Hiring an experienced and independent team of professional brand builders is one of the smartest decisions you can make for growing your business. Hiring the wrong team or none at all can be a costly mistake, one that you’ll spend years — and many, many dollars — correcting.
The right branding agency brings your company a group of experienced professionals with the knowledge, skills and proven track records to manage the research, strategic and creative demands of building or re-building a brand. An outside firm brings an agnostic mind set with the ability to see your product from the consumers’ and your competitors’ points of view. An independent firm should be willing and able to point out the painful truths that your own people may be unable to see.
But even an award-winning agency with a history of market success in your industry may not be the right fit for you. Here are some tips on what to look for and how to find the branding team that can take your company to the next level.
Step 1: Determine Your Goals & Your Budget
And be specific. Vague wishes like “increase sales” or “grow market share” will bring vague results. If you don’t know specifically what your target is, how will you know if you’ve hit it or even come close?
According to research conducted by CoSchedule, a leading provider of marketing work management software: “Marketers who set goals are 376% more likely to report success than those who don’t. And 70% of those successful, goal-setting marketers achieve them.”
Above all, your goals should be SMART:
As in, “Acme Widgets will increase our distribution from five states to nine by the end of second quarter, 2022.”
Step 2: Do Your Research
Before you begin your search, identify what types of brand services you need most. There is a difference between a branding agency and a marketing or advertising agency that offers branding services. Do you need market research, competitive analysis, logos and identity structure, naming and tagline development, a new brand structure across your entire portfolio of products, or do you need the whole spicy branding enchilada?
Every branding opportunity comes with its own unique variety of challenges, and branding agencies have their own combination of skill sets. Some specialize in web or technology development, others in consumer research, media strategy or creative execution. The right branding firm will have in-depth experience with these specialties and will work with a curated list of strategic partners if they don’t provide those services in-house.
Now, it’s time to hit your favorite search engine using the specific services you’ve identified. But don’t stop there. Ask friends, colleagues and associates for recommendations. Review business and marketing publications from your region. Search LinkedIn. Then, review the agencies’ websites. What services do they offer? Review any case studies and client testimonials, and make a list of your top 5-8 contenders.
Step 3: Evaluate, Evaluate, Evaluate
By now you have a wealth of information on a large handful of seemingly qualified agencies. What criteria do you use to determine those 5-8 candidates?
A reputable branding agency will have a range of past work displayed on their website. Is it smart? Is it creative? Does it send a unique and powerful message about each brand regardless of industry? The portfolio should present a range of brands, tones and creative styles. After all, the point of a brand is to set you apart from the competition, not to blend in with it. Within brands, their work should demonstrate the ability to keep messaging consistent across media channels while adapting to the nuances of each channel.
Experience & Specialization
You might be tempted to only consider agencies with proven experience in your industry. Don’t. While it may be comforting to work with a team that already “speaks your language,’ it can lead to work that is stale and uninspired. At the very least, ask how they plan to set your company apart from their other clients.
According to branding veteran Donna MacDonald, Senior Vice President of St. Louis-based brand communication agency Dovetail, “Some may think it is an advantage to work with agencies that have a specialization in their industry. We believe — and our track record shows — this isn’t true. A proven and differentiated process, and the ability to reimagine what a brand can be, are what it takes to drive tangible success.”
More importantly, do they have experience working with brands of similar size, budget, and complexity to yours? Ask for examples and results.
Branding is an investment in your company’s long-term image and success. Price should never be your top criteria. Yes, you need to work with an agency that can work within your budget. But an agency that grossly undercuts the competition may likely take short cuts on your projects later. Be sure to discuss the agency’s budgeting and estimating processes, payment schedules and charges for revisions to ensure there are no big surprises mid-project.
Creating a new brand or reimagining an existing one is a huge investment of time, talent and money. As long as you and your agency are able to stay consistently on-brand, your new identity should serve your company well for the next 5 to 10 years. Over that length of time, you’ll forget all about that other agency that promised to deliver a slightly lower budget.
Every branding agency worthy of the name will have their own evidence-based, tried-and-tested process for building successful brands. If it’s not outlined on their website, be sure the topic is covered in the RFP. “With a defined and proven process, a brand agency will be better positioned to repeat their previous success with your brand,” states Dovetail Senior Vice President Donna MacDonald.
Size & Location
Are your candidates too big, too small or just right for you? When it comes to branding, size definitely matters. Typically, large, multinational agencies have the experience and resources to develop brands across multiple cultures, languages and continents, which is invaluable if your brand is or aspires to be multinational. If your brand and budget are somewhat smaller than, say, Coca Cola’s or Apple’s, a smaller branding firm may be your best option. Smaller firms offer more personal attention from experienced pros in all areas of brand development, including account service, planning and creative execution.
Don’t limit your search to firms in your immediate vicinity. Brilliant marketing firms can be found all across the country. Mobile technology makes it possible for agencies and clients to work seamlessly across borders and time zones.
This next factor is hard to define. But you’ll know it when you feel it. Consider each agency’s own brand personality—is their company culture compatible with yours? How well do they listen? How good are they about communicating with you on a schedule and in the manner that you prefer? Are your agency brand managers attentive, prompt and sticklers about follow-through?
Does their branding process show strong planning skills and a passion for bringing sales and marketing together through a well-defined strategy? Does their portfolio demonstrate the ability to bring that strategy to life or does it read like a creative brief?
A great agency is organized and disciplined yet able to pivot as needed when faced with an unexpected opportunity or roadblock. Staff in all departments should show genuine enthusiasm and intellectual curiosity for branding in general and your product in particular.
Building a successful brand is long, hard but rewarding work for both client and agency. You and your agency team should feel like partners working toward the same goal. Challenges and disagreements will inevitably arise. But your team should make you feel confident that obstacles are temporary and can be overcome. Both parties should feel the freedom to be honest each other. If you never get or give pushback from your agency, you are either the best client ever or your agency cares more about your billings than your brand.
Step 4: Research Some More
Once you’ve narrowed down your list of contenders, Invite the remaining firms to submit a response to your Request for Proposal (RFP). Your RFP should outline your branding challenge and the goals you’ve identified. Ask the candidates to detail their unique branding process and describe similar challenges they’ve solved for other clients. Ask about staffing and who would be working on your account. How will they measure the success of your branding efforts? Inquire about their estimates on budget and timing. And ask why they would be a good fit for your brand.
From there, create a short list of your top three or four contenders. Then, invite them to make a live presentation on how they would approach your particular challenges and who would be on your team. As your marketing team evaluates the presentations, don’t hesitate to contact any of the agencies with any additional questions you have. And don’t be afraid to ask for references.
Step 5: Award the Job & Get to Work
By now, you’ve done your due diligence and selected a promising new branding partner. Call and share the good news. You’ll both want to celebrate the start of an exciting new partnership.
If you’re starting the process of building a brand, we invite you to consider Dovetail.
Dovetail is a Brand Reimagination Agency helping clients rethink what’s possible to accelerate success in today’s ever-changing marketing landscape.
We work across a broad range of verticals, and we are committed to bringing fresh, innovative thinking to every brand across any category. We’d love to discuss our process with you and share some of the transformative work we’ve done for other great brands.
Whenever you’re ready, we’ll be here for you. Contact us anytime.