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Brand building on a budget 💸
Creativity is not pay-for-play
First time here? I’m Amanda, and this is Creative Growth Memo, a newsletter that pulls back the curtain on brands that move people to action. I study brands so you can build yours. I distill brands in the wild into real-world case studies, actionable playbooks, interviews, and reviews. If you like what you read here, you can: book a 1:1 call with me, find me on Twitter, or follow me on LinkedIn.
Why you don’t need big agency budgets to build brands
3 real life examples of building brands on a budget
4 moves to love and learn from
👋 Good morning!
I’m packing for a trip this weekend.
In the U.S., where I live, you can skip the queue at the airport if you pay for pre-screening. $78 for a TSA Pre-check for 5 years or $189 a year for Clear. That’s America for you.
I hate it.
Creativity can feel the same way: gotta pay to get ahead, fast.
…hire [72 and Sunny, the Monkeys, W+K, insert hot agency of choice]
…you need to hire a Head of Creative / Head of Brand / Chief Marketing Officer
…we’ll be creative…once we hire a marketing team
…if I want people to see my content, I have to run Facebook advertising
I hear it all the time.
Don’t get me wrong. Meta is a slot machine & we’re all being held up for access to eyeballs.
You don’t need big budgets to build meaningful brands
You determine the future of your business by your creativity.
Not how much money you spend on Meta.
Not by the expensive agency you hire.
Not where you’re headquartered.
Or where you went to college.
But your ideas.
Isn’t that cool?
Most businesses don’t need an expensive global campaign. Most businesses will never run a Super Bowl ad. Many businesses may never even take out a billboard ad.
So, what to do if you don’t have big budgets, Heads of Creative, or agencies to build creative work for you?
Let’s look at some examples. Because real work trumps theory.
Five real life examples of brand building on a budget
🎥 The startup explainer video filmed on Zoom [Cost: $300]
Gecko. Gecko is an Aussie rental platform. They’ve got a team of 3. No full time “creatives” in the bunch. They needed to explain what they did, but when they explained what Gecko did over video, it’s hard to really feel the problem. So they interviewed two customers over Zoom, edited 12 minutes of convo down to 2 minutes, and filmed a simple explainer video that makes it easy to understand what Gecko do (get rid of the hassle of renting gear). They passed it around for feedback. Added subtitles. Music. Their tools? Zoom & Loom. Gets the point across. At a fraction of a creative agency’s rate. Production company Sandwich, who did Slack’s launch video, list $200K as the starting cost for a video. Pretty scrappy. Ben, Gecko’s founder was generous enough to share their original explainer video. Watch it and compare to their latest video (👇). Sweating the story works.
🏡 The real estate startup guerrilla marketing their way into hiring top talent [Cost: $0]
Kiki is a subletting startup that matches listers with people looking to rent for up to 6 months. Ballsy. Fun. Launched by a 23 year old. Just closed a $6M round. They’ve turned subletting into a club. They need hungry, ambitious talent who think differently. So they banned CVs. And got 457 job applications - all unconventional. People rented out Times Square billboards, flew for 17 hours, picked up the founders from the airport, snuck huge signs in Wimbledon just to get an interview.
If you want to build an unconventional business? Ban conventional ways of hiring.
Makes sense to me.
📈 👖The denim company who signs their jeans with a red Sharpie [Cost: $0]
Hiut is a small batch denim company based in Cardigan, Wales. In 2002 Marks & Spencer moved their manufacturing to Morocco. Overnight 1/10 of the town’s 4,000 people were out of work. David & Claire Hieatt bought the factory. Their why? Get the town making denim again. They went from making 35,000 pairs of jeans to 10 a week. Their motto is ‘do one thing well’. Slow over fast fashion. Quality over quantity. They call their makers grand masters: people who’ve trained and worked with denim for their entire lives. They see denim as a craft. So every pair of Hiut jeans is signed in red sharpie by a maker. Because artists always sign their work.
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Moves to love and learn from
🧩 Know exactly what problem you’re solving with your creative. In the early days of a business, every single dollar matters. Articulate the problem you’re solving before you create. Measure twice, cut once: you’ll get a higher impact idea if you know what problem you’re solving. “People don’t understand what we do.” “We need more people to know what we do and get on our waitlist.” “We are completely disconnected from the way our clothing is manufactured.”
🤝 Mine your customer experience for touchpoints to reinforce your brand. Everything’s an opportunity for attention. Thank you emails, checkout pages, packaging, handwritten notes in your packages: Everything’s a surface.
🎯 Allow your creative to emerge from strategic choices. Know who you’re targeting and why you exist. The creative will flows from there. Hiut didn’t invite just anyone to use a red sharpie to sign their denim. That wouldn’t make sense. Their grandmasters sign each pair because artists always sign their work.
🛠️ Choose tools that allow the idea to sing (and are friendly on the wallet). Capcut. iMovie. Zoom. Loom. Canva. There are so many tools. Sweat the story and the message, and choose low cost tools. You don’t need expensive tools.
It’s never been easier to produce, edit and ship creative. The barrier to entry is incredibly low. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking you need the tools James Cameron uses. The best ideas are tool agnostic. You can make in Canva or Adobe. Capcut or DaVinci. It’s about the idea.
You don’t have to pay.
You do have to play.
👋 Til next time,
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