close-icon diverge-logo-tm up-arrow


Estimating a brand development budget through a phase-by-phase approach

As with most things, you get what you pay for. This statement is equally true with brand development. Underinvesting in branding can have long-term detrimental consequences. But, of course, you don’t need to over-invest either. Building a branding budget that is commensurate with the value of the brand is an effort worth the time and diligence to do so.

Using a simple gross revenue based formula will get you to an Initial Brand Investment rough estimate. But this is only a starting point. A more accurate approach is to build a brand development budget by estimating each phase of the project. This method will provide a more realistic approximation of the work to be done.


An excellent way to understand the investment costs of brand development is to divide it up into phases. The scope of each stage in the process will vary by what kind of branding project it is (Re-image/Tune-up/Rebuild/Reframe), and the specific details of the problem to be solved.


The most critical step of any branding project is the Discovery phase. The objective of this phase is to build a complete picture of the issues, challenges, and opportunities. This requires gathering insights from multiple perspectives – leadership and management, staff, partners, customers, the industry, and competitors. The goal of this work is to collect as much background information as possible.  The principal activities will likely include interviews, communication audits, marketing, and strategic plan analysis, among many other tasks. Market research is always recommended if there is time and budget available.

Solving the problem is only as good as your understanding of what the problem is. 

Budgeting Guidelines for Brand Discovery:
Corporate brand: $25K – $75K
Product brand: $15K – $25K+
Retail brand*: $100K – $200K

*Due to the unique conditions of a retail brand, Discovery generally includes a representative audit of the network and competitors.

Research Costs can vary depending on the type of research, respondent segments, markets and availability of information. Surveys can be relatively inexpensive. Qualitative research, using focus groups, can stretch the budget.



The second most important step in the Brand Development process is Brand Formation. There are two components of Brand Formation – Brand Platform and Brand Architecture.

Brand Platform development focuses on brand definition. It seeks to identify what the brand stands for and what makes it different.  The brand platform establishes the brand’s character and what the ownable perceptions can be. This is a highly collaborative phase that requires leadership and other essential stakeholder participation. Workshops and other interactivity between the company and the branding consultant are critical in defining who and what the brand is. The result of this phase is a defined vision, mission, values, culture, value proposition, brand character, and brand promise. These all become the foundation for the Brand Expression. A key variable in the costs for this phase is the number and extent of any facilitated workshops.

Brand Architecture development results in an organizational structure for all company offers in the form of framework and linkage. This won’t apply to every brand. Brand architecture issues are relevant to companies that have a suite of products, services or subsidiary companies. Establishing how they all relate to the master brand and each other is an integral part of Brand Formation. The size and complexity of the brand portfolio are what drives the strategy for Brand architecture and linkage. A simple subsidiary business structure or a complex multi-product portfolio are two very different problems that impact both scope and budget.

Brand Formation sets the long-term course of the brand. This foundation informs every aspect of the brand. 

The findings that come out of the Discovery phase determine the cost investment of the Brand Formation. Those findings help shape the scope for this and subsequent phases.

Budgeting Guidelines for Brand Formation:
Brand platform – re-image/tune-up:xxx $15K – $25K
Brand platform – rebuild/reframe: $30K – $100K+
Brand architecture: $35K – $100K



Brand Expression is more than just a logo. Verbal brand expression can include naming, taglines, and messaging. Visual brand expression encompasses the identity (logo) and the identity system (colors, typography, texture, formats, layouts etc.). The core components of brand expression extend across applications such as business cards; stationery; websites; promotional collateral, packaging, signage, and even retail facilities. A set of standards and guidelines  codify the principles of application, once the system has been developed.

Brand Expression defines what the brand looks like, sounds like, and feels like.

Budgeting Guidelines for Visual Branding:
Corporate re-image/tune-up: $25K – $50K
Corporate brand rebuild/reframe: $75K – $100K+
Product re-image/tune-up: $25K – $50K
Product rebuild/reframe: $ 50K – $75K+
Retail re-image/tune-up*: $100K – $250K+
Retail rebuild/reframe*: $200K – $500K


* The breadth of applications for a retail brand can include architecture, interior, industrial design and many other elements. The cost of rebranding an entire retail network can be so significant it is common to prototype one or more locations to ensure a cost-effective solution. The cost of prototyping will be an additional budget item for multi-unit retail expression development.

Additive budgets:
Naming and naming systems: $25K – $100K
Identity guidelines:  $20K – $ 75K
Brand standards:  $75K – $200K



Transforming the brand is the next phase of work that implements the critical elements of Brand Expression. This is both an internal and external initiative. The goal of internal transformation will be to ensure that all stakeholders understand what the brand stands for, believe in it, and know what they must do to deliver on it. The external transformation will address the physical changes to all of the applications that reflect the brand – everything from business cards, websites, packaging, retail facilities and more.

Transforming the brand begins from the inside so that it has meaning on the outside.

Professional services for this phase (soft costs) will generally include brand training to help transform brand culture. Services for the external transformation will typically include brand management assistance to guide the interpretation and adaptation of standards to the range of brand collateral.

Budgeting Guidelines for Transformation
Brand training: $25K – $100K
Brand management: $75K – $100K+

The principal variable in this phase is the size of the organization, which affect brand training and the number and complexity of applications.



The last step of the Brand Development process is the introduction of the brand into the marketplace. Depending on the brand, different launch strategies need to be considered. Retail brands are the most complex, subject to the size and reach of the retail network. Corporate brands might rely more heavily on PR. Consumer brands will look at different advertising strategies for building awareness and promotion. The professional services in this phase might fall to PR and advertising agencies. A branding firm may have capabilities to do the work, or they may assume a brand management role to ensure that brand standards are being interpreted appropriately.

Typically, the cost of the brand management work is retainer-based and can run from $10K to $25K/month depending on the type and complexity of the launch. Advertising and PR costs are generally folded into the annual marketing spend, although there may be an initial launch spike.

Launching a brand is a one-time opportunity to signal brand change.


Building a branding budget can be a daunting task. It is not something you will do every year. Companies typically budget other marketing costs, like advertising and PR, annually, but a branding budget is often an additional expense outside typical budgets. Brand development is an investment cost that may only be necessary once in a 10 year period. Brand development work is not as predictable as other marketing costs, adding to the difficulty of budget forecasting.

The above budgeting guidelines are rough indicators on what you might expect to pay for brand development by phase. To be sure, these are indicators only, and any number of variables will ultimately come into play, not the least of which, is your available budget. Engaging in an initiative that includes just Discovery, Brand Formation and Expression can run in the neighborhood of $50K to as much as $300K.

Small: $50K – $100K
Medium: $150K – $250K+
Large:  $300K+


Most branding projects are underestimated in both what they cost and in the internal resources required to participate in the process. The best advice is to plan ahead as much as possible so you can incorporate a realistic budget into the business planning cycles. Begin with a comprehensive Discovery phase and define what you need to do. Then, determine the budget you will need to pull it off well.

Is your BrandLifeTM worth it?