When does a prototype or beta version of a product need a brand identity?
I had a debate recently with a start up team who are developing what sounds like a useful sports training app called Rowe.rs. They have a beta version and a community of athletes ready to put the app through its paces. Like many entrepreneurs they are all over their product but they lack experience in communications and wanted a sounding board. Among other questions, they were questioning how important branding was at their early stage of development.
Brand identity now or later?
As product developers, two out of three of them wanted to prove the product with a qualified test group before investing in branding, which I think they saw as ‘fluffy’ stuff (my words, not theirs)! As a comms person I instinctively wanted them to nail the product name and logo and tie the URL in so it all made sense to their user community.
I quickly realised we were approaching the question from different angles.
Two approaches to market readiness
1. Brand identity first
Few start ups are likely to invest in a comprehensive branding exercise but if you’re testing a product, a clear and consistent visual brand with strong messaging can help to inspire confidence. This applies to your potential customers as well as investors.
2. Prove the concept first
The flip side says get the product working well and prove it, then worry about the brand and its personality. This keeps the team focused on what it knows and keeps costs down. Also, users can be more forgiving of beta versions so there is a case for keeping a few rough edges.
The answer to the question depends on a number of factors including the aspirations of the founder team, money and the state of the market. If there is competition out there or expected to emerge, the race is on to win support. In my view, a logo with a URL that ties in with the product name and strong messaging are minimum requirements. The case for a website is strong too but beware, it will chew up the founders’ time.
The Rowe.rs team has made great progress with their product in the last few months and I’m pleased to say they saw the value in developing a coherent brand identity 🙂 It will be interesting to see how they grow the user community, capture feedback and keep in touch as things progress. Early adopters are often the biggest advocates so it’s worth having systems in place!