Business branding, design is best left to the pros

As many of our readers know, starting a business can be difficult. In the early stages, entrepreneurs are often working with a limited budget, and hiring a firm to do branding and design work can seem like an inefficient use of resources. Perhaps unsurprisingly, experts in those fields disagree.

They contend there are bare essentials all businesses −big and small, business-to-consumer and business-to-business− need to promote their product or service’s competitive advantage− and that they require professional attention.

Both Justin Bryant, owner and lead brand development specialist at Think Brand Studio, and Barbara Shea, owner of 2Shea Creative, say logo design is one of those essentials.

A business’s logo −along with its website and a corporate identity piece, such as a brochure− are its “24/7 salespeople,” Shea says. “They represent you and may be the only way some people see who you are. When done poorly, they do more harm than not having anything at all.”

Alessandro Ciaffoncini, vice president and accounts director at Origo Branding Company, also maintains that website design is best left to professionals.

“There are a million ‘do-it-yourself’ books out there, but your customers will know an amateur site when they see it,” he says.

It’s been said that good design is good business, but Bryant asserts that it isn’t the only important factor in effectively marketing to prospects and customers.

“It feels to me as if 99.9 percent of people, including ‘brand experts,’ believe branding is your logo, colors, and typeface,” he says. “That’s simply not true. Design is a critical part of brand development, but brand development is much more than design.”

Good branding means understanding your customer’s goals, needs and behaviors, and implementing visual, messaging and cultural elements throughout all touchpoints of your communication to engage them toward a purchasing decision, Ciaffoncini says.

Further, brand development involves leveraging positive elements while responding to adversity that could damage a business’s brand, Bryant says, adding that a brand is like a plant that needs tending.

“You don’t just pot a plant and watch it,” he continues. “You have to water, fertilize, and prune it if you want it to flourish.”

Carrying out those kinds of duties is a considerable task, and it’s difficult for many entrepreneurs to express and communicate their business to others.

“A brand development professional can objectively look at the situation and use their past experience to help guide the brand,” Bryant says. “Plus, it’s cheaper to pay someone to begin developing a great brand up front, rather than to have to rework the brand again within a few years.”

So how much should someone expect to shell out for branding and design services? It’s nearly impossible to quote an exact figure, as companies across industries have different goals and audiences.

Bryant says business owners should expect to spend “at least a couple thousand dollars” and Shea says they could reasonably spend between $3,000 and $5,000.

That’s a hefty chunk of change, for sure, but when one considers the cost per year, Bryant says it immediately feels like a better value.

When choosing which design and branding experts to hire, business owners should keep several criteria in mind.

“Check the agency’s portfolio,” Ciaffoncini says. “Do they have experience relevant to your industry? Do they have work that inspires you and your business model? Can you envision your brand through work they have done in the past?”

Once a business owner is comfortable with a firm’s rates and capabilities, they should also feel comfortable with the way the firm does business, Shea says.

“We want our customers to feel that we are an extension of their business, their off-site creative department,” she continues.

Browse dozens of local design, branding and multimedia resources in our Local Resource Database.

Through it all, Bryant says it’s important for business owners to stay true to their vision. However, that doesn’t mean there aren’t lessons to be learned from other companies.

“If you’re just starting the process to create a brand for your company, or are in the process of rebranding an existing company, you should do some brand research,” Shea says. “Look at the brands of companies you like and think  about what you like about them. Look at your competition and think about what you like and don’t like about their brands. The more information you can give your designers about what you like and the feeling you want your identity materials to portray, the better.”

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