In this miniseries on marketing consulting costs and fees, so far we’ve talked about some of the most common generic fees that you’ll encounter when buying marketing, and we’ve dug deeper into some of the most common projects that might make up your overall marketing strategy. Now let’s drill down even deeper into something that we work on a lot here at Element Three: brand development.
Understanding marketing and advertising agency pricing is a lot easier when we have an actual service or project to use as an example, rather than speaking in generalities. In our experience, there’s typically a lot of confusion in the sales process about brand, whether we’re upgrading an existing brand, starting from scratch, or helping manage a merger or acquisition—how much it all costs, exactly what the process will look like, and the cost factors that can make one brand project more expensive than another. So let’s dig in and see what we find.
What does a new brand cost?
Unfortunately, it’s difficult to give an entirely straight answer to this question. But in general, to refine or revamp an existing brand or to create a new one from scratch, it can cost anywhere from $100k to $500k, or possibly even more.
Now, obviously it doesn’t take a renowned mathematician or an expert COO to know that that’s an incredibly wide range. Why is that? Well, part of the reason is that branding and rebranding is an incredibly complex process with a lot of moving parts. While the process is, in most cases, as standardized as it can be, the variables that go into it each time make it hard to set a standard price. Instead, in most cases a marketing agency will scope the work and devise a customized quote that fits what the client needs.
In other words, in order to avoid over-promising and under-delivering, most marketing consultants are unlikely to publish prices for brand projects. And that goes for many of the other common marketing projects as well—on top of everything else, smart marketers won’t sell project-by-project, so prices of individual parts of the holistic strategy might cost more or less depending on the rest of the work that needs to be done.
A better plan for the marketing buyer, instead of searching for the elusive flat rate, is to understand what drives agency costs up and down for brand projects, so you can identify what might apply to your business and what won’t. These principles will hold true for a lot of the work a marketing consultant might do, so it’s helpful to know even if you don’t end up needing any brand development work.
What is the brand development process?
It’s going to be at least a little bit different for different marketers. We’ve honed our own process over the years, so as an example, let’s take a look at how brand development works at Element Three.
As you can see, it’s a long process—three months is about the minimum, and for a really big job it might take as long as a year. Each individual part of the process is a weighty task on its own. But the research stage on its own will reveal a fairly clear picture of what you’ll see throughout the process, in terms of the cost drivers that can alter the final pricetag on a new brand.
Like any strategic project—and yes, of course your brand is strategic—the process of building a new brand or adjusting an existing one is going to require research. A lot of research, in fact. Brand research is the foundation of the whole process, and it’s critically important.
That means that a lot of the costs going forward throughout the rest of the brand process are driven by this upfront work that the brand consultant does. Like the brand process as a whole, the brand research process is broken up into a few stages. Different agencies will use different terminology, but here’s what we’re looking at:
- Internal perspective: What do your leaders, employees, and stakeholders believe about your business?
- Customer perspective: What do the people you work with say about you?
- Communications audit: What are you telling the world today? How effective is your messaging?
- Competitive audit: What are your competitors doing? How does your message differentiate in comparison to theirs?
It’s probably obvious that working through these research steps is going to look very different for a small local business than it would for a behemoth like Amazon or Walmart. The complexity of the brand. The number of inputs—both qualitative and quantitative. The size of the employee pool. The number of interviews, both internally and externally, that need to be completed. The number of competitors you identify. The amount of internal review necessary. All of these play a role in the overall cost of the research process.
Add on the fact that the more inputs and data the consultant gathers through this process, the longer it will take to synthesize and interpret it all, and it’s clear that the most important cost driver at this stage in the brand process is the size of the business and the complexity of its brand. To put it simply, the more work that has to go into the brand process, the more it’s going to cost.
Other brand development cost drivers
The research phase is just the beginning of the brand development process. After you and your consultant have a precise view of the lay of the land, inside and outside your business, you’ll need to bring it all to life from a messaging and visual perspective, and then share it with the world. The real cost drivers after you synthesize all the inputs will be stakeholder approvals and rolling out the brand (which is typically another project in and of itself).
And, finally, there’s the urgency of the timeline. As I said earlier, typically a brand project takes between three and twelve months, depending on all the cost factors we’ve discussed. The more complex the process is, the longer it will take. But if a business finds itself in a situation where the project simply has to be done more quickly, that’s going to be a major cost driver.
Brand projects don’t take a long time because marketers are dawdling. As you’ve hopefully gathered by now, it’s an intensive process. It’s a ton of work. And, with the volume of interviews of internal and external sources that is required to do it right, it involves a lot of cooperation from people who aren’t getting paid to do this. Getting the work done faster than the typical timeline allows will require a lot from the consultant—overtime work, stretching resources to their limits, it might even require them to pause work for other clients or turn down opportunities to get it done. If you demand that of them, expect the cost to increase.
The true cost of a new brand
You know the simple answer to the question “how much does a brand cost?” now—it’s a wide range between as little as $20k and as much as $500k. But you also have more visibility into what that process looks like, and why one brand project might cost $25k and another might be closer to $300k. When you’re budgeting for brand, think about how complicated your brand development process is likely to be. Consider the complexity of your brand and the size of your business and plan accordingly.
Nobody enjoys a surprisingly hefty price tag. Don’t get caught off-guard—and don’t let your brand, the foundation of your marketing and your business, suffer.
Thomas fills a few roles at E3—writer, editor, and resident European soccer expert—but his chief responsibility is content creation. When he's not crafting thoughtful content for the Element Three blog, he's captaining our kickball team, watching the Mets, or talking up Indianapolis to anyone who will listen.
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