Let me be honest -- I didn't have a clue how to define branding  when I first interviewed at Iperdesign. I wasn't all too familiar with the industry, having come from a writing-heavy background. Branding  was a word that I associated more with farmers marking their livestock, not visual identity. But with a little bit of time and some outstanding experiences in the field, I quickly gained a clear vision of what it means and why it's important.  

When people would ask me what Iperdesign does, I'd often have to explain what branding really means. The easiest way to spell it out is that a brand is the visual identity across which all communication is, well, communicated. When you think of Coca-Cola, you think of polar bears. You see the color red and the forever-unchanged script font across all of their products.

But why does branding matter? 

I've noticed a recent trend of small to mid-sized companies ditching agencies and replacing them with a single in-house designer, oftentimes fresh out of college with a limited portfolio and deflated sense of value. It makes financial sense for the company, sure, but the advantages of a full-service agency trump single employees in ways not understood until it's too late.

Jim Walls, Executive Creative Director at Philadelphia branding agency 160over90, explains it well below (and in only 92 characters!).

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Companies seem to share the sentiment that an in-house designer is capable of the same work and diversity that an agency procures. However, I've noticed that monthly retainers with clients are often a bargain, considering an agency can have several designers working simultaneously on a larger workload, thus completing more work at a higher quality and faster rate.

I understand why many companies are reducing cost. It's still rough out there. And not to put down individual graphic designers, but they just can't compete with the productivity and experience possessed by a well-oiled agency. These in-house designers are also likely to get burned out and overworked as their employers turn to their exclusive knowledge and expertise for every issue.

To outsiders, the importance of a consistent visual identity might seem low. I don't wear the same outfit everyday, so why should a company have to? But I'd like to see the financial numbers of companies after ditching their brand image and brand consistency. 

Hell, I think to something as simple as buying a bottle of good bourbon. I'm going to spend more for a higher quality product not only because its competition is inferior, but because I really appreciate the craftsmanship put into the design of the bottle and the extra add-ons that come with it. I'm investing in a better experience.  It gives the consumer the impression that the company really cares about their product, so in turn, I do too.

Bottom line: agencies provide a stable of skilled workers. The price is a bit more than hiring an in-house designer, but can you really put a price on identity?