Logos for Less: Do You Win or Lose When You Brand on the Cheap?

BlogHer Original Post

So you've started up your business and you're ready to brand yourself. Usually that process begins with a logo. Like most start-ups you likely have a limited budget to undertake the branding process. So what are your options? What are the trade-offs when you do it yourself or on the cheap?

First, let's get clear on what a brand is.  It is more than just a logo, but often the logo is the anchor of a brand.  Maria Niles gives a great overview of branding in Marketing 101: Branding. We are all familiar with brands that live and die on their logo.  Yet for most small and solo businesses the logo is very important but unlikely to get as well known as the Nike SWOOSH.  That said, the Nike SWOOSH has an interesting history and was a tremendous bargain at $35 and a great reminder to designers everywhere of the upside you forgo depending on how you structure your contracts.

That's why the recent Inc. Magazine article entitled "Logos for less: Great deal or schlock?" caught my eye.  In this article the magazine takes four popular logo contest sites to the test.  These sites are both widely loved and hated.  On the plus side these contest sites give someone access to hundreds of designer's ideas for an extremely cheap price.   Great for the bargain hunter who doesn't want a real relationship with a designer.  If you want to truly work through the design process and get clear on your message and branding, you're out of luck.  For the designer, it is the "opportunity" to take part in the equivalent of a Broadway cattle call and get paid a small stipend if someone chooses your work. 

Inc. Magazine compared Logosnap, 99 Designs, Logo Design Team, and Hatchwise in side by side tests and is an excellent round up of how each site works, the cost, and their satisfaction with the results. The selling point of all these sites is "why pay more?"  Well, as  kid I once learned from a generic grocery store brand of a particular product why one wants to pay more sometimes (think defective feminine products).  It's because you get what you pay for and while more expensive is not always better, you truly need to look at the big picture when you think about the ways you invest in your business.  You may get a quick and dirty logo but you may also be missing a the big upside of planning your design strategically.

Pamela Wilson of Big Brand System offers this in "Good Design: How Much is it Worth?":

Oftentimes these meetings help my new client to clarify their thinking about what they’re offering, and who they are offering it to. This is design thinking in action. Design thinking is a process that can shed new light on your business because of the way it approaches the problems to be solved.

Design thinking involves:

  • Defining your problem
  • Researching and gathering information
  • Generating a variety of solutions
  • Choosing and testing solutions

This process can clarify your business, and sometimes I think it’s the most valuable part of what I offer. It’s more than a pretty logo or a nice brochure. The process of examining your issues, researching them and thinking about them from all angles often uncovers unique solutions that go way beyond aesthetics.

When you go the contest route you bypass any and all strategic thinking as it relates to your brand and your logo.  Now if you're creating a quickie logo for an eBook or something, that may be all you need, but when it comes to the platform on which your business and livelihood sits, I am of the persuasion that it is worth working with someone one-on-one. There is a reason designers are called service providers and that is because they provide far more than "just" a piece of art. (And I say that without belittling the value of art in any way.)  A good designer is skilled in a way of thinking that will look at where you are now and where you want to go (as well as all the ways you may use the logo in addition to your website or blog) and ensure your logo will serve your needs for a long time to come.  Nike got lucky with the bargain of the century, but that is truly the exception not the rule.

Not to mention, in my opinion the contest and cattle call approach diminishes the value of our fellow colleagues.  While it is just my opinion, I believe in treating and valuing other service providers as I would like to be.  It's about walking my talk and knowing that my decisions have a ripple effect. 

So, what is your experience with branding?  Have you used these logo contests sites?  Were you happy with the results?  Did you hire a designer directly?  If so, what value-add did you experience?  Would love to hear your thoughts...


Paula Gregorowicz, owner of The Paula G. Company, offers life and career coaching for women to help you boost your confidence and break through your limitations so you can re-ignite freedom and a sense of adventure in your life. Learn more about The Life Alchemy™ Success Formula; and Get the free eCourse "5 Steps to Move from Fear to Freedom & Experience Greater Confidence" at her website.

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