of your company and product to market. These components include: the initial target market, which benefits and features to include in the first version of the product, and how to position the company to the world. This later factor is your brand. Your aim is to make your offering as desirable as possible for your target market.
I have talked a lot about the importance of customer discovery for making decisions about product in previous blogs. It is equally important for making decisions about brand. By doing customer discovery you will be able to pull out the components of your Startup DNA that resonate best with your target market. These factors will form the basis of your Brand DNA and allow you to create an image to the outside world that is authentic to your unique values as a company and in alignment with the values of your target market. This is the brand sweet spot.
The Minimum Viable Brand
Unless you have a big budget, the first version of your brand is probably going to be scrappy.
For many of the companies we've worked with, the first version of brand assets are usual what the founders can get for free, or really cheap. The first version of our own logo cost $5 off a website called Hipster Logo Generator, the second version cost $150 from a friend.
Similar to the development process of a product, there's no point spending a huge amount on branding until you know there is a demand for what you're creating.
You can get away with spending not much if your brand fundamentals are good. Meaning that you've found some values, a purpose and some uniqueness that people really resonate with. You can compete on this, without having to spend thousands on brand development to get started. But you need to do the work to specify what this is. Just like you have to do the work to specify what the first version of your product will be.
There are exceptions to this however if you're developing a business where the product is easily replicable and the primary differentiator is brand, or it's an FMCG product where the brand is highly important. In this case, you may need to spend more money on branding from the outset. If branding is more important than the product, you may like to consider having a designer as a co-founder.
The process for developing your 'MVB':
Step 1: Create your Startup DNA. You can do this by following the process set out in our 'Developing a Startup's DNA' article.
Step 2: Complete customer discovery. If you complete proper interviews with 30 people who fit your target market, you will be at a significant advantage over most other founders when it comes to making decisions about your product and brand.
Step 3: Complete competitor analysis to understand what currently exists as alternatives to your product or service, what factors differentiate your competitors and what gaps exist for you to position yourself in. We share an effective process for doing competitor brand analysis in our Brand Development and Positioning article.
Step 4: Create your Brand DNA, using the process set out in our 'Brand Development and Positioning for Start-ups' resource. Use this document as the foundation for developing brand assets, including logos, colour pallets, fonts, images, and copy.
By doing this work yourself, you will develop a clear picture of what your brand needs to be to create the value you think your potential customers want. You can then make good decisions about who you get to design your brand assets. You will also save money as you've done the strategy work yourself, and don't need an agency to do it for you.
Like your product, your brand image will likely change as you learn more about your customers and you have more money to spend.
As this happens, I believe it's important that your original values and purpose remain at the forefront of your decision making. In my experience, the intentions a founder has for the company are most authentic at its genesis. Keep this in mind as you and your company evolves.
All the best!