The Real Cost of a DIY Rebrand

Naturally we’re a bit curious when a business owner says he’s managed to save tens of thousands of dollars with a “simple technique”—and in this case, one involving just four steps. Given our experience in brand consulting, we decided to explore Michael Girdley’s claim.

By Alison Tierney

A recent 21 Hats Morning Report shared the story of Red Runner Coffee, a San Antonio-based coffee chain. In a Twitter thread, investor, entrepreneur, and co-founder Michael Girdley explained how his team recently rebranded its drive-thru coffee business. He proudly proclaimed that all the work was led by him, in-house, without the help of a branding firm that would cost $20,000-$50,000—which he wrote would have been “awful.”

Now, full disclaimer: at Kinesis, we’ve spent 22 years helping small businesses with positioning and strategy at the intersection of brand and culture. We’ve seen companies grow and thrive when branding is done intentionally. We’ve also watched companies struggle mightily when they stumble into a minefield of bad names, copyright law, and design by committee. And, yes, company renames are in our wheelhouse.

So naturally we’re a bit curious when a business owner says he’s managed to save tens of thousands of dollars with a “simple technique”—and in this case, one involving just four steps. Given our experience in brand consulting, we decided to explore Girdley’s claim.

First, let’s talk numbers. We’ll assume that a blended hourly rate for a coffee shop leadership team is $50/hour all in, including taxes, insurance, benefits, and numerous other costs that aren’t part of an employee’s salary. As a serial investor and board member, Girdley’s time is worth a magnitude more, but we’ll use a low figure since his contribution is probably balanced out by hourly staff brought into the process.

With that in mind, let’s examine the team’s process for renaming and rebranding a company.

Girdley spent an unknown number of hours diving into research on how to go about this journey. This likely included reading at least one full book and almost certainly making time for online discovery, case study reviews, and consulting with lawyers. Without a doubt, Girdley would want to get this right and avoid the trademark issues that forced the rebrand in the first place. A safe estimate would be 20 hours of research time spent, and at $50 per hour, that comes to $1,000.

He then asks certain employees to identify the company’s “dominant selling idea” and notes that there was “lots of arguing to find their why.” Let’s assume five employees were involved in this process, and each employee spent 10 hours participating in meetings, responding to emails, and “arguing.” That’s another $2,500.

From there, Girdley mentions that the team consulted multiple customers to request their feedback and input. To make things simple, let’s use the same employee count and number of hours as above, adding another $2,500.

Girdley notes that the brainstorming process, which involved every person on the team, was a complex effort. Once the team had eight pages of names, they spent “weeks and many long team meetings” narrowing down the list. Conservatively, let’s say 40 hours of brainpower went to the initial brainstorming, for a cost of $2,000. If the original five employees were involved in 20 hours worth of meetings to hone the names, that’s another $5,000.

After settling on the name Red Runner Coffee, they performed due diligence with legal counsel. The time it took to narrow the list to a front runner might have taken around 10 hours, for an additional $500. While it’s not clear how much professional counsel was involved, we can assume the rate was more than $50 hour.

Still with me? After a labor-intensive, multi-month process, they arrived at the Red Runner Coffee name with about $13,500 worth of resources (mostly employee time) spent. This completely ignores the opportunity cost of time that could have been spent on operations, growth, strategy, service, and fending off new competitors.

But wait, that’s just the cost of a new name! Now Girdley and his team had to create a logo to support the name. Rinse and repeat the steps above, except now designing by committee (which may have required even more arguing). And we would argue that a full rebrand would cost even more than the $13,500 invested in the naming process. But to be safe, let’s go with the same number.

So on the low end, our guess is $27,000 worth of time was spent to rebrand the company. It’s impossible to know how this compares to a professional effort: for example, there’s no mention of a brand standards guide, competitive brand analysis, brand story, strategy for internal team-building, or alignment on mission/vision/values. In other words, Girdley doesn’t mention what’s not included in his do-it-himself project.

Of course, the most significant expenses are the distractions a business incurs when its employees do work that’s not in their wheelhouse. I’m guessing Red Runner Coffee’s most valuable staff were expected to be engaged throughout the process. This ultimately meant sinking 540+ hours into a rebranding journey that took their focus away from the publicly funded powerhouse setting up a competitive offering in their backyard.

Look, we get it. Not everybody has $27,000+ in cash to invest in a rebrand. So if you find yourself with an abundance of time and a shortage of resources, sure, Girdley’s approach could be right for you. But proceed with caution before believing that building a solid brand is simple or low-cost. Coffee should come cheap. Your company’s identity should not.

Alison Tierney is director of community engagement at Kinesis.

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