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Slow Branding – for small businesses with limited budgets

Tuesday, September 6, 2011 - 08:48

While there are many reasons that small businesses work with the wrong design partners, the most common would appear to be cost. After all, doing it yourself, off shoring the work or hiring the cheapest designer around would seem to be motivated by price.

However, I have found that bargain hunting is often a symptom of a larger disease. They are in a rush, and in attempting to budget for everything at once they are willing to accept anything in terms of quality. I call it the “fast food” approach to branding.

If having business cards that look like they were ordered off the dollar menu doesn’t sound appealing then I would like to propose an alternate approach.

I call it “Slow Branding.” Much like the “Slow Food” movement, it places a premium on process and quality. More importantly it recognizes that time is as valuable a resource as money when you are trying to brand your business on a limited budget.

Embrace the pace

There is no sense in budgeting for everything at once because the design process moves in stages. There should always be an exploration to define a brand concept and aesthetic, which is followed by rounds of revisions. The equities that are established during this process then serve as the foundation on which other communications are built.

So you see, branding is no different than any other aspect of your business’s development. Even if a company aspires to leverage a staff of hundreds they don’t hire them all at once in a rush. Instead they build slowly and progressively to add the right people at the right time.

Accepting that branding takes time and moves in stages is a benefit because it means that invoices will come in stages as well. With costs being spread out over a larger area of time, businesses are empowered to invest more at each phase and work with better people. That in turn means the designs will be stronger.

You won’t fool anyone

You might resist the idea of “Slow Branding” because you believe that unveiling all your communications at once will create the appearance that your business is fully formed and mature. Sadly, with a limited budget I would say there are no shortcuts in that department.

A gorgeous, but modest brand presence won’t fool anyone, but neither will a full suite of embarrassingly cheap communications. That said, the former is more desirable because it at least shows your potential. The latter may only speak to your lack of vision and taste.

Pick a Partner

You might also point out that fast branding at least ensures that a consistent aesthetic is applied throughout all the components of your branding system. Indeed, continuity is a virtue that might seem a bit more illusive if your branding efforts stretch over a long period of time.

The trick is to be consistently good however and to do that you will want to choose a great studio to partner with throughout the process. Their long-term involvement will insure your communications not only speak with a singular voice, but also are well done.

Prioritize your needs.

For you and your design studio to establish a plan, you will want to rank your communications needs. This order of operations will allow you to chart out a realistic timeline that attempts to balance cost with deliverables.

While strategy and a brand identity are at the top of everyone’s agenda, what happens next should depend on your business’s unique requirements. For some the top priority will be their stationary and business cards. For others the branding of their vehicles will take precedent.

Keep in mind that you can even engage a specific element in stages. A typical example would be to develop a basic landing page on the web to hold you over until a full site can be introduced.

Slow is smart

As “Slow Food” puts an emphasis on better ingredients, thoughtful preparation and better tasting meals, “Slow Branding” makes the case for better designers, a deliberate process, and a vision your business will want to sustain.

Remember that starting off slowly, with a modest brand presence, will help you end up with the depth and breadth you ultimately want. It’s better to have one filet mignon than a dozen McNuggets. In the interim your communications may be fewer, but their impact will be supersized.

John Gavula
Contributed By John Gavula

John is the creative director of Gavula Design. He has provided design and illustrator services for many of New York and the region's biggest brand consultancies. Leveraging this experience, and his multidisciplinary background he now works closely with Gavula Design’s clients as a trusted branding partner and steward.