Friends of mine recently saved their firm over $100,000 by taking the design of their new brand and website in-house. Previous branding exercises had cost well in excess of that amount. Perhaps because of that sunk cost, the company had waited too many years to repeat the exercise, so their visual brand had become sadly dated, compared to their competitors.
The new design is beautiful. It was made by a designer who currently has a more generic marketing role within the firm. It uses a recent font. It is contemporary but also classic. Future updates will be no more than tweaks because this branding mirrors and enhances the real DNA of the firm and its client relationships.
But though the budget to do this work is in place, the company’s cash flow has been terrible, so even the $40,000 to $50,000 they need to update every visual element – including stationery, promotional signage, the website and building signage in multiple locations – has been hard to liberate.
Yet the new visuals are an essential component of a strong new marketing strategy. Waiting until cashflow improves would create a serious loss of momentum and opportunity.
Three Branding Mentalities
So do you wait till the money is there and do everything all in one hit, or do you phase it in and spread the load?
The ‘process’ mentality is to create an interlocked branding system and implement it all at once – purge every old element from the system and launch a fresh new look. Get economies of scale by hiring one, or at most two firms to handle all the work.
The ‘entrepreneurial’ mentality is to prioritise the most critical elements and remove or de-brand the rest until there’s money in the budget. Follow the 80:20 rule and do the small number of things that will lead to the greatest impact. And manage the project yourself.
The ‘corporate’ mentality, by comparison, focuses more on prestige and on creating design solutions that can be easily defended against internal criticism. High profile designers, ‘talkable’ designs, serious launch publicity . . .
I recommended they take an entrepreneurial approach, prioritising visual elements that are linked directly to client communications and new business opportunities, keeping the rest in the pipeline but spreading them out to optimise the cash – because as every small and medium sized business knows: ‘cash flow is more important than your mother’.
In My View
In my view, visual identity is a key brand support, and it must reflect the brand essence, but it’s only the outer layer of a company’s brand. Especially if that company provides services rather than products.
You and your staff are the true embodiment of the brand. So the visuals you use need to signal what’s important and different about you.
And since your client relationships represent evidence of the brand in action, whatever visuals you use to represent yourselves must subtly influence both staff and client expectations.
The staff must know the full rationale. Ideally it will resonate deeply with them and make them feel individually and collectively proud. Clients operate more on impressions, so it’s important that there is congruence – that what they see is what they get – but not necessarily complete uniformity. Clients in different stages of a relationship need to both see and experience different things.
We have come a long way from the days where companies with problematic or sub-standard products and services could simply use shiny visual branding to cover up their ‘unsightly blemishes’.
Knowing who you really are as a company is everything – it’s where great branding is born. So don’t waste money on visual devices that deliver very little to the overall impression your firm leaves in the world.
And when it comes to spending on individual visual brand elements, if in doubt, don’t.