The ROI of Branding: Best Practices for a High-Impact Project

Is now the right time to invest in brand? And if you do, what kind of ROI can you expect to see from the effort? In an uncertain economy, these two questions seem to be on everyone’s minds—including ours at Designer Fund. In our AMA with Goodside co-founders Jessica Strelioff and Danielle LaRoy, we heard how they think about the ROI of branding and invited them to dive deeper. Here, they share best practices for evaluating the value of a brand engagement, along with insights from top investors, entrepreneurs, and design leaders.

Branding is an art and a science. As creative people, the art side—the moodboards and concepting, workshopping and wordsmithing—tends to get the lion’s share of our attention. What can we say? Nuts and bolts aren’t nearly as glamorous as world building.

But if you, like so many of us during this recession-ish era, find yourself discussing ROI and how to make your rebrand “worth it,” it’s time to talk science. Because some of the most important decisions you’ll make happen long before you push your first pixel or put your fingers to the keyboard. Justice for the planners out there.

Having branded and rebranded dozens of companies, we’ve developed a handful of best practices for timing, goal-setting, and process with ROI in mind. And it all starts with when.

The right time to rebrand: 5 key moments

Investing in your brand is a big decision, and timing is everything. In our experience, there are five milestones or challenges that tend to drive the vast majority of brand projects. Along with each, we’ll share thoughts on the benefits of investing in your brand at that moment and how to think about ROI.

1. “We’re about to start a round of fundraising”

When you’re thinking about the ROI of a brand engagement, this is probably the simplest 1:1 connection of investment and return—because fundraising is, in large part, a storytelling exercise. Having a clear through line from who you are to the problem you’re solving and the products you’re building can be the difference between a VC investing or passing. Good design and thoughtful copy inherently bring a level of confidence and polish to a pitch, and often to the founders by extension.

We spoke with Helen Min, Co-founder & Managing Partner at Phenomenal Ventures, who said it well:

Today, fundraising materials are often distributed prior to engaging with potential investors. Brand work can help founders demonstrate clarity of thought and boldness of vision to investors through content like a pitch deck or landing page. This serves as a powerful precursor to your pitch. While a brand alone can’t replace the fundamental value of your product, traction, or impact, it can accentuate these elements and leave a lasting impression. Helen Min, Co-Founder & Managing Partner at Phenomenal Ventures

Helen continued, explaining why a rebrand can be especially compelling for B2B brands, “For B2B companies, the caliber of your fundraising materials offers a preview of your sales pitch's quality. Presenting your best work is crucial for instilling confidence in your capacity to scale the business.”

2. “We just closed a round of fundraising"

Generally this phase is marked by increased hiring and a push to acquire new users, fast. A great brand can help with both. Top talent, especially in the younger generation, wants to work for companies that align with their values; brand is how you share those values in an authentic way. On the user acquisition side, a great brand works to “grease the funnel” of your pipeline, creating more awareness at the top, then helping them see your product’s value and convert faster.

Enrique Allen, Co-founder and General Partner at Designer Fund elaborated on this point, noting how the kind of investment a company makes in their brand can—and should—evolve as the company scales:

Often after funding, startups allocate more budget towards elevating their brand. At the early stages, the most common deliverables are new landing pages and sales materials to close more customers and to better communicate with potential new hires. At the later stages we see bigger brand investments—everything from logos, full redesigns, branded videos, to tradeshow booths and even billboard campaigns. The more a company has product-market-fit and an understanding of their unit economics, the more they can afford to spend on brand work to improve the outcomes of marketing campaigns and product launches. Enrique Allen, Co-Founder and General Partner at Designer Fund

3. “We don’t know how to tell our story consistently"

While a disconnect in your brand story can create a whole host of downstream effects, having a solid brand foundation can make virtually everything more efficient—from better prioritization of products and features to more internal alignment and better retention. On top of that, having a scalable brand system means you’re not repeating work every time a new need arises, so your team can move faster, together.

Ali Aas, Designer at Ambrook said about their in-house brand evolution:

As cliche as it sounds, we found that activities like creating a brand star and identifying our brand's personality traits helped us state the obvious: things that were already innately true to our company, but that we just hadn't codified yet. It helped make sure that whatever we create—whether it’s a product screen, slide deck, or even a letterhead—reflects those brand personality traits. We also worked on our design system alongside our brand, which led to huge payoff as far as time savings and led us to re-evaluate how brand elements were being applied in the app. Ali Aas, Designer at Ambrook
A collection of branded assets from Ambrook, featuring earthy tones and film photos from the team's site visits.

Moe Amaya, co-founder of Monograph, also spoke to the value of having a clear brand vision:

As three design founders, until recently we painfully struggled for years articulating why brand mattered so much in our industry. Hiring an accomplished leader as a CMO made it immediately clear, brand positioning is the lifeblood of the entire organization. She interviewed employees and customers then rallied everyone around a single brand position (performance management) which drove the product roadmap, support conversations, sales pitches, and more. Brand is now definitively leading the way at Monograph as we grow exponentially. Moe Amaya, Co-founder of Monograph

4. “We need to look more buttoned up"

Your brand is the sum of experiences that your customers have with you, so consistency is key. Your brand makes you visible and memorable, which means better qualified leads coming into your sales team, better landing page conversion, and more word-of-mouth referrals. Time savings also come into play here; having a strong design system means you can create high quality content, faster, without reinventing the wheel every time.

Emily Kramer, Co-Founder of MKT1, shared her thoughts on this, noting how small changes in brand can have a big impact on perception:

Investing in branding can help your startup seem bigger, more established, and more trustworthy. A well-executed brand reinforces a company's positioning and place in the market, while a poorly executed one can hinder growth. Emily Kramer, Co-Founder of MKT1

She continued, “Once you establish product-market fit, know your audience, and are ready to spend to acquire customers, an investment in your brand can be high-ROI and improve conversion throughout your marketing funnel—VCs who understand go-to-market should encourage an investment in brand.”

5. “We want to stand out (from our competitors)"

In a crowded competitive space, your brand gives your customers a reason to choose you. Here, ROI can be measured in both short-term and long-term impact. In the short term, a great brand will help you catch the right customer’s eye and stand out in a sea of sameness (more revenue). In the long term, it will help you cement your place in their head and heart so that they keep coming back (recurring revenue).

We asked Harrison Bowden, an early designer at Lyft and current Co-founder of Puck, to weigh in. He shared how a unique and unexpected brand can drive early growth:

At Lyft, our investment in creating a distinctive brand allowed us to stand out and connect with our audience on an emotional level. By challenging people's expectations about ridesharing and turning them on their head, we built strong customer loyalty that was critical to our early growth. With Puck, we've taken a similar approach. Instead of blues, grays, and stock office photos, we’ve chosen a more colorful path that speaks with a friendlier, more authentic voice. Often, going against the grain can help you stand out in a crowded wave pool of competition. Harrison Bowden, Co-Founder of Puck
Puck Branding
We created a robust visual brand system with bright colors, bold type, and crisp layouts—paired with a voice that felt warm and inviting (with just a hint of cheekiness).

Setting your team up for success

If nailing the timing is the first step to a high-ROI rebrand, setting smart goals is definitely the second. At the start of every project, we work with our founders to do exactly this, following these key practices.

Define your metrics early

We asked our own Jessica Strelioff, Co-founder of Goodside Studio and co-author of this post, to weigh in on this one based on her experience working in house on the Asana rebrand. “Having our metrics for success well-documented from the outset kept the goalposts from moving,” Jess explained. “It kept all of us focused, especially when shiny distractions and competing interests came up throughout the process.” If you’re partnering with a brand agency, they’ll want to be looped into these conversations, too, so that everyone is working toward the same end game.

Aim for a mix of short- and long-term goals

When we talk about demonstrating the ROI of a rebrand, we think about it in terms of short- and long-term ROI:

  • Short-term ROI might look like chatter on social, traffic to the website, the time a visitor spends on a page, conversion rate, etc. Often it’s easier to use specific channels (like website performance) to talk about short-term success metrics.
  • Long-term ROI might look like a higher NPS score, lower churn, higher renewal rates, a shift from paid to organic traffic, or the ability to command a higher price point, for example.
  • And don’t forget to factor in the internal ROI here, too. Things like employee morale, retention, and talent acquisition are all tied to your brand, which is why employer brand teams are becoming more and more common!

Measure your immediate impact

In terms of direct, short-term ROI, we often focus our attention on the company website. Modern tools make it easy to measure changes in performance, so be sure to work with your development team to get your analytics hub set up and ready before launch.

We were pleased to hear about strong performance on the HyperComply brand we developed last year. With their new website, their YOY bounce rate dropped 23%, their average session duration went up 167%, and the website now directly contributes a much higher percentage of new revenue than it did prior. Their team also shared that they’re seeing much larger customers coming through to their sales team, which they credit largely to their new brand and story.

HyperComply's website
Working in partnership with Grace Walker, we created a website for HyperComply that not only informed, but inspired with every interaction.

Check in on progress at key milestones

A great brand is never static. Your brand will continue to grow and evolve as you use it and your customers get to know the new you. So it’s important to take a long-term view of your system and the value it brings. Schedule cross-functional check-ins over the months that follow your new brand launch to make sure that the system is working well for key stakeholders and revise as needed. If you worked with an agency to bring your brand to life, invite them back to provide input on the evolution—they’ll be glad you did. These check-ins will also give you a chance to track progress on longer-term success metrics and bask in the satisfaction of a rebrand well done.

Celebrate, celebrate, celebrate

Nothing makes us happier than seeing our brands create real ROI for our clients. So don’t forget to celebrate! Set Google alerts for your team in the news and collect compliments over time. Here’s a couple of our favorite tweets we recently found about our Storyworth rebrand—people are still talking about their love for the brand a year later, and citing it as a key purchase driver.

Storyworth Screenshots

Best in brand

When it comes to structuring your brand project, timing—along with good preparation and partners—is everything. We hope these best practices help as you think about maximizing the impact of your rebrand. And we’d love to hear your thoughts, too! Tweet us your tips and branding best practices @goodside_studio or @designerfund to keep the conversation going.