If you ask around for quotes on branding projects, you will get fees ranging anywhere from $1,000 to $50,000 and even higher, and this often is just for design work. You might find a freelance designer online who says they can do it for less than $500, and you can even get a logo for as low as $5 on fiver.com. There are a few websites where you can crowdsource the design of your logo, receiving lots of options for several designers before choosing one and then paying for it. So you might be wondering, Do you really get better work if you pay more? How do these services differ? How much should you invest in your business? Well, it depends on what different freelancers and agencies mean by “branding,” and what your business goal is with your branding project.
As I say to everyone I meet, your logo is not your brand. Branding is three different things used together, consistently. First, there is the positioning (aka brand strategy) of your brand, the one thing that makes you unique in the market (your “It factor) and how it blends into your marketing plan and you’re your business structure. Then there is the messaging (aka strategic communications) that communicates what you do and why you’re different, which includes all of the copy and your tagline. Finally, there is the visual brand (aka Brand Identity) that aesthetically represents what you’re all about (optimally it is aligned with your positioning and messaging): the design of your logo, website, and marketing materials.
When someone offers “branding” though, they may be referring to only one or two of those three elements mentioned above. You have to take into account where you are in the evolution of your business, assess your current challenges and goals, and determine the best partner to address them to decide which one your business needs.
Visual Brand Designers
When a freelance designer says they’ll “design your brand” what they really mean is they will just design your logo, website, and marketing materials. It would be more accurate to say they are designing your visual brand or brand identity (we used to call this “corporate identity” back in the day). You will most likely need to provide your own messaging and copy, and they will entirely rely on you regarding positioning and strategy.
This person is who you use when you are first starting out if you don’t have a lot of money to invest in your business. It gives you something to get your business out there, to start selling your services in the market. Once you’ve had some experience with clients, a strategic branding firm can craft that into something that will take you to the next level.
If your messaging is generic and your business strategy is weak, a great logo alone is not going to help you much in the long run.
You can find people online who will do your entire brand identity for $1,000 to $3,000, but they may be less experienced (or capable) compared to other designers. This inexperience usually means a lot more of their time and yours is spent on the project. Also, they are not thinking about messaging and business strategy. They may design something that looks great, but if your messaging is generic and your business strategy is weak, a great logo alone is not going to help you much in the long run.
Brand Messaging & Design
Fortunately, many agencies integrate design with messaging. You tell them what you or your business is about and what you want to communicate, and they put it into words and design an identity to match. This approach is probably the most common to this type of branding, and if you’ve got a solid business strategy, a branding agency that does the messaging and the design is a great match.
This firm is who you hire if you have an explicit business model, own a reliable positioning in the market and are already profitable and looking to take your company to the next level. If you have a great foundation, a branding agency that has marketing and strategy savvy can enhance your brand’s existing positioning in the market.
A small agency that does both can cost anywhere from $15,000 to $50,000 and up.
This is quite a range, I know. It’s not an exact science, and if there were a definitive way to explain the difference in these numbers I would share it with you. Usually, the price is determined by the size of the agency, the experience of the principal, and the business savvy of the owners. The best thing to do is find an agency that you vibe with, and that seems to have enthusiasm for your company and its work.
Strategy Plus Messaging & Design
Finally, some (but not many) agencies do all three. This is who you hire when you have steady revenue—and therefore a budget—but not a lot of profit. They can help you strategize how to best position your business in the market to increase profit, and then build a brand message and design based on that positioning to catapult your business to market domination.
Few of these agencies exist because they need to understand business strategy, marketing and communications strategy, design strategy, and how to integrate it all together.
One of the reasons so many branding agencies don’t touch business strategy is that strategists are often the bearers of bad news, and typical creative agencies don’t want to take on that responsibility. Simply put, if your business is not profitable (meaning everyone is getting paid, but the owners are not taking home an additional profit share every quarter on top of their salary), a new brand may not be enough. You may also need a more robust sales and business strategy, as a foundation for the new messaging and design. In other words strategy, the shiny new brand may help you look nicer, but you’re not going to achieve the goal of having a highly profitable business without a good strategy.
Pricing for agencies that include business strategy range from $10,000 to $50,000, but could be even more. Some of the largest agencies start at $30,000 just for the strategy, and when you throw in research, messaging, and visual design, the projects can add up to hundreds of thousands of dollars. Smaller agencies that offer all three services (like we do) is not usual, but they do exist. If you are seeking more profitability, I highly recommend you work with an agency that does positioning, messaging, and identity. Even if you only engage them for messaging and identity, you’ll benefit from their strategic acumen.
The real price of branding though is not doing anything consistently.