choosing a branding agency: 7 practical tips
Willie Sutton is a famous bank robber in America. He stole millions of dollars over his 40-year "career". Once, reporter Mitch Onsted asked him why he robbed banks. Sutton replied, "Because that's where the money is." When it comes to business, there is one reason why so much effort needs to be put into developing your brand - because that's where the money is. And that's exactly why branding is worth trusting those agencies that will make your product more valuable in every sense. How to choose such performers? Let's figure it out together.
The entire process of choosing a branding agency can be divided into two stages:
1. Look at the agency's style
Would you order advertising from an agency whose office entrance you could barely find? Or whose website didn't have anything you were looking for? An agency that can't represent itself is a clear sign that it won't be able to represent you.
We pay attention to how the website and social media are designed, how high-quality images and videos are presented on the website, what content the company publishes, even the corporate style and logo will tell us a lot: how seriously the agency takes its reputation and cares about attracting clients even before the first contact.
2. Study the portfolio/cases on the website
We look not only at the external image of beautiful cases. It is important to pay attention to the following points:
Task - Solution: what tasks were set for the team and how they were implemented in the end. For example, the task is to develop the branding of the company. The solution shows not only a beautiful visual, but also an explanation of what and why was proposed for its creation, what research the team relied on, what methods were used.
Solutions in visuals: it's good when the visuals are attractive, but even better when they reflect the concept. Identity and any external attributes are the final stage of branding development. It is preceded by research of the audience's preferences, analysis of the domestic and foreign market, search for the best practices and projection onto trends. Identity should reflect all this preparation and accurately hit the audience.
Cases from different fields: cases in a portfolio from a similar field do not guarantee success in solving your project. This means that a branding agency has a developed base in a specific industry. However, firstly, each related product will have its own audience, trends, and peculiarities of message transmission. Secondly, experience in various fields proves that an agency has a working methodology tested in various niches and products. Such experience is more valuable.
Exception: if your product is highly specialized, like craft book covers or fruit bouquets. At the same time, you have found an agency with experience in your topic, then feel free to contact them. To guarantee it, of course, it doesn't hurt to cross-check by the agency selection checklist, which we attached at the end of the article.
As a result, experience in a particular niche will not be so important, as almost 60% of the time working on the project should be devoted to immersion, research, analysis, and hypothesis building. As a result, we get a guaranteed quality solution in the field of branding, identity, and design.
3. Check reputation and authority
Reviews online can already give us a lot of understanding of how "white" the reputation of a branding agency is.
To confirm it, we will need heavy artillery: awards, participation in communities, place in rankings, PR, activity in social networks. But let's go in order.
Awards are a sign of quality, no matter how you look at it. For branding agencies, significant awards are Cannes Lions, Pentawards, Red Apple, ADCR Awards, Loud PR.
Membership in specialized associations also speaks of the quality of the branding agency's work. This is AKAR (Association of Communication Agencies of Russia) and ABKR (Association of Branding Companies of Russia).
Rankings. There are more than 70 different rankings on the market at the federal level alone. The question is: why so many? In fact, the agency market for digital communications in Russia is very complex and opaque. There are more than 10,000 companies in it. This makes the task of choosing a potential contractor very difficult for an unprepared client. Independent rankings help them with this. It is an honor to be in the Tagline list, Runet rating, Sostav, Adindex ranking.
PR or media activity is a symbol of a company's competence. The format of such activity usually involves articles in the media about the company or with expert agency comments on various topics, participation in conferences and forums as speakers or as part of a jury. Such information can not only be requested from the agency, but also found freely available on the Internet.
Social media. Today, only absolute monopolies in their field can afford not to maintain social media. Ignoring such a powerful communication channel as social media significantly reduces potential customer trust, regardless of how perfect a website may be, as social media is a much more lively format for a business card.
4. Correlate the price with the reputation
Many people order branding only from well-known companies. However, it should be noted that well-known and expensive agencies charge a premium for their experience and reputation. Less well-known agencies may offer lower prices, but they will have more incentive to prove themselves - everyone needs showpiece cases.
However, there is one caveat:
Physically, it is difficult for small agencies with a small staff to perform the entire range of work, such as conducting quality market research, so they offer a limited range of services, more related to design than to strategic management. A company that produces a mass product, that is, offers fast and cheap template solutions, can also afford a low price.
In short, the relationship between the price and the reputation of the company in the market is very significant. Yes, a company may be small, may offer lower prices for many reasons - from having a staff of remote workers and not needing to pay rent for an office to having a competitive advantage in the form of a price in the fight for a customer. But if the company has a good reputation, ratings, showpiece cases, and media coverage, then most likely there is no place for the stereotype "cheaper means worse in quality".
5. Study the agency's offer
The composition of the agency's work should be detailed in the commercial offer: each stage has a goal - you understand what it is, the person responsible for the work is indicated - you understand who does what, the result is indicated - you have a clear idea of what you will receive in the end.
It is also important for us to consider the agency's presentation materials:
Writing style - simple phrasing without complex terms allows us to easily understand the material;
Clarity of presentation - the structure and logic in describing a commercial offer and the chronology of its stages show the process of work;
Length - a brief commercial proposal will allow us not to lose the offer;
Format - convenient carriers for studying, well-designed presentations immerse us in the materials;
Relevance - a commercial proposal contains only the necessary information, thereby nothing distracts our attention from the offer.
It is valuable if the agency also has a service for supporting or launching a brand - then the company helps you launch your business and takes responsibility for its part of the work, corrects its hypotheses, makes possible changes, and the implementation of business tasks remains with you.
6. Testing communication with the agency
There are several points to pay attention to here:
Initial feedback on your brief - it is important how well the branding agency responds to the request.
"Chemistry" and culture fit - you will have many weeks of intensive joint work, so everyone should be comfortable with each other. If you don't like the people you're going to work with, you're likely to have different visions of the project and more disagreements. You're creating an intellectual product, not just setting up targeted advertising, so unity between you and the agency is extremely important.
Promises - if the agency gives you 100% promises and exaggerates your expectations, be wary. Working with a brand is not a mathematical problem, and there are too many variables that can affect success. Many of them are not even in the branding agency's responsibility - after all, branding is important, but success does not depend solely on it.
Get to the heart of the matter - the agency is interested in the problems of your business, unravels the tangle of pains and causes, tries to get an honest answer: what do you want to achieve and what is stopping you.
Studying past experience - a branding agency immediately asks if you have worked with their colleagues before. Often, clients come after unsuccessful experiences. Understanding this allows the creative team to come to the brief with the right questions, already immersed in your context.
7. We dive into the work system
The success of the project, as well as the comfort of interaction and transparency of the process, depend on how the branding agency works with you.
Briefings and debriefings with a large group are the norm. Meetings can include designers, copywriters, SMM specialists, creative and art directors, and other experts besides the project manager. And there will likely be many meetings. This also speaks to the quality of the branding agency's work - the team immerses itself in the project, refines and improves it, all specialists are aware of the process and their area of responsibility.
Research, immersion, analytics, focus groups - a clear sign of the company's expertise and competence. It would be strange if you were offered any of these services without studying the audience or the market, conducting a competitive analysis, or developing and testing hypotheses.
A step-by-step and clear coordination system: each stage of the work has its deadlines, responsible persons, and the order of making changes. Thus, the branding agency provides you with several control points.
Did you know that Einstein was excluded from gymnasium for poor performance, and Chekhov had three grades in Russian language and literature? Remember this when deciding to work together.
These are external factors. Much more important is the project work system and the communication format that the agency will offer. Do not refuse to work with the company immediately if there is no particular point. It is even better to consider branding agencies comprehensively and comparatively.
Now you are essentially conducting a mini-research to choose a branding company. It will be correct if you choose an agency that will also conduct research for your brand. A similar approach and view of work are the most important factor in choosing.
You can download a free checklist "What to look for when choosing a branding agency" and use it to compare different agencies.
If you have already chosen a contractor, we offer you to use our guide "Project implementation guide for working with an agency".
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