Here’s the Branding Process We Implement With All of Our Companies

by Eric Grzeskowiak

At High Alpha, we are laser-focused on starting B2B SaaS companies. During the first six months, we spend a lot of energy helping founding teams design and build a product that elicits valuable feedback with little effort. We refer to this process as Minimum Viable Product (MVP). However, we also believe that it’s just as important to develop your brand during those first six months as it is to fine-tune your product.

Understandably, branding typically isn’t top-of-mind for founders. They are short on time, money, and attention, so a lengthy, labor-intensive brand development process isn’t possible. What’s more, your brand should allow you the flexibility to try different directions and evolve as you learn from the market, especially given how quickly the landscape can change these days.

Alongside the talented High Alpha design team, we’ve successfully led over 30 software companies through a proven process for quickly building effective brands that sell. We call it Minimum Viable Brand (MVB).

What is a Minimum Viable Brand?

MVB takes the amorphous concept of brand and turns it into something tangible. Much like MVP, with an MVB, you expend the least amount of time, effort, and money necessary to develop enough of a launch brand to convey your value and to collect valuable feedback. As an alternative to a complete strategic brand process or simply a logo, an MVB provides you the right balance of structure and flexibility.

Why We Build Minimum Viable Brands

Just as we leverage a Minimum Viable Product process to move fast and efficiently while collecting feedback and learning from our customers, the same is true for brands. With an MVB, you expend only enough time, effort, and money to develop an initial brand concept that starts to guide your organization and engage your customers. You set in place the pieces of your brand that produce brand focus and clarity and then wait to develop the brand elements that provide more richness and dimension until after you’re in the market and have the resources and the customer feedback and market insights to inform them.

How to Develop a Minimum Viable Brand

To develop an MVB, we use a four-part framework to guide our portfolio companies through the branding process. 

Part 1: Conceptual Alignment

This phase is traditionally defined as brand strategy. At High Alpha, we refer to it as conceptual alignment because, as noted above, we do not have the luxury of customer data, feedback, or research to inform our decisions like you would during a full brand strategy phase. Our goal here is to align foundational questions that help all stakeholders become aware of which direction we’re pointing the ship.

In the conceptual alignment phase, we set out to answer the following core questions about the business.

What’s Your Mission?

The mission statement should define your purpose and embody why you exist.

What Are Your Core Values?

Your values drive the way your business operates. They say to both your team and customers. “This is the way we do things around here.” They should be clear, distinctive, and actionable.

Who Are Your Target Customers?

While your product or service might have value to many different customers, startups should focus on a limited set of customer targets given their limited resources. We recommend no more than three and stack rank them to determine your primary audience.

What Value Do You Provide?

This is a list of all innovations, services, or features that make your product and company attractive to your customers. Try to summarize them into a simple statement that defines why a customer would choose your product.

What Are Your Key Differentiators?

Key differentiators are your distinct and unique value that sets you apart from your competitors. We like to think of your differentiators as x-factors and can include product attributes, technologies, specialized service methods, or even your founding story.

After answering all the questions, we synthesize the results into a single, concise Brand Ethos statement. The brand ethos consists of the business’s goals, mission, vision, and culture. Think of the brand ethos as the essence of your business and the heart and soul of your brand. It is the connection between your brand and its audience.

Once we define brand ethos, we use it as the “Northstar” for the rest of the brand-building process. With the Northstar in mind, it’s much easier to develop visual directions and messaging that resonates with the audience.

Shown above is an example of a brand ethos with brand qualities extracted.

Part 2: Concept Themes

With brand ethos in place, we turn our attention to how we express them in communications. We use concept themes, a set of narrative-driven visual explorations that establish a look and feel for the brand. Think of these as mood boards that are story-based and strategy aligned. Concept themes should be informed by the answers to your conceptual alignment questions, not your personal preferences, which can be subjective and misaligned with your target and vision.

Below are a few examples of concept themes that helped articulate recently launched High Alpha portfolio companies.

Part 3: Visual Identity

After presenting each concept theme, we reach a pivotal moment where we rally around a particular direction and story and build our visual identity. At the core, MVB’s visual identity consists of a logo, colors, typography, and imagery. The goal with visual identity is mapping all elements to the mission, values, personality, and story that we established during our alignment and concept phases. The visual identity should amplify the brand’s intended message, so our customers want to learn more and engage with the story. Then that story should sell them into why they should do business with the brand.

Each element of the visual identity is a critical ingredient in conveying the brand story.

The logo is the core of the identity and should act as a memorable and recognizable signal. Think about creating something simple but distinct enough to stick into the minds of the people who see it. We always say, if a customer could draw it from memory, then it’s probably the right balance of simplicity and memorability. 

Color needs to fit what you are trying to convey. For instance, if your product promises a premium, tailored experience, you might select rich colors like black, gold, or silver. Start simple and select a core palette and a few supporting secondary colors to begin. Over time, your supporting colors can evolve as you uncover unique use cases where modifications or additional color may be necessary. 

Type plays a role in creating a unique personality for your brand voice and messaging. The font, scale, weight, and arrangement have an impact on your visual identity. Make type selections that help amplify your intended personality and create a distinct look and feel for your brand. We recommend selecting a unique display typeface that can appropriately deliver your core headlines and a body copy typeface that prioritizes legibility and delivers the supporting brand messaging.  

Imagery can take on several forms and are unique from brand to brand. Where one brand might benefit from the universal language of illustration, another might be strengthened by the human qualities of photography. Remember to reference your alignment and concept work done in the previous phases to help inform your decision. Alongside illustration and photography, we also consider supporting graphical imagery such as patterns and textures to help enhance concepts while adding depth and richness to the brand story.  

Part 4: Brand Scale and Implementation

With visual identity, consistency and velocity are key. We’ve established the initial elements that help customers develop an emotional connection with the brand in part three. In part four, we’ll focus our attention on making the brand a consistent end-to-end experience. Consistent brand experience can come in many forms: customer service, the product your delivering, or content you create to engage your audiences. We focus our attention on selecting the areas where customers experience the most value. You may have heard the expression “your product is your brand,” and we believe that to be paramount to successful software businesses. Our brand team partners closely with product designers to ensure that brand is quickly and consistently adopted into the product. Simple changes to the type, color, and iconography go a long way. Still, we also look for opportunities for brand personality to enhance onboarding, product walk-throughs, UX messaging, zero-states, and micro-interactions. Focusing on brand implementation in a product can have a considerable impact and turn a product experience into something delightful and memorable.

Another focus area during our scale and implementation phase is applying brand to high-impact touchpoints. We work closely with the High Alpha marketing team to select areas where customer engagement is most valuable. Common areas include marketing websites that drive conversions, pitch decks, social media content, product demos, thought leadership content, and physical assets like t-shirts, business cards, stickers, and other unique swag items.

Our last area of focus is asset delivery and guidelines. Knowing that MVB brands are designed to be flexible and scalable, we build guidelines and asset libraries that are collaborative and easily updatable. Instead of creating traditional, static brand guideline documents, we use a digital guideline tool called Brandpad to allow our teams to easily build, maintain, and update when necessary. This allows us to maintain velocity and stay collaborative. 

Launching a Minimum Viable Brand

After completing all four phases of our MVB building process, we are ready to launch our brand and gain valuable customer feedback. Just as you would with your product, as insights become available, we can immediately employ an iterative building, measuring, and learning process. You can make incremental changes to strengthen your brand and ensure it advances the business, supporting the model and addressing its risks and challenges.

Launching a business and brand takes courage. The rapid rate of change, the rise of disruptive technologies, and high customer expectations all threaten the odds of success. But with MVB, you decrease your risk of failure and increase your odds of success!