The stages of a brand's development

Many branding experts out there love using Apple, Nike, and Amazon as case study models for how an effective small brand needs to be shaped. For instance, they praise Apple's abstract logo and their lack of brand name use in their marketing. There's also the classic method of highlighting international social issues to draw attention like Nike.

Using Fortune 100 brands as examples is convenient simply because everyone knows them and they've established a reputation. However, this approach oversimplifies the strategic, tactical, and practical limitations that different brands face. Although studying these successful companies can provide valuable insights, it is important to recognize that their strategies may not be applicable to all brands, and that you could be potentially setting yourself up for failure if you go down these routes.

The branding requirements for smaller businesses and individuals are different from those of multi-billion dollar corporations. To address this issue, I propose a "Brand Evolution Spectrum" that consists of three key stages to consider when developing a branding strategy, depending on where a business is in its journey.

Social media + print for REL, a winter clothing company.

Phase 1: A minimum viable identity

In the early stages of product development, it is not advisable to invest significant time and resources in creating a professional brand identity. Instead, it is recommended to establish a minimal viable brand (MVB).

An MVB should include the following components:

A passable brand name

A classic typeface such as Helvetica Bold, Futura Bold, all-caps Clarendon, or Cooper Black, depending on the nature of your business.

A maximum of one neutral brand color (preferably a tertiary color rather than a primary color)

A logo symbol is not essential. If social media profiles or a website must be set up, a solid-colored square can be used as the avatar or an off-the-shelf Shopify or Squarespace template can be utilized.

The purpose of a minimal viable brand is not to establish differentiation or build a long-lasting and effective brand identity. Its sole aim is to present the business idea in a way that gives it the appearance of a legitimate enterprise without driving potential customers away.

If you possess the necessary software and technical expertise, creating your minimal viable brand during this stage can be easily done through do-it-yourself (DIY) methods. The primary objective is to minimize any potential negative impact in terms of time and money.


To avoid the pitfall of poor branding, there are two critical factors that you absolutely must nail down. Firstly, it's essential to have all the fundamentals in place, which includes a well-defined brand strategy, messaging guidelines, and a visual identity system that you're comfortable using. If you lack these foundational elements, it's high time to bring in a branding expert. But don't settle for just any run-of-the-mill consultant. Find someone who's small enough to pay attention to your business needs but has the chops to craft a top-notch brand.

Secondly, it's crucial to maintain consistency in everything you do. If you can't even commit to a consistent look and message, why should potential customers trust that you can deliver a consistent level of quality in your products or services? So, step up and stay true to your brand standards, or risk being dismissed as unreliable and unprofessional.

|     Find someone who's small enough to pay attention to your business needs but has the chops to craft a top-notch brand.

Phase 2: The 80/20 Brand

And here we are finally. At this point you have undoubtedly validated your product or idea and are committed to building a successful enterprise. As you embark on this next chapter, it's essential to recognize that your made-from-home graphics and design may no longer suffice. It's time to invest in something more enduring, not necessarily permanent.

It's crucial to avoid falling into either of two traps when seeking out identity designers at this stage. The first is seeking something new but not necessarily better, leading to a cheap and ultimately useless solution from platforms such as Fiverr or 99 Designs. The second is seeking a permanent solution that will endure until the end of time.

And that’s where you played yourself.

As a dedicated and ambitious entrepreneur, I'm sure you understand the importance of good design by now. However, the pursuit of perfection on the first try can lead to costly mistakes. Many designers do not spend enough time thinking about what will genuinely serve your business, focusing more on creating art than serving clients. As a result, you could end up wasting thousands of dollars on an unsuitable solution.

The reason many business owners fall into these traps is that they lack the foresight and resources to gather sufficient real-world data to be confident in their target audience, value proposition, and other essential elements of marketing strategy. Everything is still in motion, and nothing is set in stone, which is why your brand identity should be adaptable as well.

Most designers do not leave enough room for change, creating a solution that is perfect for the moment but quickly rendered irrelevant when the times change. That's where the concept of the 80/20 brand comes in, providing a remarkable brand and visual identity that can sustain your business for years to come. It's an organic, free-flowing, beautiful organism that moves in sync with your marketing strategy.

If you're ready to take the next step in scaling and professionalizing your marketing endeavors, let's have a conversation. My Brand Ignition sessions focus on creating an 80/20 brand that is tailored to your business's marketing endeavors, ensuring a sustainable and successful future.

Phase 3: The Ironclad Brand

After countless experiments and scholarly research, we've arrived at the pinnacle of our journey: Phase 3.

Level 3 signifies your readiness to establish a rock-solid brand identity and make dedicated long-term investments in brand development and its communication to the world. This is where the final touches are applied to transform your brand from "not-too-shabby" to something that would make even Patrick Bateman break a sweat out of jealousy.

Regrettably, many designers treat every client as if they were at the level three stage—not because they derive pleasure from their suffering, but because they lack awareness and succumb to personal self-interest. It's understandable, considering level three projects command higher price tags and make for more captivating case studies.