Building a minimum viable brand

What part of branding is essential? Why are some parts overrated? How should you be thinking about it if you're just getting started?

Why is branding important? 

Branding is critical because it's what people remember about your work and how people recognize you. It's your approach, your essence all wrapped up into a unique package that makes it easier for others to share. People will quickly dismiss your brand if you're inconsistent, inauthentic, and not living up to expectations. That's why it's essential to be conscious of your brand at every step of building whatever might be your newest endeavor.

Why is branding overrated in the beginning?

People spend far too much energy thinking about their colors, fonts, art direction, and even name for their brand. When you're just getting started, you will not know what these things should be, and ultimately, the answers to those questions should be informed by and in support of representing your craft and what makes your work unique.

Having a distinctive mark, logo, color palette, art style, and tagline is essential for helping your customers, fans, or users pick you out of a crowd and communicate what makes you unique on your behalf. It will help if you keep those in mind as you build whatever you're working on; however, I believe those things will come to you if you focus on doing great work and helping people. There's a high probability that you make the wrong choices about your brand because you haven't tested your ideas with reality. You haven't earned a spot in the hearts and minds of the people you intend to serve. That takes time and persistent work. 

It can be overwhelming figuring out where your work fits into the world. Working through the tough times reveals your work's unique characteristics. The tales your fans tell will reveal the right words to say. The stories you accumulate along your adventure will define and characterize your values. You can't script the journey, and it wouldn't be worth pursuing if you could. 

What is essential for your brand?

Have a rough idea of your work's vision, mission, and purpose. Ultimately, what do you give a shit about? Write out the goals you want to achieve and begin breaking them down into the daily actions you will take to reach them. If you believe in a certain way of working, write that down too. You might call these your values, but don't get too attached to them. Knowing your values is important because it will help you uphold the way you want to be known for working. There's a big difference between authentic values and aspirational values. Get them out of your head quickly, and then test them out. Come back to them as you work through your goals and ask yourself, is this really how I work? 

Don't worry about nailing down what you're going to publish on your website and marketing materials. Your brand will evolve, and your brand reputation is earned, not designed. It's good to think about all that goes into building a powerful brand. In the beginning, what's most important is building consistent momentum towards your goals and allowing the work to define the brand.

Core Brand Elements to Consider 

Developing your brand takes hard work, and it won't happen overnight. Keep the following things in mind as you start whatever you're building. Come back to them frequently. If it's not obvious how you would define one of these elements, that's okay. Keep working toward your goals and reflect on how your work might define these elements. 

  • Name
  • Mission
  • Vision
  • Values
  • Purpose
  • Positioning
  • Personality
  • Tone & Voice
  • Messaging
  • Storytelling
  • Expectations
  • Reputation
  • Logos
  • Marks
  • Typography
  • Color Palette
  • Art Direction

Keep a list like this in your notes and answer them as you go. The more you can answer these questions based on what resonates with your fans, users, or customers, the better. Not the other way around.