What is a brand discovery and why would my business need one?

So you have hired a new graphic designer, copy writer or another creative vendor. You might think the first thing you need to do is give that resource a project such as an PowerPoint presentation, brochure or a website project, right? Well, that may not be the best first step. Perhaps a look at your brand might be a better place to start for many new creative projects.

But why look at your brand first? Isn’t your brand simply a logo, color palette and a font? Perhaps it is for some. But smart marketers know that a brand is much more than that. Every creative decision, whether it’s design, copy, video or images, should undergo a thought process to build meaningful creative materials that bring your brand’s personality to the surface.  There should be reasoning behind these creative decisions that have to do with your target audience’s interests and behaviors. This is where a brand discovery comes into play.

What is a brand discovery?

A brand discovery is simply an exercise that strategists use to “discover” who your brand is. The brand discovery process is different for every business, every project and every creative strategist. Only one meeting might be needed for some, while for others, several meetings may be needed. The purpose of the brand discovery is to simply get to know your brand which helps creative strategists build your creative brand materials in a way that is best suited to reflect your brand’s personality to the audience you seek to attract.

One of the underlying purposes of a brand discovery is to understand your core audience. After all, it’s your customers who keep you in business, so learning about them is paramount. Creative strategists will want to know their gender, age, income, personality traits and behaviors. The information collected here will help creative strategists make brand more relatable to your audience, and relatability is one of the foundations of trust and confidence in your brand.

A good brand discovery will also include a competitive analysis. A competitive analysis will uncover not only direct competitors, but also similar businesses. Asking who “you” are may not be enough. It is just as critical to ask who “they” are. Once this is defined, an analysis on their strengths and weaknesses compared to your brand may shed some new light on what your creative marketing strategy should be.

The brand discovery will tell creative strategists where your brand has been, what creative challenges you have faced and where you would like your brand to go.

Why do I need one?

Think of it this way. Would you email a new doctor’s office and ask for a diagnosis before the doctor has seen you? You could try. But, chances are your new doctor will need you to schedule an office visit so they could ask you questions about your medical history and they will need to ask questions about your symptoms. They may even need to run some tests before they can properly diagnose your health issue.  This same principal applies to a brand discovery.

Not sold yet? Well, here’s another analogy: Starting creative projects without a discovery is much like shooting arrows blindfolded. Creative strategists would be completely blind, and they would never, ever hit the bullseye on the first shot, or even the second or the third. The success of your creative project can be very subjective if success has not been defined for a project. A good brand discovery takes subjectivity and unfounded creative preferences out of the equation and replaces it with informed choices.

Some brands may already have an extensive brand guidelines book, with the brand persona, core values, brand tone and manifesto already written by a previous branding agency. This is certainly great and may very well eliminate the need for a brand discovery. But, as in the previous analogy, when you need a new doctor, that doctor may have their own questions that will help them make their own informed decisions. This same principal applies to creative strategists.

Creative Chain utilizes a brand discovery whenever we are asked to create.  To set the project up for success, we will need a discovery to create the roadmap that defines what resonates with our client, their stakeholders, their brand, and their audience.

Schedule a call today to learn more.


Should you choose an agency or a freelancer? How about neither?

Running a business comes with many unique challenges. Business owners and managers need to develop a business strategy, generate sales, supervise team members, and the list goes on and on. So, when a business needs to refresh their brand, build a new website, or has some marketing need outside of what their current team can handle, owners and managers customarily ask themselves “Do I hire a freelancer or an agency?” There are scores of articles published online that help business owners choose between the two. In this article, we suggest that neither may be the best answer for your business. But, let's begin by comparing traditional freelancers and agencies.

The skinny on freelancers

Freelancers are often an attractive option for businesses who can’t hire full time staff but have creative or marketing needs. They are usually more affordable than agencies, and if you can find that "unicorn" freelancer who can handle a host of jobs that require different skill sets, businesses think they have hit the jackpot. Except they haven't. These "unicorn" freelancers who write ad copy, design logos, edit videos and code websites, or utilize other combinations of very different skill sets on a day to day basis, are called generalists. Generalists are torn in too many different directions to focus, stay informed of best practices and fine-tune a craft in any one area of expertise. The other danger with hiring a freelancer, whether they are a generalist or a specialist, is that business owners and managers often have to "kiss a lot of frogs to find a prince." In other words, they will often have to work with freelancer after freelancer who are unreliable, not as skilled as they marketed themselves and lack any sense of accountability before they find one who actually does work out.

The traditional agency

Traditional agencies are much more accountable, consistent, and reliable. However, as you likely have already guessed, they are also very expensive. After all, they must cover the cost of their well-appointed lobbies, scores of employee salaries, and fully stocked kitchens. They cover these costs by adding layers of padding into the price of their projects, as they should in order to keep the lights on. In addition, agencies have so many built-in processes it can slow down their production schedule, causing delays for their clients. Another problem is many of the smaller agencies also only specialize in one area and are limited by what their core team can do for you. “We don’t do that” is a common phrase with traditional agencies. This leaves their clients to interview and source other agencies for yet another particular area of expertise.

Why not seek an alternative approach?

Creative collectives, networked models, virtual creative agencies — however you label them — have become a popular business model over the past few years and have grown steadily during the pandemic that crippled most of the world in 2020. They built their business model on the premise of networking with experts and hiring them on a consultant basis to work on projects that require a wide range of specializations. Another feature of these businesses is there is no centralized brick and mortar office. Everything is done remotely. Many of these businesses don’t think of themselves as an agency simply because they don’t fit in the traditional mold. Which is how we think of ourselves at Creative Chain.

Creative Chain identifies as a non-agency that operates without walls and without the confines of in-house resources or expertise. We have already done the work of vetting out scores of talented individuals and we have worked side-by-side with these talents on a variety of projects before you have even reached out to us. Thus, we can quickly and expertly assemble a team that's right for your project while we guide the work with an emphasis on reliable results. Because each team member is specialized at Creative Chain, and teams are hand assembled for your specific need, team members therefore may not have established a rapport with each other or developed a cross-functional process. If this type of work dynamic is important to you, then a traditional agency might be a better fit for your project.

The main advantage of businesses like Creative Chain is they fill a very large gap between freelancers and agencies. Better stated, they normally can offer the affordability of working with a freelancer but offer the accountability of working with an agency. And, because businesses like Creative Chain only hire experienced specialists who focus on one area of expertise, you can be assured you are getting expert consultation throughout the duration of your project.

How much should you pay for a brand identity and what resource should you work with?

Hmmm….How does that idiom go again?

When I first moved into my home, Home Depot was my go-to resource for every appliance, fixture, hardware and tool for my home. We knew enough not to buy super cheap, so we invested one or two tiers up…mid-ranged cheap.

Living in New England, we knew we needed a snow blower. So I bought a model at Home Depot for around $200. It wasn’t super cheap, but it wasn’t expensive either. That snowblower lasted about two seasons. Then I bought another, this time investing $250. Surely this will last I thought. Sadly, I was wrong again. I bought one more snow blower, again at $250, hoping that it was just bad luck and third times a charm.

Boy, how wrong I was. I finally had enough. I needed a good snow blower that would last. So, I did my homework. I talked with some neighbors. And I shelled out $1000 at a shop that specializes in tractors and mowers and snowblowers. You know what? That was 10 years ago, and that same snow blower still works as well today as it did when I first purchased it.

I learned a valuable lesson with snow blowers, grills, faucets, vacuum cleaners, appliances and just about everything else I’ve purchased over the years. You really do get what you pay for.

The same idiom applies in business…you get what you pay for. Businesses have many options when it comes to investing in their brand identity.  You don’t want to end up with the option that breaks after two years.  This article will explore those options, and more.

Contests may be ideal for hot dog eating. But not for logos.

The concept behind Crowdsourcing websites like 99designs that offer logo contests is simple. You submit your request to a crowd of designers who compete with one another to design a logo for your business. And, you only need to pay for the logo that you like. As for the other designers who entered the contest, well they don’t get paid. The whole idea of this is absolutely obscene.

Imagine you walked into a restaurant, and ordered 20 items off the menu. But you told the waiter that you would only pay for the food that you liked. As for the other 19 food items, well, you won’t pay for those. No restaurant would ever consider this. So, why should professional designers? In fact, there is no credible professional service, from lawyers, doctors, accountants and more, that would ever consider this as a viable source of income. And neither do credible professional designers.

Let’s think this through for a moment and return to the same analogy in the intro paragraph. One plumber put it the best. He said I can purchase any premium brand faucet I wanted (Kohler, Moen, Delta, American Standard), as long as I didn’t buy it at Home Depot. According to him, and many other contractors that I spoke with, Home Depot would purchase inferior goods and sell them at moderate prices.

Since many of those who participate in these contests do not actually get paid for their work, they are not, by definition, professionals.  Instead, these contests are littered with amateurs, hobbyists and students who will all too often not invest very much time in your logo at best, and at worse offer plagiarized logos or a vector downloaded from a free online resource in place of custom-designed solutions. For this reason, I am not even considering logo contests as a viable option.

Viable Low-end Solutions

Since we’ve eliminated logo contests as a viable option, there are other freelance marketplaces, such as Fivver, Upwork, and others, that allow you to place any budget that you would like. If using one of those online marketplaces, I offer these words of advice “tread very carefully.”  If you set your budget between $5 – $500, chances are pretty good that you will get the same pool of designers who will not invest very much time in your brand and would likely offer plagiarized logos.

To avoid this, be sure to ask about the logo designers process. Your logo design will be in good hands if the designer’s process includes a discovery session, research, ideation, and options in the first draft.  Aim to spend at least $1000 – $2500 to attract an experienced designer on a freelance marketplace who would provide a thoughtfully executed logo design. If you are investing that much, be absolutely sure the designer follows a process that includes getting to know you and your brand before diving right into design. This is your logo for your business, so you want it to be right.

Mid-range options

Experienced freelancers and small start-up independent agencies make up the low-to-mid-range pricing options. They would follow a tried-and-true process. Their discovery phase may be a bit more extensive, and may include more than one session with you and your stakeholders or colleagues. The more experienced the designer and the more time they spend with your logo, the more you should expect to pay.  Your cost would likely be start at $2500 and could be upwards of $5000 for just a logo. You will not have to worry about receiving a plagiarized logo, or a logo that didn’t have thought instilled in the execution.  For this spend, you should also expect to receive final files that include vector EPS files, transparent PNG files, as well as different layouts such as square, horizontal or vertical. These are very important for sending your logo to other vendors.  If you need more than just a logo, such as a brand identity book that included a color palette, typography and other elements, the cost could range from $5000 – $50,000.

High-End Pricing

Branding and renowned design agencies round out the high-end logo pricing options. Expect to pay at least $50,000 for just a logo, and up to $250,000 for an extensive brand discovery process and a large branding book. For companies that also need a brand strategy and global brand identity package, the price would likely be in the neighborhood of $150,000 – $500,000+.

Where does Creative Chain fit?

Creative Chain falls in the mid-range. We price our projects based on the project scope. As a frame of reference a brand identity might start at $3000 for a logo and basic brand guidelines document depending on your needs for each deliverable. Our services in brand identity are wide and varied, and it all starts with your goals. As an example, we can also work with one of our fully-vetted brand strategist partner, for a more extensive brand immersion exercise and extensive brand guidelines. Our experience includes interviewing internal stakeholders and external customers, and converting those discussions into meaningful briefs. We will discuss your challenge and deploy the right strategy, minds and skill sets to your project.

Want to learn more.  Reach out today.