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How to spend a small (and medium-sized) branding budget


Brand budgets aren't often as large as lotto wins

The spate of talk about startups is just part of the great entrepreneur movement happening in Australia right now. So we’ve been fielding lots of discussions on when a new business should invest in a brand identity, especially on a small budget. Or how much they should they spend. Plus, what are the essential components, and how can they build on this later.

We’re going to set the record straight and say that just like incredible human beings, unforgettable brands start from the inside. Sensational products that meet a real need. Customer promises fulfilled (or exceeded) every time. Benefits described in powerful, relatable terms. Only with those essentials clear will we take any client’s branding budget and do something with it. 

Starting out sensible

Having worked with numerous startups over the past 15 years, we’ve also become choosy about who we work with. We like businesses started by experience-rich professionals who have a solid bank of contacts, a modest pot of funds and a great skillset in what they do.

(Yes, there are other types of founders. Like the bright-eyed graduate with a credit card and a big idea. Or the charismatic team of hustlers backed by millions in venture capital. But for us, that first category has always proven to be sustainable and relatable).

With the product and business plan still in the pilot phase, the entrepreneur is going be pulled in dozens of different directions. You’ll have to refine your product, operations, production, distribution, finances, cashflow and team, all while marketing like crazy to your target market. You’ll also want to remain healthy, sane and available to loved ones if this venture is going to last. Plus, a million other things. 

Getting a basic brand in place

With your market growing and brand strategy refined, here are the three essentials steps in allocating the branding budget for your business.

  1. Start with a simple, memorable voice, logo and supporting graphics that convey your benefits – our work for Pat and Stick’s Ice Cream Co looks very rich and detailed now, but we helped them start back in 2004 with just that simple logo and chocolatey stripes, and an equally on-brand customer promise. Over the years, we’ve been able to build on that initial brand voice and style with dozens of supporting materials. That’s because we always had a clear path in mind of what we’d later do.
  2. While you’re at it, request a brand on a page – you’ll need to refer back to your logos, fonts and colours regularly, so make sure to receive this information in one tidy bundle. But don’t waste money on a full style guide that specifies materials you may never actually produce.
  3. Learn to do a few things yourself – your early marketing efforts will involve tons of photography, video, writing and design. And if you’re bootstrapping the venture, you won’t initially have much budget here. Even if you use junior or overseas freelancers, you’ll still need to be crystal-clear on what you want them to do.

Long story short, do some of the work yourself and you’ll form a closer relationship with your potential customers and suppliers. When you get big enough to outsource everything, you’ll get even more amazing results, because you’ll know exactly what’s involved.

The big question: setting your branding budget

Okay, so let’s start by remembering that national and multinational brands are spending six and seven-figure sums on creative work.

But let’s say your budget is maybe one-squillionth of what the majors are spending. If you want to keep the spend small (as in $1,000 – $5,000 small) then you should read up about branding essentials, look up some design websites to see what you like, and put together a simple brief with a strict budget. And do aim for simplicity. Unless you’re in skilled, experienced (and thereby pricier) hands, you’ll run the risk of a bland, predictable or outright copied result.

With a budget of $5,000 – $10,000 you’ll be able to work with a more experienced senior freelancer, and from $10,000 – $20,000, a good small creative agency with a strong track record and a proven system for ensuring the creative work meets the client’s brief.

With a budget above this, you can expect your agency to deliver solid work on researching customer sentiment, refining the strategy, exploring options and more, delivering dozens of components over timelines of a year and more.

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