Top 5 Branding Agencies in San Francisco

List of the best San Francisco-based creative and brand design agencies. SF Bay Area’s (SF, San Jose, Palo Alto, East Bay) leading logo designers and branding firms.

Last updated: October 6, 2021

If you’re looking for the best branding agencies in San Francisco, then you’ve come to the right place. Each one of the firms listed below provides outstanding and professional branding services. But before we get to the list, let’s take a quick look at why branding is a critical piece of any company’s success — regardless of its size or age.

The Importance of Branding

One of the world’s most successful companies is a testament to the importance of branding — Nike. Its logo — the swoosh — is universally identifiable with the company. The logo is the visual representation of the brand. Nike, as a producer of shoes and other athletic apparel, has a logo that is crisp, sharp, and simple.

The logo immediately summons the essence of Nike — a brand for those who work hard and do whatever it takes to win. This sentiment and character are also embodied by their unmistakable slogan — “Just Do It”. When one wears or sees Nike they don’t merely see shoes or apparel — they see themselves as the ones who can work hard and win. Nike demonstrates clearly the importance of branding. It can make or break the success and longevity of a company — regardless of industry. Therefore, professionally developing a brand is always well worth the investment.

For those looking for a branding firm in San Francisco, luckily some of the best in the industry call the Bay Area home. So let’s take a look at the top five branding agencies in San Francisco, shall we?

Top Branding Agencies in San Francisco — October 2021 Ratings:

1. Clay

Clay — a branding agency and web design firm in San Francisco
Clay — a branding agency and web design firm in San Francisco

Clay is a UI/UX design and branding agency. They are one of the top firms in the field and boast an impressive portfolio of big-name clients and projects. These clients include but are not limited to such renowned companies as Coca-Cola, Facebook, Coinbase, and Google. Clay also prides itself on working with non-established clients from their founding through their development and growth. In terms of branding, Clay is well versed in two important dimensions. One is brand development. Clay’s team of designers and developers are experienced at helping turn visions into tangible brands that visually express a company’s identity and vision — regardless of product, service, or industry. The second aspect of Clay’s branding expertise is the brand’s web presence. Besides branding, Clay specializes in user experience and user interface design. Given the importance of the internet in providing a platform for brands, Clay’s excellent and professional ability to communicate and translate brands via websites and other digital platforms sets them out as an industry leader.

2. Collins

Collins is a San Francisco-based “strategy, design, and communications company”. As a well-regarded and innovative firm, Collins promises to make brands that “cannot be ignored”. Their portfolio is a testament to this promise. Each client and project is detailed by the particular problem they set out to fix and how they did so. For example, Collins worked with streaming giant Spotify to develop a brand identity. They explained the particular audience Spotify was targeting, the market conditions more generally, and the thinking that went into developing the brand. Collins was able to identify the essence of the brand and express this essence as a visual system across all necessary touchpoints — creating a “digital ecosystem” which itself was an indistinguishable component of the brand. Collins also boasts non-digitally based clients such as ESPN’s 30 for 30. Their impressive client list and sleek brands are enough to make Collins a clear choice for professional branding projects.

3. DesignStudio

DesignStudio — a global digital branding agency
DesignStudio — a global digital branding agency (SF, NYC, LDN)

DesignStudio is a preeminent global design and branding firm with offices in Sydney, London, New York, and San Francisco. With a commitment to making brands that touch lives and last, DesignStudio has developed some globally recognizable brands. Most famously, the rebranding efforts for Airbnb. DesignStudio was able to develop and unleash a unique identity for Airbnb, despite there being a number of competitor services. The success of this rebranding was unparalleled as Airbnb’s name recognition and brand recognition came to easily dominate the market of private short-term rentals. What is clear about DesignStudio is that their ability to communicate a brand as an experience is what allows them to be such a widely regarded branding agency — as more and more modern brands are looking to create brands as experiences, the skillset and portfolio of branding agencies like DesignStudio become that much more sought after.

4. Character

Character — Brand Design Studio in SF and NYC
Character — a brand design studio and creative agency in SF and NYC

New York and San Francisco based branding agency Character is truly innovative. As a branding agency that prides itself on pushing limits and against the grain style creativity, Character offers the gambit of branding services including brand identity, brand strategy, and brand experience. Their team boasts a depth of skill and experience that make them one of a kind in the industry. Their successful portfolio includes work with such industry names as Netflix and Doordash. Their approach to branding has had impressive longevity as well — Character has been in the branding business for over twenty years. As their three co-founders Tish Evangelista, Ben Pham, and Rishi Shourie explain, their ability to continue producing innovative and world-class brands comes from a mixture of focus and precision on the projects alongside a tight-knit friendship at the top of the firm.

5. Moniker

Moniker — a creative agency & branding firm in SF

San Francisco’s Moniker design studio defines itself as “ambitious” and experts in creating visual identities across “brand, packaging, and motion”. What makes Moniker truly special, is their ability to work with a diverse range of clients ranging from juice giant MinuteMaid to designing an individual book. Yet what connects both of these projects is the material dimension — the ability to bring to life a visual identity and brand on a non-digital platform. This skill set is important for branding products in the world. You’ll notice quickly that Moniker’s branding work is also clearly compatible with digital platforms. Yet regardless of which medium, their mixture of modern minimalism and chic color palettes is not only visually stunning but communicate the character of a brand almost immediately. Moniker is not a branding agency to be overlooked.

The above-listed branding firms are not only the best in San Francisco but some of the most innovative, creative, and successful in the entire branding industry. The branding process may seem intimidating — but it shouldn’t. Any experienced branding agency is well versed in helping actualize simple ideas and turning them into incredible brands. For those who are still in the early and initial stages of the branding process, below are some frequently asked questions on the matter.

Frequently Asked Questions on branding agencies

Why is branding on digital platforms important for a business’s success and growth?

A good example is Instagram. On Instagram, businesses have an opportunity to circulate images, accumulate likes and followers, and with some social media savvy people at the helm, can expand their audience and hopefully customers or users as well. On Instagram however, the brand will be mediated by the Instagram format itself — through pictures of a particular size. Furthermore, the ways in which the brand identity is presented is more interactive. This allows for the brand to have a particular, digitally mediated life, that is more dynamic than traditional mediums for brands. The circulation of the brand on social media is becoming a more and more critical piece of reaching those who would not otherwise be reached AND users tend to circulate on their own, providing an essentially free form of advertising. The importance can not be understated!

What is a branding agency? What does it do?

Usually, the process starts when a company in need of a brand approaches a branding agency with a basic idea. The idea is then creatively developed by the branding agency. Branding agencies provide not only a team of designers but a depth of knowledge on how brands themselves function and work within particular industries. A branding agency is able to articulate the brand identity in a way that is effective and lasting. Branding agencies also help companies that need help either updating a brand that already exists, rebranding entirely, or reconfiguring their brand for other mediums. This is a shorter process than the development of an entirely new brand but can be very helpful in improving the effectiveness of an already existing brand. Another common service branding agencies offer is providing a brand strategy. This is about creating a strategy for effectively utilizing and disseminating the brand once it is created. This is the marketing dimension of branding and is nearly as important as the brand itself. A good branding agency will consider this during the process of developing the brand.

What are the concrete services branding agencies offer?

  • Brand creation and development: this is making and developing a brand from start to finish. An initial idea is made into a tangible brand with a unique visual identity, voice, and character.
  • Rebranding: sometimes, an old brand needs an update or a complete and total makeover. Rebranding services take a brand that already exists and reconceptualizes its visual aspects and/or identity. These services help companies adapt their brand to new conditions of their market or industry.
  • Logo design: a logo functions as the visual first impression of a brand. The logo is such a central piece of the larger brand identity, that many branding agencies provide logo design services distinct from total brand development.
  • Brand positioning: a brand must be distinct from other, similar services within the market it is working. Branding agencies will work to help your brand position itself as distinct in relation to competitors.
  • Social media branding: a brand needs to be strategically and effectively utilized on social media. This often necessitates particular shifts in branding strategy to make the brand’s reception on the particular platform effective. Branding agencies can offer a holistic social media branding strategy to ensure the brand functions well on social media platforms.
  • Create a style guideline: a style guideline is a stylistic framework for using a brand. This includes a description of color palette, voice, language, and typography. Similarly, an editorial style/approach is developed so there is consistency across all platforms where the brand is being presented.
  • Copy and voice: a branding agency will develop consistent copy across platforms that properly reflect the voice of the brand. The voice is the linguistic style that expresses the identity of the brand. Many branding agencies offer services that create and develop the voice and ensure its consistency across all textual aspects of the brand

While the exact services of particular branding agencies will differ, these services are generally what they provide their clients. A full branding project may include all of them, while smaller pieces of branding projects may include only one or two of these services. Regardless, they all fall under the umbrella of branding services.

How much do branding agencies normally charge?

For example — let’s say you’re just in need of a logo. On average, such a service will cost between $30,000 and $50,000. This range depends largely on the timeline of the project, the number of versions, and the particular agency’s client history. Some San Francisco based branding agencies with portfolios of more well-known logos can charge quite a bit more.

If your brand needs a visual style guide, this can range between $50,000 and $70,000. The parameters are similarly varied and depend largely on the particular branding agency, timeline, and scope of the project at large. For a simple branding effort, a style guide is fairly straightforward. For a more complex brand, a style guide can be fairly large and complex. Some brands, for example, might have a number of different colorways, or different expressions for different mediums (digital, print, social media) which then might necessitate a longer style guide with more depth.

So to properly determine the cost, it’s important to understand what services you need and who will do them. But at a minimum $50,000 is a normal starting price for branding services.

What’s the process for hiring a branding agency?

  1. Think about the brands that you not only like but that reflect or demonstrate something you envision for your own brand. Locate these brands and make a list.
  2. Determine which branding agencies developed or created the brand.
  3. Contact these branding agencies and set a date for an initial consultation.
  4. This step is arguably the most important: create a concrete timeline and budget. It is important that, when having a consultation, you are able to provide a timeline with specific dates you need drafts or versions of the brand done and a realistic budget you can work with. It is important to have a clear idea of time and budget restraints so there’s no misunderstanding during an initial consultation.
  5. Write down all ideas you have about your brand and the identity of your company. What exactly are you trying to produce or provide? What is your audience? Who are you? What brands do you like or not like?
  6. When you arrive at the consultation be prepared to ask the branding agency for the following: their estimates for a budget and timeline, an opportunity to meet team members who would work on your brand, a chance to review their portfolio, and references from clients they’ve worked with in the past.
  7. Contact the references and review the portfolio in detail. Ask the references about how it was working with the branding agency, ups and downs, anything negative? Positive?
  8. Review and compare the offers between agencies you’ve had consultations with.
  9. Decide on which branding agency offers the best timeline, budget, portfolio, and glowing reviews.
  10. Contact that agency, accept their offer, and start the branding process

My name is Nik. I write about UI/UX, Web Design, and Branding.