Minimum Viable Branding for Startups

Creating a brand successfully can be tricky and many entrepreneurs think that they cannot afford a brand design. MVB is the perfect option for most new products and services. Duotone facilitates creation and maintenance of MVB assets.

·8 minutes reading
Cover Image for Minimum Viable Branding for Startups

As a tech startup founder competing against countless others for attention from investors, potential customers, and talent, standing out is crucial. Creating a brand successfully can be tricky and many entrepreneurs think that they cannot afford a brand design. MVB is the perfect option for most new products and services.

For most new products and startups, you will need to iterate on your branding multiple times, when the product strategy changes and when you learn more about your customer. MVB supports this iterative way of development.

Brand may seem like an ambiguous term, often reduced to just a logo and website, yet a compelling and inspiring brand is vital when developing a new product or when refreshing an existing one. A significant 94% of initial customer impressions are influenced by website design, with 75% of visitors judging your business based on that alone.

Brand is not just about interacting with your customers. It also aligns efforts of members of your team: developers, designers and marketers and gives a common language for talking about communication styles, visual presentation and practical details, like use of color and illustrations.

Trail Sync visual design

Visual styles for a brand, automatically generated with Duotone.

Bare minimum branding

The branding of a new product or a startup can fail in two ways.

The first one is that you don't put any effort in your branding, and your product feels sloppy, unprofessional or just not meaningful for the targeted users. You really cannot skip creating a brand. Instead, a brand that hasn’t been thought about is just a bad one.

The second one would be to overdo branding and spend thousands of dollars and countless hours on the new brand — just to realize a few months later that the assumptions you based the branding or the brand design on were wrong. In these cases, if you’ve put initial effort of $10.000 or even $100.000 on your branding, you will have a hard decision to either stick to a brand design that isn’t working for you or to do it again, spending more money and time on a new branding process.

Minimum Viable Branding, or MVB, sits in-between these extremes.

Minimum Viable Branding brings lean and agile thinking to brand design. MVB is based on the concept of Minimum Viable Product, popularized by Eric Ries, author of The Lean Startup. MVP is not just a prototype or beta version, but instead, something that enables collecting feedback from users and customers efficiently, before spending too much time on building the product.

Not all rules of traditional brand management make sense in the age of digital products, apps and online marketing. For many products, it doesn’t make sense to reinvent the wheel in all aspects of your brand design. For example, most web applications use neutral color schemes and intuitive user interfaces, popularized by tools like Apple, Google, Notion and Airbnb. Also, why create PDF style guides or documentation, when most of the needs for product designers and marketers are not unique and can be automated?

Features of a well designed Minimum Viable Brand:

  • Built quickly — not overthought in months of meetings
  • Basis to start from — not comprehensive, covering every detail
  • Something to iterate on — not static

Minimum Viable Branding differs from a full-fledged branding project in that it is just the bare minimum to launch the product and get feedback on it — it will change over time and doesn’t have all the details and documentation that a full branding would have.

A brand is never finished. Instead, it is an ongoing effort of testing, adapting, measuring and learning from users and customers what works and what doesn’t.

Based on my experience working with 50+ startups, I've come to the conclusion that MVB (Minimum Viable Brand) approach is the best option in most cases of developing new products. Often, MVB can get you a lot further than you would think.

In many cases, you can get an MVB 10x or 100x cheaper than a full brand design project.

First a strategy and placement

The first thing people think about when you say “brand” is typically the logo and the color palette for it. But to make the visual details work for your product, you need to first understand what your brand is about.

This involves answering questions like:

  • “What do we stand for and believe in?”
  • “Who is our target audience?”
  • “What makes us unique?”
  • “What do we want to be seen?”

These are topics that the organization needs to have a common idea on before moving further with branding work. So in that way, good branding is always built on top of a solid understanding of customers and a clear company strategy.

Trail Sync brand attributes

Example of a brand overview and personality generated by Duotone.

Another way to think about the brand foundation is to imagine, what kind of person or personality your brand would have. Or then what other products would you think are similar to your brand in tone of voice or communication style.

Brand output to match the message

When you have the brand values, audience and personality in place, you are ready to go to the perhaps more creative part of translating those into visual details — such as colors, layouts, typography and illustrations — and brand messaging.

  • Logo. In the past years, simple monochrome horizontal text logos have become more popular, compared to complex illustrations or logos with complex colorings. One reason for this is that they are easier to use online on web page and app navigation.
  • Color needs to match what you are trying to convey. For example, black and white coloring may signify that the product uncompromising or luxury, green points towards naturalness and blue can be a a neutral and easy to approach color. Colors have also meanings specific to a particular culture.
  • Typography is something that many customers might not pay attention to, but which influences how they perceive the product. When building digital products, it often makes sense to start with typefaces that are free or have flexible licenses for online and digital use.
  • Imagery can be of many types: vector illustrations, stock images, or more recently something generated using AI image generation.
  • Name, tagline and communication style. A good brand is not just about the visual, but also about the messages used and the language used. This ties again together with the brand personality: if the brand was a person, how would they talk? For example, would they be formal and detailed, or quick and witty?
Example of a web site design

Ready-made web site design by Duotone enables getting started quicly.

Duotone helps out with both the definition of the brand attributes as well as with the selection of visual details to match those. All of that has been streamlined and automated so that a simple initial design can be generated in minutes. It is possible to quickly cycle through multiple design candidates to find one that feels right.

Delivery and guidelines

When you have an MVB ready, show it to potential users and customers to get feedback on what types of emotions and impressions it evokes. Does it match the personalities you defined initially in your branding process? If not, go back to the design process and adjust the brand design based on the feedback.

When you feel roughly confident with the branding, the next challenge is to adapt it to marketing and your products. Sometimes marketing and product design have constraints and limitations that affect your brand design.

After these, you are ready to apply your brand design to your marketing, sales and product designs. The goal is to have a unified brand experience across the different customer touch points, or points of interaction between the customer and the brand.

Automatically generated style guide

Automatically built style-guide helps at getting brand styles quickly implemented and in maintaining consistency.

You don’t need to overdo your brand consistency: it is perfectly ok to have a slightly different typeface in your marketing material and your product, as long as they are similar in style. Inside digital products, such as apps and web based tools, it is better to use more neutral decoration styles and colors than in marketing and sales materials.

To make it easier to communicate the brand details and ensure that styles stay consistent, it is good to have a shared brand guideline and style guide available.

Web site code generated in Duotone

Web site code generated for a brand design.

Duotone streamlines taking your MVB to production by producing automatically style guides that you can share with designers and developers, as well as a code template to get quickly started with a web site design.

How to get started?

Getting started is easy! Sign into Duotone, and create your first brand design. Also, check out our roadmap to see how we plan to further improve and automate the creation of brand.

Launching a product can be stressful. But with MVB, you decrease your risk of failure and increase your chance of succeeding!

Unlimited design variations. One source design, use everywhere.