How To Choose The Right Branding Agency
Branding requires a significant investment of time, budget and resources.
It’s an investment that has the potential to yield considerable returns if done right. Given all that is at stake, selecting the right partner to guide you through this process is essential and can seem daunting. Not only do you want to find an agency that “gets you” — understanding who you are and what makes you tick — it is equally important that you “get them” — believing whole-heartedly in their philosophy, style and approach.
The best client/agency relationships can be magical — resulting in seamless work processes, joyful, insightful experiences, and transformative outcomes. On the other hand, when the relationship is ill-fitted, the process can feel like a struggle throughout — cumbersome, strained and tense — and the end product is often lackluster and ineffective.
To help you find that magic yourself, we have outlined some critical elements to consider when choosing a branding agency. We invite you to take your time when evaluating who you might work with and encourage you to look beyond price to find the very best fit for you. The last thing you want after investing significant time and effort is to be left with a bad taste in your mouth and unusable results.
Most branding agencies have a philosophy — a set of ideals, standards or beliefs — that guide their approach to strategy and creative output. For instance, at Savage we believe that all organizations have good inherent within them and work with our clients to uncover and help them deliver on this good. This approach begins by unearthing a business’ core purpose — the wrong it wants to right in the world — and then focuses on aligning all communications and experiences with this purpose to make it credible for others. Other agencies might focus on a company’s value proposition compared to the competitive landscape or look to the intersection between customer needs and unique value to develop positioning. There is no right or wrong approach — and paying attention to which approach seems to best reflect how your organization thinks and operates can be key to finding the perfect partnership.
Values are the key characteristics or core principles that must infiltrate your organization in order to drive the outcomes and experiences you strive to create. They typically inform how an organization desires for its employees to behave with one another and external stakeholders. Ideally, you will want to find an agency that has values that are aligned to, if not shared with, your own. For instance, if DE&I (Diversity, Equality & Inclusion) is embraced as a value within your company, you will likely want to identify an agency partner who upholds this value as well. Congruence on values offers opportunities for both parties to deepen their practice and commitment to the value with each interaction. Conversely, watch out for values that might pose issues as you work together. For instance, if your agency upholds a value of Urgency and you have a value around Intentionality, you might be heading toward a culture and/or work-process clash.
Every great relationship has good chemistry whether it be a close friend, a life partner or even a favorite colleague. Chemistry is hard to describe in words. In essence, it means you feel comfortable with, are easily able to communicate with, and feel connected to another. If you have alignment on philosophy and values, it’s likely there will be good chemistry between your company and the agency. Make sure you meet the people you will be working with and explore if there is a good chemistry that can be built upon.
Customer Insights Process
Deep understanding of many aspects of your business — strategy, culture, vision, customer needs, product features and benefits — is critical to rooting the brand in reality. For this level of knowledge to occur, it will be key that your agency has a well-established research and discovery process. You will want a process that investigates leadership perceptions and desired brand direction, customer insights and opportunities, and market dynamics. This might look like any combination of facilitated discovery sessions, focus groups and/or interviews with various internal or external stakeholders, online surveys or other quantitative research. A well-researched brand will result in quality thinking and rich insights both of which will contribute to producing authentic, creative and compelling work. At Savage, we like to say that where you start has everything to do with where you end up, and this is especially true here.
Should you hire a branding firm that is an industry specialist or one that is industry-agnostic? While choosing an agency that has experience in your industry can lessen the learning curve of industry jargon, operational nuances and market understanding, industry experience isn’t the only factor you should consider. The reality is that branding is a discipline that can be applied across any industry and consistent demonstration of ability to meet the strategic imperatives of a project are equally, if not more valuable than industry knowledge. A deep discovery phase will be necessary regardless of prior industry experience and if designed well, will surface relevant insights specific to your company and industry. A good branding agency with cross-industry experience can leverage fresh perspectives and best practices outside of your industry that can produce a highly differentiated and meaningful brand. If you are a B2B company, make sure the agency has experience in B2B brands, even if it works with B2C companies too (and vice versa for B2C companies). While it’s true that all companies are truly H2H (human-to-human), the stakeholder map and dynamics of B2B companies differ substantially from those of B2C.
Let’s face it, the creative part of the branding process is the most fun. It’s where you begin to see months of discovery, strategy and planning come to life in tangible form beyond words and ideas on a page. While you might not like every brand identity an agency produces, it is important to remember that each identity is a reflection of a specific company and the objectives they were trying to meet. Still, there are several things you can evaluate as you work to determine if a specific agency might be a good fit for your project. When reviewing work samples, ask to better understand the personality and objectives of the company and objectively assess whether they have captured the essence of what was asked of them. Also consider if the brands they have worked on show a broad range of styles. This can be an indication that they are able to custom design a solution that is right for you. Finally, while award-winning work is good, it must be effective. Ask to speak with former clients to understand if the creative solution developed worked to advance their goals. Ultimately, this part of the decision-making may be intuitive. If you can resoundingly say the work they have done is excellent, effective and resonates with you and your team – you are likely in a good place.
Whether you are looking to stand apart from your competition, share your story in a more compelling way, or communicate more clearly about your products and services, Savage helps organizations build purpose-driven brands that endure.
Learn how we can help your business thrive today and make sure you are prepared for tomorrow.
Sarah has built a dynamic career on the belief that there are no limits to what she can do. Her ability to embrace and balance lifestyles and cultures makes her an especially powerful player in the marketing field. As a brand strategist at Savage, her biggest motivator is helping companies find their true purpose—an endeavor that certainly requires the ability to step back, breathe and look at the big picture.