Back to Insights
Nick Lehrain

How to Create a Digital-First Lean Brand

How quickly can a strong, authentic brand be conceived and delivered?

How to Create a Digital-First Lean Brand

How quickly can a strong, authentic brand be conceived and delivered?

The word ‘branding’ can be daunting. It conjures up images of Don Draper-esque creative types divining the ‘perfect’ brand concept, huge budgets and the petrifying task of releasing a brand identity that is disliked, or worse, ridiculed. Add to that the unquantifiable amount of collateral that needs to be produced and you’ve got a pretty scary task ahead of you. Alternatively, you could opt for a cheap design platform, but given effective branding is often the only thing differentiating products in a crowded market, is a $5 automatically generated logo going to deliver the desired results?

As a marketing practice, branding has long resided in the grey areas between design, art and storytelling. Due to a handful of horror stories from large companies that have got it wrong, branding has gained a reputation for being overpriced, oversold and immeasurable until after the fact.

Gap’s failed 2010 rebrand reportedly cost over $100 million. The new logo lasted one week after a public outcry.
Gap’s failed 2010 rebrand reportedly cost over $100 million. The new logo lasted one week after a public outcry.

As an innovation company that builds digital products, here at IE we tended to steer away from branding as a service. Our team includes many capable designers, most with a background in communication design, but we were far more focused on interfaces and experiences. Our most common interaction with branding was helping clients apply a print-focused visual identity to their digital products, managing conversations such as “What’s the closest to metallic gold you can get on a screen?” and “I’m sorry to tell you, but your hairline Helvetica logo is unreadable at 20 pixels high …”

Times have changed. Like many digital partners, we are now having strategic discussions earlier with our clients regarding their businesses. Rather than a predefined set of requirements and immovable briefs, we now help shape new ventures — validating ideas, testing business models and launching minimum viable products in order to gain confidence before scaling.

In a world of seemingly endless customer choice, there is a requirement for all creative efforts to keep up with the pace of innovation. This includes branding.

The Lean Brand Sprint was conceived in reaction to a growing demand for a faster approach to branding that could be applied during digital product development. Our aim is to deliver accelerated brand creation that skips the navel-gazing and boils branding down to its simplest elements: Story, strategy and symbol.

Taking inspiration from the Lean Start-Up movement, Lean Branding by Laura Busche and The Lean Brand by Jeremiah Gardner the two-week engagement aims to create a ‘Minimum Viable Brand’ that can be tested on a primary audience segment. This encourages a dialogue with the target audience and uncovers any early flaws in the brand that may not resonate as intended. These findings can then be used to steer any further brand decisions in the right direction.

The Lean Brand Sprint includes two half-day workshops, just the right amount of design and some user testing. It looks like this …


Part 1. Telling your Brand Story

Our MVB starts with our brand story. This is where we tell our audience what it is we do for them, and why we’re different from similar products or services. We need to understand our positioning in our competitor landscape and also identify the best possible brand experience we can deliver at every touchpoint along the customer journey. Through a set of collaborative exercises and a whole load of voting we create the following chapters in our brand story;

  • Primary Persona — If we could only get it right for one audience group who would that be? What aspirational state could our brand help them reach and why would they choose us over our competitors?
  • Positioning —Arguably the most important task when establishing your brand story. Here we unpack what makes us unique, the value that brings to our customers and where we sit in our competitor landscape.
  • Personality — Exclusive, mature and classic, rebellious or authoritative? Agreeing on our brand personality establishes the shape of our messaging going forward.
  • Promise — Can we distil our positioning statement into a short memorable tagline?
  • Product Experience —How can we provide the most authentic and optimal brand experience for our customers before, during and post-conversion?
  • Pricing Cost, value or competition based? How we price our goods and services is a huge part of brand perception. How much are your customers willing to pay for a relationship with your brand?

Part 2. Outlining your Brand Strategy

Once we have our brand story straight we need to consider the appropriate way to communicate with our desired audience. Do our customers spend all their time on Instagram? Are they avid blog readers, or are they most likely to be impressed by seeing your partner with their favourite celebrity? Together we will decide on the highest value channels to deliver our message, then discuss the right tone, timing and technique for each of those channels.


During the brand strategy workshop we will create:

  • A channel strategy map
  • A tone of voice guide
  • A set of brand communication values

Part 3. Creating Brand Symbols

By this stage, we should have the first draft of our brand story and brand strategy written up and circulated with all stakeholders. It’s now time for the design team to knuckle down and create the bare essentials required to launch the brand’s visual identity confidently.


In four days of solid design effort, regular feedback with the team and a clear list of deliverables the first iteration of our visual identity can be defined. The output of which should look something like this;

  • Responsive logo (a logo that folds down or grows in detail depending on it’s display size)
  • Colour palette
  • Typography
  • Imagery (Illustration style or photographic art direction)
  • Collateral as requested — This is a list of the essential items required to launch the brand. It may include; A landing page, stationery, web banners, signage, email signatures, presentation templates, email templates etc.

Time to test…

Following five days of design effort we should now have a Minimum Viable Brand (MVB) book comprised of our three volumes; Story, Strategy and Symbol. This should be at just the right fidelity to test with our primary persona as identified in our first workshop. Given the speed of our efforts, it is also not the end of the world if our brand is received poorly — although if you’ve got your brand personality right and you’ve nailed what makes your primary persona tick, you should have hopefully designed something that hits the mark!

Having scheduled interviews with 5–7 people that match our primary persona as close as possible, we can now conduct individual 45-minute interviews in which we present our MVB and use a variety of testing techniques to gather genuine responses to our brand.

Some aspects of our MVB are likely to be quite subjective, particularly tone of voice and visual components like the logo and colour palette. While we may not be able to satisfy all tastes, we can still learn from our interviewees’ reactions. For example, if a certain colour is not favoured by one of our test participants, we can ask them to describe the emotion or sentiment it provokes, and we might find it’s performing exactly the job we intended. It is also advisable to have the interviewee believe that the person asking for feedback is not the person who designed the brand, as this may encourage the observer effect to creep in.

Summarise findings and finish up

After 5–7 interviews, you should have a solid understanding of what parts of your MVB are working, and what needs further development. The last two days of the sprint should be spent distilling findings into a report, covering off any critical visual changes and preparing the remaining items of collateral required to launch the brand. Should the brand require significant revision, the team can decide to commit to further design time but limiting it to 2–4 days before re-testing.

A selection of pages from the final Minimum Viable Brand book for wellness start-up ‘Maple’
A selection of pages from the final Minimum Viable Brand book for wellness start-up ‘Maple’

Brand quicker, brand better

We have now successfully run The Lean Brand Sprint with FMCG retailers, a wellness mobile application, a venture capital firm, a leading events group, and an indigenous start-up — all with amazing results. The Lean Brand Sprint offers a fast, effective framework to identify the story, strategy and symbols that form the genesis of a successful brand with scope to iterate and grow alongside product development.

Perhaps you need a faster way to brand your new project or company inline with rapid product development? Maybe your existing brand has become confused, busy and outdated? Do you feel confident that your brand decisions have created a genuine, two-way dialogue with your customers?

As markets saturate and competition increases, it is important that companies look for ways to become emotionally connected with their customers and build relationships that generate trust and loyalty. People fall in love with brands, and The Lean Brand Sprint gets you looking sharp for that first date.

If you want to discuss how IE can transform your brand into becoming a digital-first lean brand, feel free to get in touch with us.

Looking to solve big problems? Let’s talk.

Partner With Us

Stay in the loop

Get occasional newsletters about IE’s insights. We won’t spam your inbox.
Thank you! You've now been subscribed.
Something went wrong while submitting the form.
IE recognises the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the Traditional Owners of the lands on which we work, and we acknowledge those communities' continuing connections to their lands, waters, and cultures. We pay our respects to their Elders past and present.