How Much Does Branding a Startup Cost?
Branding a new business depends on a number of key factors, starting with the definition of branding
Branding is one of those words like “media,” it can mean many different things to different people. For the purpose of this article, the cost to brand a company, we’ll focus on three distinct phases.
Phase 1: Company Naming & Visual Identity (Visual)
Phase 2: Company Messaging & Positioning (Verbal)
Phase 3: Brand Implementation & Design (Actionable)
There is more to branding your startup than a nice logo and pretty colors. Everything you choose, from typography to photographic style, is a reflection of who you are as a company and the way you do business. Whether you’re building a small, tight-knit community or looking to attract serious investment and grow quickly, your branding could be the difference between success and failure.
And while the whole process can feel a little intimidating, especially if you’ve never worked with a creative agency or freelancer before, it is absolutely crucial to get it right if you want to stand a chance of competing in today’s crowded market.
If you’ve got this far, you’re probably here to find out how much startup branding costs. Chances are, you already know the importance of strong branding and what it can do for your business, but if you would like to refresh your knowledge here a couple of articles we’ve written on branding and its importance:
Brand VS Branding: What’s the difference?
Recognizing the true ROI of business branding
Brand plays an important role in the growth and success of any business, and it goes far beyond the visuals. From your visual identity to the tone of voice you use, consistency is paramount when it comes to building a strong, recognizable brand. A strong brand identity is recognizable, even when the logo is nowhere to be seen.
And, a consistent tone of voice is just as powerful and important as your visual identity.
Strong brand identity and a compelling story can give any business a tremendous advantage. It can successfully communicate your values and vision with your customers, employees, and investors – most successful businesses consider branding an investment, not an expense.
That said, it is critical you budget both time and financials for such an investment correctly. Spending too much of either at early stages can quickly drain your business of valuable resources needed for growth. Too little too late, and it’s easy to get lost in a sea of unrecognizable startups that can’t grow or attract investment.
Spend wisely. Recognise your strengths and understand where you need help.
One of the biggest challenges startups face is the difficulty of comparing branding costs like for like. Across the globe, there are freelance designers who are willing to create a logo for $50 and design agencies that want to charge you $30k just to begin the process. The variation in offers can leave you wondering what it is you actually need and how much you should be spending in your current stage of business.
This article is here to help you gain a better understanding of what’s involved in the branding process so that you can make an informed decision when investing in branding for your startup.
We take a deep dive into what’s included in branding packages, what the associated costs look like, and how to go about finding, and partnering with, the right agency.
What is involved in startup branding?
What’s included in a startup branding package?
How to choose a design agency
Branding costs for bootstrapped and pre-funding startups
Branding costs for funded startups
Why your industry will have an impact on what you spend
What is involved in startup branding?
There are three key elements to consider when thinking about your startup branding:
While some agencies will only look at one or two of these elements, it’s vital to go through all three stages as a startup in one way or another – whether in-house or supported externally.
Your brand is more than just your logo. “Brand is our shorthand for the feelings that an experience creates, the promises that a product or service brings with it.” – Seth Godin.
Your brand strategy is the who, what, where, when, why, and how. It is the formalization of ideas and the plan of action for your business that outlines specific goals, your broad mission, and your encompassing story. Critically – your brand strategy should dig deep into the core of our business and define your differentiation. Market research and competitor analysis are key parts of this process.
A successful brand strategy defines exactly what your business stands for, its values, its mission, and its personality. The purpose of your brand strategy is to outline the experience someone can expect when interacting with your business. When this is done well, people will know exactly what your business does and stands for, without needing to be told.
Not being clear on how you differentiate from your competitors or defining the value you add, can be the difference between winning or losing new business and investment.
Whether or not you work through this process with seasoned professionals, or go it alone, will depend on your in-house understanding and capabilities – BUT you should go through this process.
Nearly all branding agencies will offer brand strategy services. For many, strategy work will be a prerequisite for design work but there are also agencies and freelancers who will assist with your brand strategy without needing you to commit to design work straight away.
Typically, your brand strategy is developed using a number of workshops with the agency/freelancer you choose to work with. More to come on pricing below.
Brand messaging refers to every piece of communication which makes a buyer relate to your brand by influencing them, motivating them, and propelling them to take in interest and eventually buy. It’s the message that tells why your brand matters, what is its value proposition, and how it is different from competitors. Think of messaging as your public voice – website copy, tag lines, and the tone of voice you use across all forms of communication, including social media channels.
There are a lot of agencies out there that integrate messaging and design: this means you tell them what your business is all about (your brand strategy) and they help to communicate that through clear and effective copy and tag lines and produce an identity to match.
Your brand strategy and messaging should be used as a base for creating your visual identity. But if you are an early-stage startup, and you’re testing the market, basic messaging and a simple identity will often be enough to get you started.
When you’re looking for help with crafting effective messaging, you’re looking for an agency or individual with good creative copywriting skills.
If you already have a clear idea of what you want to say, your tone of voice, and the language that will resonate with your community then it’s going to be a more affordable process.
We would recommend finding an agency or copywriter who has examples of work that fit your style and asking them for help with refining your message rather than creating it from scratch.
If you’re not a writer and your knowledge of the effective language is limited, it’s a good idea to find someone who can understand your brand strategy and produce key messaging that effectively communicates who you are as a brand.
We suggest asking for recommendations from others who have used a copywriting service before, using LinkedIn to find individuals whose style you like, or using Google to find an agency/individual local to you with examples of similar work.
This is everything that aesthetically represents your brand: your logo, website design, marketing collateral, typography, social media graphics, photographic style, the list goes on.
It’s your brand identity that will be instantly recognizable for your customers.
Your identity can be used creatively to enhance your story and what’s fundamental here is style and consistency.
There is a lot to take into account when it comes to your visual brand identity. Yes, you need a logo and a color palette but more importantly, you need to think about how each element will tie into every step of the customer journey.
From your business cards to your social media accounts, everything should be seamlessly branded to avoid confusion for your customers and potential investors. For a bootstrapped startup (not ready to jump into a full brand strategy), a simple logo, microsite, and basic marketing collateral could be enough to get your business off the ground and operating with a professional presence. This basic setup also gives you the flexibility to rebrand further down the line, should your business plan pivot, without feeling like you wasted a large chunk of capital.
It’s common to work with freelance designers at this stage but there is also an increasing number of agencies offering startup packages that typically very affordable.
If you’ve got a bigger budget – you know your audience and have a solid business plan – and you need to start advertising in order to grow, then identity application to a wider array of marketing material needs to be taken into account. This generally requires finding an agency or individual that has experience with larger, more in-depth branding projects, not just a freelance logo designer.
Any design agency worth their salt should wrap up your project with a set of brand guidelines. Your guidelines will be your go-to guide when you’re looking to create things like social graphics or advertising posters. Your brand guidelines help you to maintain consistency when designing in-house or if you work with another agency in the future.
The amount of design work needed should be agreed upon upfront so there are no hidden costs further down the line.
Always make sure the deliverables and costs for your project are clearly understood by both parties and agreed in writing before work begins.
What’s included in a startup branding package?
A startup branding package could include everything from…
- Naming your company or product
- Brand strategy
- Messaging and tone of voice
- Visual identity (logo, typography, colors, photographic style)
- Additional design for marketing collateral (business cards, signage, brochures, social media, pitch decks)
- Website design
However, when an agency offers “branding” it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to get all of the above included.
Visual branding designers will typically only look at your logo, your identity, and often your website design; they will expect you to have your core strategy and messaging already in place.
The branding services you require all depend on what kind of business you run, what your goals are, and what stage you’re at in your business evolution.
One thing we would always suggest is working with one agency or freelancer to manage the project even if that means bringing other experts in from elsewhere. It’s important that are there are not too many opinions and ideas being thrown around without a clear direction in place and someone to bring all of those ideas together.
Branding startup packages can range from $2k – $70k.
It comes down to understanding what your budget is, where you need help, and then knowing how to find the agency that is best placed to help you achieve your goals.
This brings us on to the next section of this article…
How to choose a branding agency
To choose an agency or freelance partner, it’s best to evaluate where you are in the evolution of your business first and work out what you need most. What are your current challenges? What skills do you need to help you overcome them?
If you have your brand strategy and messaging already in place, and you’re ready to create a strong identity to match, then finding an agency that only does visual branding makes sense.
Design agencies in the lower cost range tend to have a specific style, so find one that has existing work that you like. Serious design agencies at the top of their game, while more expensive, are able to adapt their skills to any concept and build powerful identities that win awards simply for their boldness and creative flair. This is typical because they have a bigger team and therefore a broader range of design styles.
Another option is to bring in a freelancer who understands your business and can work with you to create a brand identity that is strong enough to get you to the next stage of growth.
There are, of course, agencies in between the two as well. When it comes to design, it’s all about working out what you need first before heading to meetings with agencies that are way out of your budget.
A good design agency will be able to adapt its skills to your concept and audience. Therefore, finding an agency that has only worked with brands in your industry is not vital.
However, if you’re looking for help with your brand strategy and/or messaging then finding an agency that has a deeper understanding of what you’re trying to do and the industry you’re doing it in can be of help.
Action: Make a list of what you need help with then start researching. If there is a particular brand style that you like perhaps reach out to other businesses to ask who they used (others are more likely to help you here if they’re in a different industry).
FULL BRAND AGENCIES
Finding an agency that understands you is key. Is your market very specific? Does your audience have a very unique view of what you do? Is what you do controversial? In other words, do you need someone that understands the unique position that you’re in?
In this situation, where an agency is required to dig deep into the core of why your business exists, we suggest finding an agency that you really connect with. It’s as much about the people as it is the skill. Their passion for your business should be almost as strong as yours.
However, this doesn’t necessarily mean finding an agency that has worked with brands that are only in your industry, in fact, that can actually be quite limiting.
Finding an agency that understands business is a big factor here. While your branding needs to look amazing it won’t achieve anything if there is no strategy behind it. Your visual identity should stem from a brand strategy that’s been designed with your growth plans in mind.
Find an agency that gets where you’re going, not just where you are now. Find an agency that looks at the bigger picture and acts as a trusted partner rather than simply a supplier.
Action: Asking for recommendations from friends, colleagues or ideally someone that has done this before is always a good place to start. Another is simply Googling agencies and looking at previous work or the content they are writing, if their way of communicating fits your style and ethos, arrange a call.
Tip: LinkedIn is also a great way to meet potential partners. We get a lot of inquiries about our services due to the content we put out on LinkedIn both as individuals and as a business. Keep an eye on what agencies and their people are posting to get an idea of the way they work and what they’re about.
So, what do the actual costs for startup branding look like?
BOOTSTRAPPED & PRE-FUNDING STARTUPS
As an early-stage startup, you’re looking to prove the concept of your business and the market fit in order to attract investment or fuel growth. You may only need basic brand messaging, a logo, and a website to get you to the next stage.
If you are looking to gain investment, one of the most important parts of startup branding is your pitch deck. A beautiful and effective pitch deck will help you stand out and attract the attention of potential investors.
Brand strategy and positioning
It’s likely at this stage that you will need to think about your story and positioning yourself before approaching an agency for help with messaging and design. Think about why you’re doing what you’re doing, who you’re doing it for, and what the problem is you’re solving. Always put your customer first when you’re working on this stage.
Approximate cost: Your time
If you are a copywriter and you understand the importance of the written word then you’ll save yourself money here, but if not we highly recommend letting the professionals work their magic.
Depending on the industry you’re in, the way you communicate who you are will differ so it’s good to have a look at what your competitors are doing and work out how you can take a different approach while still getting the fundamental message across effectively.
Approximate cost: Your time – $2k
Logo design and brand identity
Your brand identity is the visual representation of your brand. It’s what your customers will remember. Getting your brand identity wrong can confuse and alienate your customers so it makes sense to invest and get it right.
While there are freelancers out there on sites like Fiverr and 99designs that will give you a logo for $50 we highly recommend resisting the temptation of a very cheap option. If you can find enough of a budget, it’s worth finding a professional designer or design agency that can take a more strategic approach and provide you with simple usage options as well.
Approximate cost: $1k+
Website design and development
Having built websites for many early-stage businesses we recommend that young companies don’t worry about building a website from scratch. In fact, for many full-sized businesses, this isn’t even necessary these days. We typically work with WordPress and Squarespace. These platforms can get you up and running, looking professional, and, most importantly, trading at an affordable price. Another option is Shopify if you’re in the e-commerce space.
There are different levels of customization available with all platforms but if you’re just getting started you shouldn’t need anything too complicated and Squarespace is an affordable place to start.
Approximate cost: $2.5k – $10k+
EARLY-STAGE, FUNDED STARTUPS
You’ve got a budget but that doesn’t necessarily mean you can go all out. Finding an agency that is a good fit for your business, that understands what you’re trying to do and that can guide you through spending the budget you have effectively is really important.
A good agency shouldn’t just spend your entire budget because they can, the key is to find an agency you trust to help you spend wisely.
Brand strategy and positioning
Your brand strategy will guide all of the business decisions you make and will be the foundation for your messaging and visual branding. It’s a crucial part of the branding process that needs to be taken into serious consideration if you’re setting up for serious growth.
There are different ways of going about this. Some startups may hire a consultant to come on board to guide them through this process and to help them work with a design agency to produce messaging and visual identity. Other’s may take on one agency that can help them achieve everything from strategy to brand identity.
We have worked in a number of ways with startups and it really depends on your business and the people you have in your team already.
Approximate cost: $5k+
Messaging, at this stage, is extremely important. Attention spans are short and you don’t have time to explain who you are and what you do in detail to each and every customer. Your message needs to be clear, concise and, most importantly, it needs to drive action.
The way you communicate your message – the language you use and your tone of voice – will determine the way you communicate across all platforms. It will provide guidelines for anyone writing any copy for the business as well as those managing your social media channels and customer service channels.
Approximate cost: $2.5k+
Logo design and brand identity
Your visual identity at this stage should be designed to last. Costs will be affected by the detail needed, application complexity, feedback rounds, and number of iterations needed.
If you’re spending near the lower end you should expect a logo, color palette, typography, and design application to basic marketing collateral. If you’re going to be extending your branding to multiple platforms, big advertising campaigns or you have multiple brands under an umbrella brand then you can expect to pay a lot more.
Approximate cost: $15k+
Website design and development
The cost of your website will be largely dependent on the complexity of your requirements. If you simply need a website that showcases your work and needs very little functionality then you’re looking at the lower end for development and more of a focus on the design. If you’re looking at a large e-commerce site then the level of functionality you need will determine the cost as well as design implementation.
Approximate cost: $10k+
Company name development workshops
You may already have a great name for your startup but if it’s already being used or it doesn’t feel right anymore now that your business has grown, you may need help with naming. Most branding agencies will be able to help you with naming your business and doing the research around a name to make sure it’s useable. You will then need to get in touch with a legal team to get your business name trademarked.
Approximate cost: $3k +
Other things to think about
WHY YOUR INDUSTRY WILL HAVE AN IMPACT ON WHAT YOU SPEND
All of the above forms a basic guide to help you understand what goes into branding a startup, but each business is different and there is no one-size-fits-all solution. The important thing to remember is that customers don’t have loyalty to products, they become loyal to brands.
Your brand will help you to communicate who you are and build an engaged community of people that share your values.
Your industry will determine what you spend to a certain extent as it affects how much detail you need. There will be some industries where the visual element of your branding will be highly important, such as the fashion industry, compared with perhaps the property industry where your values and messaging will be more important in the eyes of your consumer.
IS THERE ANYTHING ELSE I NEED TO KNOW?
Yes, one of the most important things to think about is how you’re going to put your new branding in place. Your strategy, messaging and visual identity needs to be internalized by your team and understood by any external partners.
If you are a small team you may have all been at the workshops and understand the brand well. If you have a larger team, it’s a good idea to sit them all down and workshop through the new brand and visual identity. Make it clear how the new identity should be used, this will be clear in your brand guidelines but it’s important that each member of the team understands their role in implementing those guidelines.
It’s also important to think about how to get your brand out into the world. From a launch campaign to an ongoing social media marketing strategy, it’s always worth speaking with your agency about how to go about this as many full-service agencies will be able to help you with these crucial next steps.
Many agencies will act as brand guardians through these next stages and help you to implement and spread the word about your brand. Having an agency that has worked with you on your brand strategy helps you with your content strategy and social media marketing can be hugely beneficial as they already know your brand inside out.
THERE IS NO ONE SIZE FITS ALL SOLUTION
There is no one size fits all solution when it comes to startup branding, it’s about finding the setup that works best for you and complements the skills you have in-house.