How much should you pay for branding services?

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By Jon Persson
Published 16 Oct 2019

“What is this going to cost?”

Without a doubt, this is one of the most common questions asked by business owners when discussing the ins and outs of branding and looking for professional help.

Similar to when clients ask me about why brand strategy is important, giving them a concise answer isn’t an easy task. Usually, what I want to say is: “It depends.”

It depends on a lot of things:

  • The size and nature of your business
  • The size of the vendor
  • The reputation of the vendor
  • The vendor’s level of domain expertise
  • Desired deliverables
  • Project timeline

But I realise “It depends” is not a very satisfactory answer.

In fact, it’s likely to create frustration more than anything else.

So my goal with this article is to explain the different variables that affect the cost of branding services, and to outline three different segments (budget, middle-of-the-road, and high-end) and their relative pros and cons.

When you get to the end, you should feel empowered to evaluate different freelancers and agencies, and make more well-informed investments into your company’s brand.

Now, before we get into it, I just want to address the elephant in the room: you’re currently on an agency blog, reading what a studio principal has to say about pricing. That means you’re getting access to industry knowledge that you’re unlikely to get anywhere else.

But it also means I’m coming into this with my own set of biases.

I’m going to attempt to set my biases and self-interest aside to give you as objective of a view as possible, but complete objectivity is—of course—impossible.

Why might you need a branding package?

Let me start by saying that not all businesses need to invest in branding.

If you’re operating in a market or industry without a lot of competition, or you’d prefer to rely on short-term sales activations and promotions to attract customers, your money would be better invested elsewhere. All you need in terms of branding is a simple logo for practical purposes.

But if you’re reading this article, chances are you’re in a different situation. You’re probably facing a lot of competition, and you feel you need to differentiate yourself from your competitors and connect with prospects both on a rational and emotional level.

When to invest in branding

  • You need help differentiating your business from your competitors
  • You need help connecting with consumers on a rational and emotional level
  • Your business is outgrowing your current brand elements
  • Your overall identity isn’t as cohesive and consistent as you’d like it to be
  • You’re shifting towards a new market or changing/evolving your value proposition and your current brand identity no longer makes strategic sense
  • You want to prevent commodification and justify charging premium prices

If any of the above is true of your business, you need more than just a basic logo. You need a brand identity (most likely you also need to develop a brand strategy).

Brand identity definition: Your brand identity consists of all the tangible elements that make up the look and feel of your brand. It’s a system that combines logo design, typography, colours, and even the sort of things you say (and how you say them). A strong brand leaves nothing to chance.1

Legendary graphic designer Paul Rand famously said, “Design is the silent ambassador of your brand.” This is true in so many ways. We know that people judge your business based on your logo2, your packaging3, the colours you use4, and the way your website looks5.

Personally, I also believe that well-designed brands impart a sense of professionalism and demonstrate a commitment to quality without having to say a single word.

How to think about your branding investment

I’m going to be completely honest, there’s an incredibly large range of pricing out there when you start looking at different agencies and freelancers.

When people ask me how much they should be paying for branding, or what “the going rate” is, it’s a hard question to answer because it depends on so many different factors.

Like I mentioned before, those factors include:

  • The size and nature of your business
  • The size of the vendor
  • The reputation of the vendor
  • The vendor’s level of domain expertise
  • Desired deliverables
  • Project timeline

It’s like buying a car:

You can buy a crappy old beater, a basic Kia or Toyota, a Mercedes, or even a Bentley. All of them will probably get you from point A to B (although the old beater might break down on you in the middle of the highway). But the Mercedes is faster, smoother, and safer than the Kia, and comes equipped with all sorts of bells and whistles that make your life easier. The Bentley, of course, is in a class entirely of its own.

Building on the car analogy, the price also depends on who you’re buying from. Some people will charge you more money for the exact same thing. If you’re not careful, you might end up paying Mercedes money for a Toyota product.

Also, keep in mind that deals that seem too good to be true usually are. You don’t want to buy a lemon: a faulty product that you have to spend twice as much money to fix up.

You also need to think carefully about what you need and how to anticipate the future. The last thing you want is to buy a two-door convertible when you’re expecting triplets and are preparing to move to Alaska. The more time that your freelancer or agency spends with you upfront developing your brand strategy and doing discovery, the more likely it is that you’ll end up with a solution that has real longevity. There’s no worse feeling than spending tens of thousands of dollars on a project, only to outgrow it a year later.

Different price tiers for branding services

Like I mentioned earlier, brand identity services come at every conceivable price point. For simplicity’s sake, I’m going to outline three basic tiers of pricing: what I consider to be budget level, middle of the road, and high-end.

1. Budget ($500 – $5,000)

In this bracket, you’re likely to find the following groups:

  • People from the Ukraine, India, and other developing countries
  • Moonlighting amateurs and weekend warriors
  • Junior designers fresh out of school

Deliverables

  • $500 – $1,500: Just a logo. Delivered in JPG, PNG and SVG formats. Two versions: Black-and-white, and full-colour. No alternate lockups included

  • $1,500 – $3,000: Just a logo. Delivered in JPG, PNG and SVG formats. Black-and-white, and full-colour. Alternate lockups for up to three applications (e.g. social media, favicon, and horizontal vs. vertical).

  • $3,000 – $5,000: Basic visual identity. Main logo + alternate lockups. Basic colour palette and font pairing. A basic style guide, probably without usage examples.

Process

Don’t expect much research to go into the design. At most, the freelancer (which is what you’re going to be dealing with at this price point) will ask you to provide some examples of logos that you like, or ask you some basic questions about colour preferences and so forth.

In this bracket, design isn’t treated as a business tool. The focus will be on your personal preferences and what you think looks good, as opposed to what serves your business better. If you mention “brand strategy” people’s eyes will glaze over.

Quality

At this price point, the quality of work delivered is very much hit or miss. To a great extent, you’re paying for a pair of hands, not actual design expertise. But if you are limited to this budget, you should look for junior designers fresh out of school (or still in school).

Why?

  1. If they went to a good design school (i.e. not some random community college or even state school; design is a specialist profession) they understand design theory, foundational principles, and have more refined taste
  2. They lack experience working with real clients and are therefore available at a major discount relative to their technical proficiency
  3. You’re more likely to find someone with “soul in the game”—someone who is committed to the craft (you can also find these people among the weekend warriors; not so much offshore workers in developing countries)

The Nike swoosh was designed by an art student for just a few hundred dollars.

2. Middle of the road ($10,000 – $50,000)

In this price bracket, you’ll find the following groups:

  • Highly skilled solo consultants
  • Very small branding studios
  • Mid-sized/large generalist agencies

As a general rule, you can expect to get more value for your money from solo consultants compared to small branding studios. Of course, both of them run circles around generalist agencies.

Deliverables

This is where it gets more dicy. The higher up in price that you go, the more customised to your needs the deliverables inevitably will be. As a general rule, however, this is what you might expect:

  • Brand strategy workshops during discovery
  • Possibly some basic level of competitive analysis
  • Full visual identity system
    • Main + alternate logos, delivered in all formats
    • Full colour palette
    • In-depth typographic treatment
    • Grid system for print and digital layouts
    • Photography treatment/curation guidelines
    • Detailed brand manual that includes dos and don’ts and examples
  • Brand messaging (tagline, headline copy, about section)
  • 1–2 brand applications (e.g. business card design, stationery design, one-page website)

Process

You’ll also start to notice more variability in terms of process at this price level. Consultants and small specialist studios tend to have better, more thorough processes in place compared to generalist agencies.

You should expect to spend more time in the discovery phase, defining your brand strategy. This is both for your own benefit (it gives you increased clarity and empowers you to develop your business further) and for the benefit of the project (to make sure the consultant or studio hits the mark).

Quality

At this price point, it’s harder to make generalised comments about quality. There’s a lot of variance. I’ve seen really mediocre work that people paid close to (sometimes more than) $50,000 for. I’ve seen (and personally done) fantastic work at the ~$15,000 mark.

Unfortunately, the onus is on you as a client to be able to identify talented, hard-working consultants and agencies. This is easier said than done, especially if you don’t spend a lot of time thinking about or looking at visual identity or brand messaging work.

When it comes to the strategy aspect of branding, be mindful that a lot of people who claim to offer “brand strategy” actually don’t provide any strategic insight or guidance during the process; they serve a purely facilitative role. That’s fine, if that is what you’re looking for. But in my opinion, you get a lot more value from someone who can also sharpen your thinking, challenge you on potentially faulty assumptions, and probe deeper into contradictions or inconsistencies, rather than gloss over them.

Creative types are notoriously bad at business. Business/marketing types are notoriously clueless when it comes to matters of creativity and aesthetics. Unicorns skilled in both areas are rare. In the future I’ll write an article about how to identify them.

3. High end ($50,000 and up)

In this price bracket, you’ll find the following:

  • Some boutique brand agencies
  • Global brand agencies
  • Global advertising agencies
  • Management consulting firms
  • Creative superstars

Deliverables

What you get from each of these at any given price point is going to vary significantly. Some design superstars might charge more than $50,000 just for a simple logo.

In 1986 Steve Jobs famously paid Paul Rand $100,0006 to design the logo for NeXT, a startup that Jobs founded after he was ousted from Apple. Adjusted for inflation, $100,000 in 1986 money is about $240,000 in today’s money. Of course, Rand was a design superstar if there ever was one.

I also know of some boutique agencies that charge around $50,000 just for brand strategy. (And I bet if you go to any of the management consulting firms, they’d charge 10x that to do strategy.)

What’s the most you could possibly pay for a rebranding project? Honestly, I’m not sure! I do know that the global brand consultancy Landor charged BP over $6 million dollars7 for a new brand identity back in the year 2000 (I assume they’ve upped their rates since then). That might seem like a lot of money, but when you consider that BP spent about $200 million8 to roll out the new brand identity across all their locations and brand touchpoints, it seems like a fairly modest sum in comparison.

Unless you’re billion-dollar company like BP though, you should expect a comprehensive rebrand to cost you somewhere in the six figures, or maybe low seven figures if you hire a really prestigious firm like Landor.

Process

From what I’ve seen and heard, the process that you might go through with a big firm like Landor isn’t all that different from the process you might go through with a boutique agency or even a good solo consultant. Of course, you spend a lot more time on each step of the process, and the strategy portion is very likely going to be a lot more in-depth.

But if you hire a specialist firm to focus on one specific aspect of your brand — for example a naming firm — their approach is likely going to be a lot more unique. NameLab, for example, have their own proprietary naming process called “Constructional Linguistics.”9

And going back to the example of the logo Paul Rand designed for Steve Jobs, the process looked a little something like this:

  • Paul Rand is paid
  • ???
  • Paul Rand comes back to Steve Jobs with a new brand name, logo, identity system, and 100-page book explaining all his decisions10

Eccentrics, huh?

Quality

The reason that some agencies can charge this much money for their services, is that they are used to solving very complex problems for large businesses, for whom any mistakes could be infinitely more costly than whatever check they write to the firm they hire.

Hiring an agency like Landor, Pentagram, or CGHNYC is a guarantee that things will basically run smoothly. You’re paying to minimise risk. Unless, of course, you hire a management consulting firm, in which case… good luck. (See for example Hertz suing Accenture.)

How to set your budget

So, given that you can find branding services for pretty much any price imaginable, how do you decide how much to spend?

This is just my personal opinion, so take it with a grain of salt. But I think the most reasonable approach to setting your budget for branding, is to consider how much your competitors are spending on marketing.

If you’re in a heavily marketing-driven industry (like consumer packaged goods or consumer services), you’re likely going to see a bigger return on investment from brand-building efforts.

So if you’re a CPG brand11, it makes sense to spend more time, energy, and money on building a great brand platform with a compelling logo, colour palette, and typography that will make your packaging pop on the retail shelves.

If you’re a B2B consultancy though, you probably don’t need as much in terms of visual design. Your brand strategy is still going to be very important — especially if you want to be able to charge a premium for your expertise — but the competition isn’t as tough in terms of visual differentiation.

Branding on a budget

What should you do if you can’t afford to spend more than a couple of thousand dollars?

My advice is to stay away from the budget options, create a super simple logo on your own, keep your money, and focus on growing your business until you can afford to make a proper investment in your branding.

The designers at this price point don’t care about your brand strategy, or how to align your logo with it. They won’t do any discovery with you—at most you’ll be asked to create your own creative brief in the form of a few adjectives (“I want the logo to be dynamic and cool, and it should have blue and red colours!”), and then you just have to hope that the freelancer has the same idea of “dynamic and cool” as you.

If I sound biased against this option, that’s because I am. Apart from many of these marketplaces employing unethical business practices (such as the 99designs’ “design competitions,” which has hundreds of designers in impoverished countries working without any compensation in hopes that they’ll “win” the competition), I’m biased against them because the quality you end up with is not even in parity with the amount of money that you pay.

I explain more in this video:

Concluding thoughts

For many of my clients, investing in branding — and particularly in developing a proper brand strategy — has been one of the most worthwhile endeavours that they’ve undertaken. From service firms being able to charge a premium for their expertise, to CPG brands seeing higher returns on ad spend and greater customer satisfaction, good branding can be seriously powerful.


  1. Persson, J. (August 2019). Brand vs. logo vs. identity: a definitive guide. (Read article

  2. Hynes, N. (2009). Colour and meaning in corporate logos: An empirical study. Journal of Brand Management, 16(8), 545–555. (Read study

  3. Underwood, R. (2003). The Communicative Power of Product Packaging: Creating Brand Identity via Lived and Mediated Experience. Journal of Marketing Theory and Practice, 11(1), 62-76. (Link

  4. Labrecque, L. I., & Milne, G. R. (2011). Exciting red and competent blue: the importance of color in marketing. Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science, 40(5), 711–727. (Link

  5. Fogg, B.J. (May 2002). “Stanford Guidelines for Web Credibility.” A Research Summary from the Stanford Persuasive Technology Lab. Stanford University. (Link to guidelines

  6. Paul Rand and the story of the most expensive logo ever. (January 2019). Grafiktrafik. (Link to post

  7. Davies, C., & Paterson, M. (July 2000). BP attacked over £136m logo as petrol prices soar. (Read article

  8. Ibid. 

  9. Constructional Linguistics Approach. NameLab. (View

  10. Heller, S. (October 2011). Paul Rand + Steve Jobs. PrintMag. (Read article

  11. Deloitte. (March 2018). Marketing Budgets Vary by Industry. (See the numbers

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