Here on the Brandsworth Blog we talk a lot about why brand identity is so important for startups, and the benefits of things like meaningful mission statements and effective logo design. What we haven't talked about are the things that a startup can comfortably do without. These are the expensive indulgences that bigger corporations love to obsess over, and that many branding agencies unused to dealing with startups will often try to sell to you. The truth is you almost certainly don't need them. In this first article of a six-part series, we take a look at some of the services and add-ons that fail to deliver a compelling return on investment for startups and small businesses.
Word Clouds, Flow Charts & Venn Diagrams
When developing brand identity, every agency has a different process. Sometimes those processes are different for valid reasons, be they creative or professional. Sometimes the differences exist to offer something genuinely unique and valuable, or to tailor the process to the industries and categories in which the agency specialises.
Occasionally, these differences serve only to lengthen the brand development process, creating busywork for the agency and generating many pages, slides and presentations-worth of extra material for the client to pore over. There will be word clouds, flow charts, Venn diagrams and other meticulously prepared visual aids, each purporting to provide some vitally important yet conveniently vague insight into your brand essence, positioning or proposition.
At first glance they appear to add value, but when considered objectively they turn out to be little more that quasi-scientific fluff with few practical benefits, except perhaps in the agency's mind. They are the branding equivalent of those online personality tests that always seem so personal and accurate, but are actually assembled from a stock database of pithy truisms that are broadly applicable to everyone on the planet.
This indulgence in meaningless, navel-gazing detail is a throwback to a time when brand identity was a hot new concept, affordable only to the biggest corporations run by cigar-smoking suits, for whom all value was measured in terms of numbers, charts and reports (quantity is so much easier to measure than quality). But branding and its effects couldn't be readily or meaningfully reduced to hard numbers and statistics, so the agencies had to invent ways to communicate the concept of brand identity using the language of the boardroom. For CEOs, the word clouds, flow charts and Venn diagrams appeared to represent some kind of tangible added value that they could relate to, and helped the agencies secure lucrative accounts. It was probably easy for these pioneering agencies to convince themselves that it was all a valid and necessary part of the development process, rather than a largely irrelevant means to a very profitable end.
Fast forward to today, and while almost no-one needs a chart to convince them of the value of brand identity any more, the old ways die hard. Most agencies, particularly those used to dealing with big corporate clients, still use these empty gimmicks - not so much to convince clients of the value of brand identity, but to convince them of the value of the agency itself. This is what it comes down to; in terms of the brand development process, word clouds, flow charts and Venn diagrams exist almost exclusively for old-fashioned agencies to convince old-fashioned clients that the agency is worth the bloated fee that they're charging. Sadly, smaller agencies dealing with smaller clients often do the same, not only to justify their prices, but to ape the behaviour of their bigger counterparts in a shallow attempt to prove their credentials. Everyone involved is kidding themselves.
So, if you're starting a business and you're considering two branding agencies that seem to produce the same quality results but charge very different prices, ask yourself what you're really paying for? Is the more expensive agency really better, or are they simply offering a longer, more bloated development timeline, and unnecessary presentations stuffed with reheated branding truisms masquerading as insight?
Today, successful startups are agile and brand-savvy. They don't need pretentious visual aids, and they certainly don't need the added burden of paying an agency to waste time creating them. The startup economy is here. SMEs are the future. It's time for branding agencies to stop 'adding value', streamline their processes, and start offering genuine value for money.
If you need help developing your brand, positioning your business or defining your goals, I'd like to invite you to consider working with Brandsworth - contact us for a free consultation.