What Is It?
When you think of branding, you may immediately think of logos and taglines like the Nike Swoosh and the tagline "Just Do It."
But brands are much more than a logo and a tagline. The Dictionary in the American Marketing Association website defines a Brand as, “A name, term, design, symbol, or any other feature that identifies one seller's good or service as distinct from those of other sellers. The legal term for brand is trademark. A brand may identify one item, a family of items, or all items of that seller. If used for the firm as a whole, the preferred term is trade name.”
Why Do I Need It?
In short, your brand represents your entire image in the mind of the customer. Without a recognizable brand, you may have trouble standing out from your competition.
Many companies spend millions of advertising dollars over a number of years to establish a brand image that is instantly recognizable in the mind of the consumer. While large companies can and should afford such an investment, smaller companies have to be creative in developing a brand and building a positive brand image among their customers. No matter how small your organization, you should spend at least some time and money investing in the basics of a brand.
Can I Do It Myself?
Unless you’re a skilled graphic designer, this is one area where a little investment is called for. Brands that are created by business owners who are not trained graphic designers are easy to spot – and detract from the overall professional appearance of the organization. There are exceptions to every rule, but getting a logo, letterhead and business cards developed can be done inexpensively … and establishing a professional presence is important. It represents your first impression with your customer – and you want it to be positive!
Although a professional designer is recommended, it is possible to get logos and stationery developed very inexpensively. You can spend as much as $30,000 or as little as $1,500 depending on your goals and the resources you select. Recently graduated designers working on a freelance basis offer an opportunity to get trained graphic art capabilities at a very low price … but keep in mind these people have little experience and you may have to devote a great deal of your precious time to giving them direction and working through multiple iterations of logos and stationery designs, when a more experienced designer could deliver finished artwork that meets your objectives on the first or second try.
There are different types of logos. Some logos are stylized words that simply spell the name of your company. Examples of this include the Wal-Mart logo, Bank of America, and Amazon.com. Other logos have a design element combined with the words that can be used by itself to represent the same brand. Examples include the Apple computer apple logo, the Verizon “V”, and the Mercedes logo. When you see these logos, you don’t need to see the words to associate them with the company they represent.
When you create a logo, your logo should at a minimum accomplish three things:
- It must be unique and distinctive.
- It should convey what it is you do, especially if you’re a new company or you can’t afford to spend millions of dollars in advertising to establish your brand.
- It needs to convey the personality of your company. For instance, choose a colorful logo if your company is cutting-edge or creative.
Remember, your logo should be designed to last for 20 years or more … so spend some time choosing it. Think about your company in terms of your future identity and make sure your logo is broad enough to still represent you as your company grows and changes.
A tagline is a much more changeable item than a logo. The McDonald’s arches have been a consistent logo for nearly half a century, but they have used different taglines over the years as part of a specific advertising or marketing campaign. You make me smile, I’m lovin’ it, etc. The overall image doesn’t change, but a new tagline helps define the image and keep it current. A tagline is a tool that can unify multiple campaigns with one simple, consistent message that keeps your company’s brand image clear and reinforces work you’ve already done to communicate about your brand. A tagline should not change too often, or the public will feel like they don’t ever know what you do. Keep it consistent and make sure it clearly communicates your company’s value proposition. For instance, if you run a bookkeeping service, you might use a tagline like, “We track every penny.” This clearly reinforces what your company does, communicates your attention to detail, and also illustrates your value proposition – because a business hires you to track every penny so they don’t have to!
Other Important Branding Considerations
When you’re thinking about branding, you shouldn’t stop at just a logo and tagline. It’s important to create a consistent image in the customer’s mind, and that means thinking about having a clearly defined color scheme that coordinates with your logo, letterhead and business cards that reinforce key aspects of your image. Your website and corporate brochure should also incorporate consistent use of colors, logo, and key messages so every major way a customer hears about your company creates a consistent image. In addition to these obvious considerations, you might want to think about your reception desk, how your employees answer the phone, and any other place the customer might interact with you.
Each time you touch a customer presents an opportunity to define a customer experience that reinforces your brand – and if you ignore these opportunities you might find those experiences detract from your overall brand perception.
Many agencies specialize in branding, and such organizations offer highly proprietary processes for developing a brand. They typically begin with a focus on the organization’s value proposition, mission statement, and work through several steps and evaluation tactics to achieve a set of visual and verbal items that represent the key aspects of an organization. From there, they typically develop several logo and stationery concepts to choose from. Organizations like this view branding as a 2-3 month project involving in some cases a half day or full day workshop, plus follow-up meetings. They often do fabulous work and can be very valuable in helping an organization define itself and its focus. However, this expertise does not come without cost – often running between $30,000 and $100,000 in charges.
If you hire a design firm or advertising agency simply to design a logo and stationery, the process is simpler and typically a great deal less costly. It may require an initial direction meeting, following by presentation of multiple logo concepts. This type of work, if you hire and experienced firm, can cost between $5,000 and $10,000.
Freelance designers, both experienced and freshly graduated from design school, can offer the most cost-effective options. Additionally, there are resources on the Internet that offer logo development for a flat fee – and these resources can provide satisfactory assistance, particularly if you know what you’re looking for and simply need the design skills to bring it to life.
10 Tips in choosing a branding or design firm:
- Before you meet with anyone, spend some time on your own outlining the key mission of your organization, who your customers are, what your key value proposition is, etc. These pieces of information will be invaluable to share with your designer – and will ensure that you get an initial design that represents your culture and identity versus just providing an opportunity for a designer to create new items for their portfolio.
- Interview at least 3 different firms – by forcing yourself to survey the market, you will ensure you get the best firm for your needs, at the right cost. If you’re seeking freelance designers, there are several website resources such as www.guru.com, www.freelancedesigners.com, and www.elance.com that provide a forum to find and hire designers.
- Spend time outlining your objectives and ask formal proposals. Some designers price on a strictly hourly basis and some provide a flat fee rate. If you hire based on an hourly rate, ask for an estimate and work to get some type of guarantee on the maximum cost … so you can be assured that you’re not facing an open-ended cost. For a project like logo design and stationery, you can often negotiate a flat fee, but the designer will typically build in extra time for revisions to protect themselves in case they estimate low on the required number of hours.
- Be sure to specify that you want multiple logo and stationery concepts created – and the freedom to have a couple rounds of adjustments. You don’t want to get into a position where you agreed to a price for one concept and then get caught with additional up charges for changes that would be typical for this process.
- Be sure your pricing includes providing the final logo in all possible electronic formats -- .tif, .gif, .jpg, .png, etc. Different types of use require different formats – for example online communications usually use a lower resolution .jpg format, because the files are smaller – but a .jpg would not be suitable for printing.
- Be sure you clearly identify that the stationery and business card file will be delivered “print-ready” (if you want to handle the printing separately on your own) or that the firm is also planning on handling the printing for you. If they are, they will typically earn a percentage of the print costs, so shouldn’t charge you much to manage the printing.
- Be careful about color – a 4-color logo may be awesome looking, but will kill you in print costs, because it will require 4-color process to produce it. Typically, a 2 or 3 color logo is best (black counts as a color), and you should also request to have a black only version of your logo created for use in black and white publications. If you don’t do this, you’ll find yourself using your color version, and if printed in black only the colors will often look grey or faded.
- One way to judge a designer’s experience is how well they advise you on the topics raised in this list – so initiating a discussion along these lines in the interview process is a good way to assess whether you’re getting an experienced professional or not.
- Don’t be afraid to ask questions – just because they use terms you might not understand, don’t be intimidated. You’re the customer! Make sure they take time to help you understand how they approach the project and what they intend to deliver back to you … and on what timeframe. It’s not unfair to request a commitment to a reasonable timetable.
- Remember, you can always expand on the initial development later. You don’t have to do your logo, stationery, business cards, corporate brochure, and website all at the same time. For one thing, it can get costly. For another, you may want to test out your logo and your initial branding for a while. Sometimes you find that your key messages will get more refined in time – and you will be happier with your website and brochure if you wait until you have been in business a while before you spend the money to create those materials. It’s tempting to do the entire suite of corporate materials right at the beginning – and your design firm will likely encourage you to do so. A good rule of thumb is to do as little as possible to get yourself a professional image and business cards … and to expand your materials as your business expands.