How to build a chameleon brand. Interview with Laura Busche

 

In her book Lean Branding: Creating Dynamic Brands to Generate Conversion, Laura Busche adopts Eric Ries' Lean Startup methodology to current branding processes. She tells us that we need brands to be like chamaleons: to adapt to what a changing consumer demands from them, to measure their impact in real time, and to build lasting and significant relationships.

Above all, she says, we need no fantastic product to remain unseen by the press, the investors, and the clients simply because the funders didn't know how to do branding. And this is precisely what the book is about: how an entrepreneur can build a brand on her own (DIY) to gain clients from day 1 and align her whole company around the brand's success.

The first part shows us how we can create an MVB (minimal viable brand), the ingredients that can't be missing, the necessary ethnographical research, the visual symbols that trigger associations with values and attributes, how to communicate, and how to work strategically with each channel.

In the second part, she focuses on how to measure all the variablesin an iterative process. For instance, whether your strategy generates traction, whether your brand history resonates adequately, and whether your symbols adequately represent your identity.

In the third part, she teaches us how to learn to pivot in order to respond to changing market strategies through a repositioning of our messages, a change in communication channels, or a visual identity re-design.

The Lean Branding process is continuous and circular, evidence-based and customer-centred. Taking into accound that they both change continuously, it is a live process that lasts throught the brand's whole lifespan.

The creation of a brand, she tells us, is above all a matter of attentive and constant execution in a never-ending improvement process.

The book takes care to avoid technical language, takes into account the lack of time we all suffer from nowadays, discovers plenty of useful tools, and never forgets that the ultimate target is business. It is a consulting manual that focuses on the 21st century entrepreneur, who can no longer leave the virtual world aside, regardless of whether he embarks upon an online entrepreneurship or not, for it is precisely online where the brand's first impression usually occurs, and more often than not it is a definitive one. Furthermore, thanks to this parallel universe, as the book shows us, entrepreneurs have access to many new opportunities. At last, a book about branding without secrets.

One of the thinks that I like the most about recent times is that brand research, which is so necessary to do a good job, is becoming accessible thanks to the numerous tools that have emerged to collect and quantify insights at an affordable price or even for free.

Q. Laura, what is a Lean Brand? What makes it special? What makes it different from a brand born out of a traditional process?

Hi, Irene. I’d like to thank you for inviting me to share branding insights with the Grasp community. Entrepreneurs cannot afford to ignore branding principles, and I wrote this book to demystify them.

A brand is the unique story that consumers recall when they think of you. This story associates your product with their personal stories, a particular personality, what you promise to solve, and with your position in relation to competitors. Your brand is represented by your visual symbols, and feeds from multiple conversations where you must participate strategically. Though you might not think of yourself as a brand manager right now, everything and everyone (and that includes you!) represents at least one brand.

A Lean brand inspires consumers to buy apps, order food, trust certain people, and pull books off the shelf by offering ever-evolving shortcuts to their self-realization. And the key here is “ever-evolving”. We are used to seeing what I call Dinosaur Brands: huge, slow, static brands that avoid changes and stick to what “they know”. Lean brands, on the other hand, are chameleon brands; they adapt to consumer’s ever-changing needs and desires. The logic is simple: there's no use in standing still in the marketplace when consumers' ideas of who they are are changing all over the place.

Brands today are better off listening to these changes and learning from them. Lean Brands have conversations, not monologues. They embrace the fact that their mission is to help consumers get closer to who they want to be. They're comfortable with the fact that this "who they want to be" is always evolving. So they evolve too: iterating continuously in endless cycles of building, measuring and learning.

Q. What are the main advantages of this iterative process that builds, measures, learns, for entrepreneurs and their clients?

By continuously measuring the brand’s performance on key aspects, and having those insights inform our iterations, we are effectively saving time, money and effort. Instead of wasting our (often limited) resources in a story, visual symbol or growth strategy that does nothing for our customer, Lean Branding allows us to focus on value adding activities. Figuring out what those are is one of the keys to startup success in our increasingly saturated market. Which value story resonates with our audience the best? Which visual symbols truly represent and differentiate our identity in the marketplace? Which growth strategy allows us to target our brand’s best customers? Working with hundreds of entrepreneurs in developing high-conversion brands made me realize that something unique happens when this learning process takes place in-house. We become aware of our own hypotheses, learn to test them, and come to understand which moves/partnerships/strategies work best for our brand’s audience. I cannot stress this enough: regardless of who is directing the brand development process (an agency or your own team), make sure to stay close to key insights. Knowledge is power.

Q. If we all have access to identical knowledge repositories, free pictures, templates, links..., isn't there a risk of homogenisation, which is precisely what brands want to avoid? What does a Lean Brand do to remain different and relevant?

Lean Branding implies finding a balance between agile design and brand innovation. The software industry has set a great example of how existing resources can be reused, customized and repurposed to create truly unique products. Design templates are no different from code snippets: they can also help us get a head start on concept development.

As creators, we would like to believe that the branding process should always start with a blank canvas. For better or for worse, the blank canvas idea is no longer viable in our world. Human beings and our ideas are now inevitably connected, and our concepts are constantly being exposed to one another. In this environment of permanent idea exchange, the role of a designer has shifted to that of a strategic curator: someone who is skilled at capturing inspiration, avoiding reinventing wheels, and finding the smartest way to execute concepts. We need to stop seeing ourselves as inventors (i.e. it’s our job to come up with something entirely new) and accept our role as innovators (i.e. it’s our job to execute something in a new way).

Lean Brands are sustained by teams of design innovators that understand this idea. To them, templates are not a threat against originality, but an opportunity to explore innovation in areas beyond the basics. Instead of worrying about coming up with an entirely new grid for a landing page, for example, we can now get a head start with a framework like Bootstrap and focus on more pressing design issues:

. How will we emphasize the value story and brand promise?

. Which images best convey the aspiration that our product satisfies?

. How can we optimize conversion with a strategic call to action?

Q. The book talks very little about identity and a lot about positioning. Why do you focus on the second?

That’s a great question, Irene. I wrote this book because I saw that branding was being misunderstood. We have believed lies about branding for years. Dangerous lies. The average founder still thinks that a brand is a logo, that branding is a soft skill, and that therefore “marketing people” should manage it.  I spent an entire chapter demystifying these lies (“Chapter 2: What a Brand Isn’t”), and while I would have loved to dedicate more space to visual identity, Lean Branding is my attempt to restore the field to its more encompassing, strategic levels of thinking. In other words, I wanted to spend more energy discussing the two aspects of branding that are often neglected: the generation of a value creation story and a growth strategy. The third, a brand’s visual symbols, has received much more attention in literature. Regardless, the book provides insights, tips and templates to develop all three sides of branding, and I would encourage readers to start in the section where they feel weakest.

Q. What role do you see for branding consultants in a scenario where all the information is available on Google? Do you think that, besides being experts on branding, we must also be online marketing generalists? Are we now meant to be mentors rather than consultants?

Lean Branding presents unique challenges for consultants, clients, and their clients.  As you rightfully suggest, Google has opened the door for anyone to learn about the basics of building a brand’s story, symbols and strategy. A Brand Consultant’s role, in my opinion, has shifted to that of a mentor. It is no longer enough to know the information, as pretty much everyone else has access to it too. The 21st century is a time for brand consultants to focus on helping entrepreneurs stay on track in the arduous process that it is to build, measure and learn. It’s a time to ask difficult questions, encourage clients to ask their own, and guide them as they continuously look to the marketplace for answers.

Aware of this changing role, I wrote a book to summarize the main issues that I kept seeing entrepreneurs face in different stages of growth. It is my goal to provide readers with the lessons that took us so much time and effort to learn. The next step is to apply these principles, and a Branding Mentor is a key asset in making it happen.

Many thanks for taking the time to answer these questions and for writing such a useful book for current entrepreneurs. 

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