Last updated: January 15, 2020

I used to work for an agency where we charged a minimum $25K to ‘get started’ on a branding assignment. 

That might sound like a lot of money, but I know of many brand agencies in Toronto wouldn’t even blink at a $250-300K price tag (believe me, I saw the invoices!).

Don’t get me wrong – $25,000 is still a lot of money to me. And, certainly a lot of money to a small business. 

Today, I pick up branding assignments for a lot less, but with equally as much value to the business itself.  My point is this – branding doesn’t have to cost a lot of money – as long as you follow a few basic rules:

  1. Figure out ‘who you are and what you do’. You don’t necessarily need a consultant to figure that out (though I am available if you need help!). Be judicious, and be aware (ie. don’t bullshit yourself and convince yourself you have no competition). Call it an elevator pitch, a mission statement, your passion/ purpose, or your own shorthand for company introductions. Anyone of these is a really good start. Now, translate it for your best customers.
  2. Use your brand as a filter for every market facing activity you undertake. Like, for example, your marketing materials, your social media, your physical space, your daily customer interactions – in short, everything! Does this look like us?  Sound like us? Feel like us?
  3. Do we consistently present our brand to the market?  Could you ask your customers to close their eyes, and ‘guess’ at your primary/ secondary colours?  Your icons/ identifiers? Your fonts? (OK, that was the type nerd in me). What about your tone of voice?  Your core values? I know a lot of brand consultants that will charge you a pretty penny to do such an audit on your behalf, but save your $$$ and do it yourself. Be a consumer, and put it all up on a wall. It’s quite an exercise.  Don’t forget to ask your friends at Google. They’re pretty good at finding everything about your company online. And, if you’re hard to find, you might have another problem.
  4. Hire a professional to visually interpret and develop your brand identity (logo). It doesn’t have to cost you $25K…but it doesn’t hurt to invest a little in your own business success.  Graphic designers are much better than a layman at communication and visualization of ideas. They are skilled at design generation that can capture the essence of your brand with a bold idea or concept.  The Nike “swoosh” logo was designed by a graphic design student (Carolyn Davidson) in 1975 for a reported $35. It has never been changed and is recognized the world over (how’s that for a  model of consistency). 

P.S.  Nike later recognized its simple brilliance and value and gave Davidson shares, now worth close to $1 million.

  1. Remember, Rome wasn’t built in a day.  Your brand is the sum total of all consumer interactions with your products/ services/ company.  It’s too easy to look at admired brands like Apple, Coke or Southwest Airlines and forget that they have been marketing their brands for many, many years (so too has our local fav, Halifax Seed).  This is a marathon, not a sprint.
  2. [SPECIAL NOTE FOR FAMILY BUSINESSES] Just tell your unique story!  What makes family businesses much more interesting than, say, ‘regular businesses’ is the story – the origin of the business idea, the struggle of getting started, or the fortitude of the generations of family members that help legacies live on, and prosper.  The brand consulting space is awash with urgings of “be authentic”. Well, I’ve heard some great stories from family businesses. Believe me – it’s real! You can’t make this stuff up. So, share it, build it and grow.

Mike Hayes is the Chief Marketing Officer at Charcoal Marketing, a Family Business Atlantic member since 2017.  He advises SMEs on how to leverage branding, marketing, and the internet to grow their businesses.