What price would you pay for clarity, differentiation, connection?

I recently had a conversation with a prospective client on the cost of branding. She has a small, thriving cybersecurity business and was looking to hire a branding agency because she felt her business lacked a strong brand presence. Word of mouth had landed her in front of me, chatting about branding and marketing and her business. But when our discussion turned to pricing, she backed off.  “Oh my goodness,” she said. “I never would’ve thought branding could be so expensive. I just don’t see how it could cost that much.”

I thought of that adage, “if you think good branding is expensive, you should see what bad branding costs.”

But she’s an engineer and there’s likely a knowledge gap regarding what branding is and what it does for a company – and how much work goes into it. Just say something about our brand, get some new fonts and hire that art school intern to create a logo in InDesign. What’s the big deal?  

I think it’s helpful to define ‘branding’ so we’re in agreement about what it actually is and does for a company, and then we can get to pricing. Many people think branding is basically a new logo, a snappy tagline and an updated website. These are cosmetic changes and often get updated during rebranding. But branding is more.

  • Clarity. Branding is a declaration of what your brand says and does in the world. It summarizes the value you bring to customers and partners. It captures your company’s heritage and reason for being, and drives your business vision and strategy. Branding creates a North Star that focuses you and your team on what you’re all about.
  • Differentiation. Branding also gives you a competitive edge. It involves a thorough competitive analysis and landscape assessment that leads to finding your “white space” – e.g., your brand’s unique selling proposition. Branding helps to identify what differentiates you from the others, and what’s your true advantage over the competition.
  • Connection. Most importantly, branding is about synthesizing these facets to ensure your brand message connects with the people who matter: your employees, customers, owners and community. Your brand can say anything. What should it say? What will resonate and convince them to act?  

And I don’t have to tell you that your customers are highly intelligent and have incredibly short attention spans. And they are capricious. They tell you they want only facts – but quietly admit they’re bored by facts. They ask that you only address what’s in the RFP, nothing more; but later complain that most companies are uninspiring, that they want to do business with a brand that gives them confidence and assurance. Customers are people. Like you. And me. They want to be engaged. They want to feel something when they encounter your brand; they want to know they’ve unequivocally made the best decision.  

In a (lengthy) nutshell, that’s what branding is.

Now, if you’ve got your branding figured out: brilliant. You can stop reading and go straight to a brand design shop for that logo, website and collateral materials. More importantly, you’ve dodged an incredible amount of hard work, so consider yourself lucky and in the lead on the branding front.

But if you’re thinking you don’t quite have a strong brand presence – if you’re not quite sure what your brand should say to the world and to customers – then it’s likely you’ll need to invest in brand strategy.

Which brings us back to price. What‘s a fair price to pay someone who can clearly articulate what your company stands for, silence your competitors and connect with your stakeholders and customers in a way that shows you’re the best solution?  What price would you be willing to pay for that informed business strategy?

Or let’s ask it another way: What’s the true cost of running your business with no clarity or vision, using price as your only differentiator, and watching your employees hesitate to give out their business cards at a trade show?