There are many situations when you may be considering how to select a branding agency.
Some of the more common situations include launching a new brand, breathing new life into a tired brand and following a merger or acquisition.
This post is about how to select a professional branding agency… from the perspective of the branding agency. In other words, how we at Six Degrees recommend clients choose the right branding partner.
To Hire a Professional Branding Agency … or Not
Let’s get one thing off the table right away.
As with anything else in business as well as private life, you can always get branding services cheaper than by hiring a professional branding agency – either by using freelance resources, your internal marketing team, or by charging your existing advertising agency to do it for you.
But as with any job, from roofers to financial planners to lawyers, you can go cheap or you can hire the professional firm whose skill and reputation are built in that discipline.
The professional firm will likely cost a bit more, but in return you’ll receive a better-quality and more effective product.
It’s no great secret that everyone claims to know branding, ad agencies, PR firms and Web design companies. But that doesn’t make it so.
The reality is that branding agencies frequently are called upon to “fix” suboptimal branding solutions later, often after valuable budget has been spent.
Branding is not a cost of doing business, but an investment that pays dividends. (See our post on The Psychology of Better Brand-Building to learn more about how branding can successfully contribute to your business.)
After all, your brand is the ONLY business asset you have that, if treated right, never depreciates … and only appreciates.
OK, so let’s assume you have decided to engage a professional branding agency. Now how do you go about selecting which one to use?
As with everything these days, there are plenty of options for you to consider. Here are our thoughts.
High-Level Agency Selection Process
At a high level, you should start by identifying what is most critical to you regarding the brand services you need most.
You may have a new brand to launch or are acquiring another company with a portfolio of product brands to integrate into your existing brand architecture.
There are many different branding challenges and no one branding agency is equally expert at them all. So carefully consider what you need from a branding agency before you go looking for the right ones.
Listed below, in no particular order, are some of the major branding issues for which you might be looking to engage a professional branding agency.
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Common Branding Challenges and Issues
|1) There is little or no awareness in the market for your brand
|2) No one can succinctly and consistently articulate your brand promise
|3) You don’t know enough about your target customers’ needs/wants or how they perceive your brand
|4) You don’t know enough about your competition’s brand marketing
|5) Your brand does not stand for something meaningful and different
|6) Your brand is tired and customers and/or competitors are passing you by
|7) Your brand is under attack by special interests, competitors or regulators
|8) Your brand is not credible in the market
|9) Your brand is being weakened by being stretched into new product/service classes
|10) Your brand position and messaging change with managers and campaigns
|11) You don’t know whether you need a new brand or a brand extension
|12) Your brand looks and feels different across marketing channels or business units
|13) Sub-brands are developed and launched without consideration for the overall portfolio
|14) You don’t know what sensory cues trigger the desired brand perceptions in the target audience
|15) Your brand messaging is inconsistent and/or ad hoc
|16) After a merger/acquisition, the portfolio of product and service brands is messy
|17) There is little or no internal understanding of and/or passion for the brand
|18) You need to convince management why a brand is an investment that provides ROI rather than a cost center
|19) You don’t know what combination of marketing channels is most appropriate for marketing your brand
|20) Competitors are leveraging your brand to their advantage
|21) Your brand is struggling in a new market
|22) You need a compelling and different new brand name
Build Your List
Once you’ve defined the branding challenge(s) you’d like a professional branding agency to help you with, you need to build a list of potential branding agencies to consider.
Do a Google search based on your specific branding needs and check case histories.
Consult agency search sites (e.g., Agency Spotter, which is free) and talk to friends, colleagues and associates who may have used a branding agency in the recent past and see which one they would recommend and why.
You may also want to visit branding-related sites (e.g., LinkedIn groups, Brandchannel) or ask on various forums (e.g., Quora) which branding agency might be best for your particular branding challenge.
At this stage, you are merely looking to build a list of the branding agencies that have real expertise in the area of your branding challenge.
Resist the temptation to limit your search to branding agencies that have deep experience in your sector. While some of your initial candidate agencies should include such firms, sector experience alone is not a good consideration factor because it can also mean that such branding agencies may be more limited in their creativity/inventiveness and less able to help your brand break out of the pack precisely because of said experience.
In our opinion, clients also have a tendency to overestimate the “uniqueness” of their sector by generalizing tactical marketing differences to brands. But brands are more of a psychological construct, akin to reputation, and therefore less affected by the executional marketing differences between different industries or sectors.
Conduct an online search based on your specific branding needs and check case histories. Ask colleagues who have used a branding agency if they have one they would recommend.
Also, don’t limit yourself to your particular geographical location. It’s your brand, so a few extra thousand dollars for travel expenses should not exclude an otherwise perfect fit.
Detailed Considerations on Agency Selection Process
Beyond the high-level considerations above, here are additional criteria to narrow your list of candidate agencies.
Select a branding agency that is a good fit for your brand’s size.
Large, multinational branding agencies focus on global brands, and if you are not a global brand, you will likely end up with the junior team or the C-team. In fact, if you are a smaller brand, you are far better off selecting a smaller branding agency where you’ll get the attention of the top folks.
You may want to look at their staff profiles on LinkedIn to determine whether they’ve had experience in one of the premier brand agencies.
In a professional services firm, it’s very common for top resources to leave the large, prominent firms to start their own shops. A smaller brand should look for those branders because they will receive top-notch skills at a far more efficient price.
Experience and Maturity:
In addition to making sure the branding agencies you consider have expertise in the type of branding challenge you have, you should also ensure that the branding agencies have worked with brands of your size, complexity and prominence.
Often this requires a phone conversation to ferret out (or a written request for information) as it is not immediately apparent from Web and/or other typical marketing materials.
Also, be leery of agencies that use excessive jargon and/or make branding sound too easy.
The concept of a brand as a set of perceptions, emotions, beliefs and attitudes (PEBAs for short) about a product, organization, service or person is simple. Successful building of a strong brand generally is not.
If executional support is important to you, make sure the agencies have those resources on staff or in a strategic partner should you need them. We would recommend you walk away from any branding agency that says they do all aspects of branding equally well.
Branding agencies typically evolve from different core competencies, e.g., naming, research and strategy, logos, a single industry/sector, etc. Explore where they’ve come from to get a read on their core strengths.
Passion, Chemistry and Fit:
Over the course of the selection process (see our suggestions below), you will have the opportunity to assess candidate branding agencies on these less tangible but important variables.
Ask to interact with the actual team members who will be working on and be responsible for your brand as well as the executives or owners of the firm.
Assess whether there is real passion for your brand and brand challenge(s), not just excitement about a new piece of business. You want to feel like the branding agency is working as though it were their brand.
One measure of this is that they go beyond proposed branding processes and past examples and actually offer up ideas and value-added thoughts about your brand and branding challenge(s) before they are engaged.
Also listen for suggestions on how improved brand performance can be assessed in the future.
If the branding agency does not mention a current baseline assessment and future comparison, they are less interested and/or confident in the outcome of their own work than in just doing the work for a fee.
Finally, if a given branding agency has a unique philosophical or methodological approach to branding, consider whether that is something you understand and agree with, because it will be part and parcel of that agency’s work for you.
For example, at Six Degrees we practice psycho-sensory brand-building, which means we apply principles of psychology and sensory science techniques to our brand work for clients.
The Selection Process:
Like any effective selection process, choosing the right branding agency should be an increasingly rigorous process.
We recommend clients start assembling a list of five to eight preselected candidate agencies who are then invited to submit a written response to a written request for information (RfI). You should have spoken to all of these agencies in person or by phone before sending them the RfI.
In your RfI, you should…
- Outline your branding challenge
- Ask candidate agencies to describe their recommended process with rationale, any likely/common problems and workarounds
- Ask about past branding projects most relevant to your challenge
- Ask why they think they would be a good fit for the project
- Inquire as to the individuals who will be working on your project and their backgrounds
- Inquire as to how project performance will be measured
- And always ask for rough estimated cost and timing based on your specific project details
On the basis of your review of the RfIs, we recommend you invite three or four of them for in-person presentations of their recommended process and their project team.
Once you have identified a primary, finalize timing and pricing with them – and then get started on your all-new branding project.
We hope “How to Select a Branding Agency: The Ultimate Guide” helps you select your next branding agency that will take you and your brand to new heights.
Ready to make Six Degrees your next branding agency? Contact us today!