Minimum viable brand (when brand frameworks go wrong and how to fix them)
Brand frameworks come in all shapes but only one size. Most brand frameworks are only available in XL. They have too many components, too many moving parts, too many inconsistencies and contradictions.
Better to start with a minimum viable brand. A minimum viable brand strips away all that is superfluous, leaving only what is essential. It’s like a remote control without all the buttons that you never use.
If you over-engineer your brand, you’ll underwhelm your customers. And you’ll confuse the hell out of people who have to work with it. The brand guidelines of an over-engineered brand are an atlas to a world of pain.
Bloated brand frameworks have a lot to answer for and perhaps the problem is in the name. A framework is a supporting structure. You need a framework if you have a lot of stuff that needs to be held up and held together. Frameworks are hungry for stuff. Brand frameworks are hungry for guff. They are made of blank spaces that must be filled in, even if they don’t need to be.
If your brand has a mission and a vision, do you know what they are? Do you know why you need them and what they are for? If you switch them around does it make any difference?
Maybe your brand framework has lots of components beginning with P – a promise, a proposition, a positioning, a personality. And probably the icing on this already over-egged cake is a set of values and a carefully crafted but ultimately useless tone of voice statement. For a content creator, your brand framework looks as intimidating as the cockpit of an airliner does to a passenger.
Less is more when it comes to brand frameworks. What happens when you strip away stuff and guff until you have a minimum viable brand? A minimum viable brand gives you a coherent brand definition that people can understand, remember, and work with. It will be so stripped back that it might not look like a framework any more, but it will be a lot more fit for purpose.
What might a minimum viable brand look like? What are the base elements of a hard-working brand definition?
The correct answer is that this depends on the brand in question, the culture of the organisation behind the brand, and the context in which the brand operates.
However, if you’re looking to define a minimum viable brand, you could do worse than a positioning statement and a brand idea (or a brand essence).
A good positioning statement contains a lot of useful information in a concentrated form. It is a statement of brand strategy:
Brand X operates in category Y. For people of type A it does job B on the basis of benefits C, D, and E.
Brand positioning statements are necessarily dry. A minimum viable brand definition also needs to provide guidance about how to creatively express the brand. There needs to be a transmission system between the brand strategy (as summarised by the positioning statement) and brand communication. A brand idea or a brand essence is designed to do this job. What is this brand about at its core? How does this brand tell its stories?
Persil’s “Dirt is good” is an excellent example of a brand idea. It’s a platform for communicating rational product benefits, wrapped in an emotive philosophy about healthy, active childhoods.
Back in the day, the AA’s brand idea was “The 4th Emergency Service”. It was an elegant piece of framing that, again, provided an emotional wrapper for rational communication.
A well considered and well articulated brand idea does a lot of heavy lifting for creative strategy and brand storytelling.
I’d think really carefully about whether you need more detail than this. Why do you need more than a positioning and a brand idea? Maybe there are good reasons why your brand definition needs to provide more guidance or constraint. Nonetheless I’d start with your minimum viable brand and build out carefully from there, rather than going all-in with a pyramid, an onion, a ladder, a key, or any other kitchen sink framework. There’s a thin line between control and confusion.
Phil has the very rare ability of being able to demystify and distill complex challenges and stories into simple, highly compelling ones that always make a difference.Board Director – Advertising Agency
If you wonder what your minimum viable brand might look like, if you’d like some help with decluttering your brand to make it more compelling and user-friendly, drop me a line by email.
If you found this interesting, you might also like Getting your story straight, which is about brand storytelling for b2b and service brands.