Minimum viable brand: design thinking as a tool

When branding and design thinking intertwine

You might not know but I have two passions in life – among many others: learning about branding and innovation (which includes design-thinking). This might explain why when someone offered me a branding mission I said YES without thinking twice. The problem? I’ve never organised my learnings on the topic on paper, nor did I know how to explain my brand vision. That’s what I’ll try to do today.


The first person I think of when speaking about branding is Simon Sinek’s TED talk and book Start with Why (which I wrote about here). His views on a well-led marketing strategy is simple: everything has to come from your values, aka, your WHY. Once you’re able to identify (and thus share) what drives you, your target customers will come to you as they identity with your message and ideals.

So, having a brand seems to be first and foremost the capacity to express your morals to the world.

But can we build this message?


« do it, but differently »

« Impeccable branding » often hints at Apple’s 1984 commercial to announce their first Macintosh, presenting the firm as one coming to break the status quo. Another brand we often refer to in this domain is Nike with its many commercials claiming that a hero resides in all of us to – also – shift the current situation. If Apple uses grand campaigns focusing on the – everyday – alternative talents sublimed by their technologies, Nike bets on – controversed – athletes like Kaepernick to diffuse their message. (We could be questioning their goodwill as some of their recent campaigns sound more like brand-washing or culture-washing than a real engagement but this is another story)

But what happens when you’re on the other side of business building? When you’re just getting started and not really inclined to developing your brand message? For some, it might even sound as an accessory matter, or worse: as purely aesthetic.

Yet, how can we define a brand identity when we’re still prototyping our activity? This is where design-thinking comes in.


what’s design thinking anyways?

Glad you asked. Shortly put, design-thinking was brought to the world by Tim Brown, founder and CEO of IDEO, a firm helping people and structures innovate differently. Their method (design thinking) highly rests on creativity as well as adopting a user and problem oriented approach. This allows people who are not designers use some of their tools and mindset to tackle problems – and solution making – differently.

One of the main design thinking principles is: « test & learn ». This states that you must quickly go on the field to confront your project to its final users. This will allow you first to empathise with them and frame the problem. Then, this is also the opportunity for you to go back to this initial audience to present them with your project’s first draft in order to get their feedback to adapt your production to their needs and so on.

This circle of production – also called the circle of life in the Lion King as if each lion was an update from the previous one – allows you to rapidly create a functional version of your project encapsulating all its core features.

What if this could also be the case for branding?

The double diamond structure simplified

(the double diamond represents the method’s different stages. You can read more about it here)


minimum viable product – what is it?

Note: here the definitions of MVP and prototype are often discussed. Here I’ve differentiated as a prototype tests the concept when the MVP tests the market appetence. For instance if my final. product is a car, my prototype might be a scooter to show my will of creating faster means of transportation VS. my MVP … which will be a car. For more info you can always check my glossary

In design thinking still, the Minimum Viable Product is the first commercialised version of a product designed to crash test the market (after prototyping of course). It’s supposed to be a simpler version of your concept to (in)validate your target customer interest – and understanding – of your offer.

This concept of MVP slowly extended to other domains. Seth Godin for instance came up with the notion of Minimum Viable Audience. For him, the MVA is : « The smallest group that can sustain your business ».

So why should branding be any different?


for a minimum viable brand

When starting our, maybe we should ask ourselves: what is the least time/effort/money consuming branding that can sustain your business?

For this, we could adopt a user-centric approach, much like design thinking. Go empathise with your target (or yet existing audience), learn about their pain-points, their values, their ideals… to compare with the venture we’re building understand how our brand experience can answer these (even if minimal). What are the main (emotional) needs of those people? Their no-gos? Which atmosphere are they looking for? Which tone? What user-experience could convince them to purchase your services? Or not? These are all sort of questions you can ask yourself to set a first « draft » of your brand.

Starting out with a « draft » can also relieve from the perfectionist pressure which sometimes paralyses us. Instead of seeing a brand as a must, maybe we could also picture it as a laboratory or an experiment in itself to approach the customers differently.

Moreover, this introspective work also allow yourself to take a step back to (re)assess your ambitions as a business and built better foundations. Especially if you’re just starting out.

This is exactly what I have the opportunity to do with this first freelance mission. Helping someone define in 6 weeks her MVB and testing it out on the field.

Ans as it is my first mission, we can even consider it as a bit of a Minimum Viable Product of my activity. What a fun virtuous circle.

Want to collaborate on your brand design or another topic? Drop me a line on hello@apolline.xyz

more on the topic

You can always check

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