I love the fact that Lean principles is being applied everywhere. That fact alone tells me that the principles endure, regardless of value stream and is a good sign that there’s a lot of freedom with the lean framework. In this interview, we learn how Lean is applied to Branding. Laura Busche, the author of Leanbranding, shares with us how she’s applied Lean principles to create dynamic, lasting brands that convert. Specifically, you’ll learn the following:
- What is a brand?
- How exactly to apply Lean principles to branding?
- What are the 7 wastes of branding?
- What a brand strategist using Lean has in common with a hard-nosed shop floor lean practitioner
Enjoy the interview and learn more about Laura immediately after. Enjoy the interview and please feel free to check out other lean leadership interviews.
Hi Laura. Can you tell my audience a little about yourself and your work?
I’m a brand strategist and have mentored over 300 entrepreneurs and their 90+ internet-based startups in building and measuring high-conversion brands as part of the Colombian government’s Apps.co program. In the process, I’ve learned about what makes and breaks startup brands, what teams fear as they create them, and how it can be fixed. I’ve grasped first-hand what it takes to optimize every component of their brand strategy from logo design to demo day pitches, and compiled these lessons in the Lean Branding book, which is now part of O’Reilly’s Lean Series.
My academic background is a combination of business (undergraduate), design (graduate) and consumer psychology (doctoral), which has allowed me to build and communicate a unique methodology for brand building that is well-informed by these disciplines.
My audience is varied, but consists generally of Lean practitioners in various settings – from manufacturing to healthcare. If you were to explain Lean Branding to someone on the shop floor who is very well aware of Lean principles from Toyota, how would you do it? On which points would you build a common bond?
Like Toyota’s approach to lean, this book relies on the idea that brands exist in order to generate value for consumers, and investments that do not contribute to such value are seen as wasteful. In Lean Branding, we continuously test hypotheses about a brand’s symbols, story and strategy to determine which version of them works best to generate conversion. Just like you work to minimize waste, improve continuously, and prevent quality issues, Lean Branding practitioners learn to allocate resources strategically, engage in constant hypothesis testing and build more informed brand components from the onset (to avoid future expenses).
For decades, many marketers have been introducing brand development as a “soft” science, to the point where many believe that branding is ornamental or a second-class concern. This is because many haven’t realized that brand development should be evidence-based, and that our branding efforts can actually be matched to the returns that they generate. Lean Branding sees brands much like you see the products in your shop floor: as the result of a process that must be optimized to avoid inconsistency, waste, and overwork.
Let’s assume my audience is familiar with PDCA from Toyota, but not Eric Ries’ version for startups – Build, Measure, Learn. Within that context, can you explain what Lean Branding is? And, why the use of Lean?
Ries’ introduction of the Build-Measure-Learn cycle is logically inspired by lean manufacturing practices, and reinterprets PDCA to fit the rapid iterations that startups face. Unlike PDCA, where “Plan” and “Do” are separate stages, the cycle introduced in the Lean Startup focuses on agility, and merges these two into a single “Build” phase. Instead of focusing their efforts on planning, startups must often experiment and launch simultaneously, figuring out what customers want by exposing them to minimum viable products.
Along the same lines, Lean Branding is an evidence-based process to develop high-conversion brands while minimizing waste. As in Toyota’s PDCA, this method is iterative and involves constant adjusting. The “Plan” and “Do” phases come together in a single “Build” stage, where minimally viable brand components are created. An initial set of visual symbols, a value creation story and growth strategy is built to form the base of our iteration process. The “Check” phase, which becomes “Measure” in the B-M-L cycle, introduces a series of methods to test out the validity and effectiveness of the previously built components in light of how much value they add for customers. The brand’s visual identity, resonance and traction are all evaluated based on actionable metrics. Finally, the “Act” or “Adjust” phase in PDCA becomes “Learn” in Eric Ries’ version. In Lean Branding, learning involves rebranding, repositioning or rechanneling based on the feedback that one has obtained from the measurement stage. Just like in PDCA, the BML cycle repeats in order to guarantee continuous improvement.
We recently interviewed Jeff Gothelf on Lean UX. What is the relationship between Lean UX and Lean Branding as you describe it?
Lean Branding defines a brand as 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.
Now, as you can imagine, this story is written & rewritten every time consumers interact with everything related to your offer: your name, pitch, employees, point of purchase, product quality, and yes, your user experience. This is where Lean UX and Lean Branding join forces: by building a customer-centric, feedback-based user experience, brands are actually solidifying the story that has taken shape in their customers’ minds, without wasting resources. Since Lean UX focuses on building product features that positively affect customer behavior and add genuine value, it contributes to the brand-building process demystified in Lean Branding.
It is essential to remember that your brand encapsulates your product, and everything else conforming the unique story that consumers form when they think of you. Therefore, Lean Branding helps you think about your product experience in terms of all the brand elements that must come together when someone consumes your offer. User experience is one such element.
The book introduces a tool called the Brand Journey Map to help you visualize your brand’s value creation story holistically.
If you were to list the 7 wastes of Branding, what would they be?
|Non-agile consumer research methods||Brands must rethink the way in which they research their consumers’ wants and needs. Traditional focus groups, for instance, are being questioned because of the unrealistic environment that they create. Other techniques require excessive data processing; and, by the time you’ve reached some sort of market insight, it is no longer valid. More agile and cost-effective methods like contextual and ethnographic research may provide meaningful consumer insights in a fraction of the time.|
|Vanity metrics & milestones||Whatever tests we decide to run, and numbers we decide to look at, there has to be a clear connection between your brand’s main revenue streams and what you’re measuring. Otherwise, we may fall in the trap of “vanity metrics”, following up on certain numbers just because they make us “feel good” about our work and not out of a direct relationship between their growth and the company’s success.|
|Analysis paralysis||Over-thinking and excessive consideration of options can delay the brand building phase to the point where the product can be late to market. It is crucial to bear in mind that analysis must never block our ability to build. Lean Branding, in fact, involves simultaneous planning, rapid prototyping and testing.|
|Vanity advertising||Along the same lines as “vanity metrics”, vanity advertising drains our resources out of a superficial desire to “look good” or “feel good”, neither of which connect directly to the company’s growth. While some advertising campaigns can help increase brand recognition, consolidate positioning, and increase its reach, brand managers should have complete clarity as to how these objectives align with the company’s own.|
|Unnecessary rebranding||I’ve seen startups change their brand’s visual identity 10 times during their first year. It is also common to bump into teams that change their web presence every week, out of simple hunches that are uninformed by consumer perception. There are many valid reasons to pursue rebranding, but none of them include suspicions. Whenever possible, validate your gut feeling through consumer research before you waste precious time and resources fixing something that isn’t broken.|
|Over-designing||This wasteful practice takes place in many different areas of branding. The goal behind building brand assets is to convey your value creation story to your audience in a way that they can understand, accept and pursue. Aesthetic plays a crucial role in the formation of perception, but overworking any given design piece can threaten consumer learning.|
|Unvalidated channels||also known as “we need to be everywhere”. Lean Branding shows you how to discover, evaluate and pursue new channels whenever they are relevant for the audience that you are trying to engage with. Please do not attempt to participate in 40 social networking sites because someone told you that you needed to be everywhere. Brands don’t need to be everywhere, much in the same way that they don’t have to be all things to all people. Go confidently in the direction of your target audience. Wherever they are, that’s exactly (and exclusively) where you need to be.|
Now, Lean Branding isn’t just for startups, right? How would Lean Branding apply to established companies? Or, what about Lean Branding for internal change transformation initiatives within a big company?
That’s right. Lean Branding can also help intrapreneurs build and rebuild dynamic brands to transform their companies. The building, measurement and learning notions introduced in the book can help everyone trying to build a high-conversion brand: from the individual wanting to reflect his/her personal value offer, to early-stage startups with a minimum viable product, to established companies with wide product portfolios.
Thanks Laura. If an audience member would like to learn more about Lean Branding, where do you suggest she begins her journey?
We regularly publish articles on Lean Branding practices, tools and tips at leanbranding.com/blog. You can subscribe to our free email newsletter there.
About Laura Busche
Laura is Summa Cum Laude from the Kogod School of Business (American University), and completed a Master’s degree in Design Management (Savannah College of Art & Design, SCAD). She is currently completing her PhD dissertation in Consumer Psychology, sponsored by the Colombian Government’s Administrative Department for Science, Technology & Innovation (Colciencias).
Junior Chamber International (UN program) recognized her as one of the Top Outstanding Young Persons in Colombia in 2012, and she became part of the World Economic Forum’s Global Shapers community of young leaders changing the world in 2013. Laura regularly blogs about branding, design and business at Leanbranding. She has worked in Groupon, interned at National Geographic and co-founded a digital agency called Ozone Group in 2008. More at www.laurabusche.com.
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