There is never a shortage of things to worry about when running a business. As a result, even for large companies branding is an often-neglected piece of the marketing puzzle. Moreover, even when companies decide to invest in their brand, the field is a specialized one that can be hard to navigate. Choosing the right branding agency should not only address an urgent business need (i.e., a new logo), but it can also change the way you look at your business.
There are a variety of things to look for when choosing a branding agency, but below we highlight five of the most important ones (in our humble opinion).
1. Do they (or can they) understand your business?
This may be the most important thing to discover about your shiny new agency candidate. Most branding agencies will roll out their most impressive examples of prior work, and they will showcase their largest clients. You should be looking beyond the sparkly exterior and really probing their business acumen. Its easy to create beautiful and impressive looking designs and brand identities. But beautiful and impressive are frequently not the solution to your business problem. Do they have the ability to understand your consumer, your industry and your position in the market? Will they lead their ideation and design process with those things, or will they focus first on creating visually engaging and cutting edge design solutions? Not that there is anything wrong with beautiful and cutting edge, but those should be arrows in the agency’s quiver – not arrows that they shoot every time.
2. How creative are they really?
There are no (good) cookie cutter solutions when it comes to branding – or any other creative work for that matter. Choosing a branding agency that comes up with fresh ideas and creative solutions will help set your business apart from the rest, stay current, and identify both problems and strengths with your business positioning. Great creative will allow you to stand out from your competitors. Obviously you want to look closely at their portfolio, and evaluate how pretty, cool and fresh their design work is. You want their work to stand out in those areas from other agencies that you are interviewing. That said, you also want to consider (and have them explain) how their portfolio projects compare to other brands in the relevant industries. You want an agency with a deep understanding of branding, design and marketing trends. While the most creative work is not always the solution, you want an agency that can always deliver the most creative work.
3. What are their past results like?
It shouldn’t be a secret what your branding agency can do for you, and what their past results look like. Can they meet your goals? Ask for metrics, analytics, reports, and take a look at their measurable results. ROI has become an overused buzzword, but it is definitely relevant in this context. Ask for case studies where they detail the ROI that a client experienced in connection with their work. Can they point you to the success of a past client after a rebrand project? Can they point to a product that was a big hit after a packaging design project? Can they give you numbers? This will help you determine what their past results have been like, as a whole, and will also give you insight into what the agency finds most important (based on what and how they measure).
4. What is their process like?
Branding a product or service can be nearly impossible without a set process. Accordingly, most agencies follow certain processes for their projects. Many have trademarked or otherwise named their processes. While these are often cheesy catchphrases, they at least give you a look into your prospective agency’s creative process. If they don’t offer up details about their process, ask about it. Most branding processes start with some form of creative brief – ask to see a sample creative brief. Dig in and don’t feel bad about looking behind the wizard’s curtain.
5. Are they a versatile bunch?
You need to have a real understanding of your business problem, and you should have expectations in terms of what services and deliverables you will need. Obviously you will look to your prospective agencies for their feedback on those points, but the first step is understanding the problem. In that regard, very few branding agencies can solve all of your problems on their own, with their in-house staff. Most branding agencies rely on freelancers to complete certain aspects of their client projects (designers, web developers, copyrighters, etc). Be sure to ask what their core capabilities are internally, what they would need to outsource as part of your scope of work. The more they can control in house, the better.
Choosing a branding agency – or rather, the right agency – will take some time. Ask for references, google them, compare portfolios, and take your time researching agencies. And last but not least, make sure you like who you will be working with and are confident that they are the right cultural fit for your company.