Planning for Success: Five Steps for Finding a Great Branding Agency
By Natalie Perkins, President, Clean Design, Inc.
When considering branding or rebranding for your company, whether it is for a product, service or part or all of your organization, you first must recognize that the process is much more than just designing a logo, as some people assume.
A logo is simply the visual representation of your brand. A brand exists in the mind of the target and encompasses all aspects, from your tagline to your staff to your physical space. For example, the brand for Apple is so much more than a silhouette of an apple with a bite taken out.
There are lots of great design firms out there, but only a true branding agency can help you sort out your brand. To find a great branding agency:
1. Ask about their strategic process.
A lot of research and intelligence gathering happens before an agency can start its creative process. This input is key in building a foundation for any excellent branding. Three buckets of information must be filled:
- Target: Who are your current customers? Why did they select you? Are they the right customers for the future? Your agency should propose research to talk with your current clients and prospective clients to gain a deeper understanding.
- Competition: Who are your primary and secondary competitors? What is their brand positioning? Your agency should do a competitive positioning matrix and a design and messaging audit to help you stand out. For example, working with a recent client, we uncovered that four of six competitors were using an almost identical shade of blue. Naturally, we recommended using red.
- Your brand: Your agency should talk with key stakeholders to get their insight on where the brand is today and their vision for the future. We conduct one-on-one in-depth interview with folks who play a vital role in the success of the brand. Stakeholders can include marketing and sales staff, corporate leadership, board members and influencers who have a realistic view of the brand today and in the future.
Great branding agencies start their creative process only after they thoroughly research their clients. Any firm that meets with you and cranks out a logo immediately afterwards is failing to do its job effectively.
Most clients go through a rebranding process once or twice in their entire careers. A branding agency does it all day, every day. Experienced branding agencies have a breadth of branding experience across a myriad of categories. Get them to tell you stories about how they have handled situations like yours. Inquire about the strategy. Don’t just fall in love with great looking logos – have them talk about the brand behind the identity.
Depending on your situation, ask them to share branding examples for other clients in similar situations. Is your desire to rebrand driven by a merger? A new competitive threat? A decline in sales? A sense that your brand has become stale? Share your story with them, and request that they relate an example from their own experience of how they have solved a similar challenge.
3. Be sure what you want is what they do.
Know the deliverables of what you want before you get into the engagement. A logo redesign alone will require changes to your business cards, signage, website, email signatures, promotional items, social media sites, trade show booths, advertisements, and much more. A good branding agency will be able to help you determine what will be impacted by a rebranding and how best to coordinate a synchronized brand launch.
In order to avoid confusion and be successful, your brand transition must happen quickly so that the audience does not receive a mixed message from you. Old and new logos in the market at the same time look sloppy.
4. Look for brand architecture expertise.
Rarely do brands live alone these days. Sub-brands, line-extensions, parent brands, sister brands, umbrella brands and all other members of the brand family will be affected by the branding engagement. Get your prospective agency to talk about their experience in dealing with brand architecture.
It is an interconnected world, and branding agencies know how to assess and organize all members of the brand family. This roadmap provides the framework for how all the brands come together and their relationships to each other. An experienced branding agency knows how to put the brand architecture together.
5. Review its culture.
A bad personality fit between you and the agency will cause a disastrous branding outcome, no matter how talented the latter are. The fact that they have experience working in your industry category matters little if they prefer casual conversations while you want formal presentations.
Talk to the agency about what standards drive how they work. If your company has a different perspective, your working relationship likely will be more stressful than it has to be. Find an agency that shares your values and style for best results.
When an agency meets all these criteria for you, what should be a reasonable expectation of what it will cost you in terms of time and money to roll out your new branding? This depends on the scale of the branding needed. Branding should be customized to each client’s needs, and there is no set of industry standards. The process can take as little as 12 weeks and cost as little as $25,000, with projects going up from there.
Talking about branding is sexy, but it can be difficult to achieve. Know what to expect realistically and understand how it will impact every aspect of your promotional and marketing efforts. This information alone may determine when it is best for you to embark on a positive branding campaign.
Natalie Perkins is president of Clean Design, Inc., a branding and design agency that creates competitive advantages for brands.