Most marketers have been here: looking down the barrel of a new product launch, surveying your current logo, messaging, and marketing, and realizing they are starting to look a little dusty. Or maybe your company has some big things on the horizon and you’re not sure your current identity can keep up. Regardless of how you got here, you’ve decided it’s time. You need new branding.
It’s exciting, but you know the path ahead is going to be challenging. It’s a task too big for your internal team to handle. You need an expert. But how are you going to find the right one? There are so many out there promising to blow you away with the next Nike or Apple.
Every agency works differently and the project will go a lot more smoothly if you go into the selection process with a clear set of criteria.
But you don’t need Nike or Apple. You need branding that aligns with your company, your marketplace, and your customers. To achieve that, you’ve got to find an agency partner who takes the time to understand your position. One that has the creativity and expertise to build a strong, authentic brand. A partner who can answer your needs with the right identity.
Like any selection process, choosing a brand agency can be made easier with the right questions.
Questions to Ask Your Internal Branding Task Force
Before you can even start vetting potential agencies, you have to get your internal team aligned. If you don’t have buy-in from key stakeholders within your organization, no agency partner is going to be the right fit. And it will make the process of both choosing and working with a partner ineffective for everyone. So, start by asking representatives from core teams within your organization what’s important to them.
What are our business goals?
Where do you want to see your business in the next five, ten, fifteen years? Do you hope to enter new marketplaces? Launch new products? Bring more innovation to the industry? The answers to this question will shape the direction of the branding process, including the agency you choose to partner with. You can’t find a firm to help you achieve your goals if you don’t understand what those goals are.
What do we want to achieve with new branding or rebranding?
Go one step further and consider your brand-specific goals. How do you want your branding to support your business goals? Do you want to increase brand awareness? Do you want to establish a brand identity that will take you into the next phase of your business and align with an updated mission? Does your new brand need to serve as the introduction of a new technology? Your branding can achieve all these things, but identifying a focus will help you determine which brand agency is best suited to build a brand with your specific objectives in mind.
What are our biggest challenges as an organization?
Every organization is unique in the obstacles they’ll face as part of the branding process. These obstacles might be marketplace threats and competition. Perhaps it’s been a challenge to educate audiences about the benefits of your products. Or maybe you know you’ll face internal pushback that could impact how you roll out your new identity. You’ll want to be honest with yourselves and your potential agency partner when considering these challenges, so you can work to create an identity and an implementation strategy that heads any challenges off at the pass.
Are we in a position to invest in our branding?
Like any major business initiative, branding can require a fairly substantial investment. Sure, budgets can vary, but you need to consider your goals for the branding/rebranding and determine if you’re ready to invest the appropriate amount to achieve those goals. Taking half-steps or going with the cheapest option will likely mean you end up with a half-baked brand identity that falls flat before launch, which, ultimately, costs you more time and money in the long run. Every agency has a story about a client who came to them with the aftermath of cut corners—a terrible logo, disconnected brand elements, or a slew of bad name options—and an immovable brand launch right around the corner. Avoid this situation by being more intentional about your budget and agency selection process from the beginning.
What are we looking for in a brand agency partner?
This brings us to the next question. Work with your branding task force to determine what you really want in a brand agency partner. Do you want someone who is collaborative and able to work with a number of stakeholders? Do you want an agency that can take the lead and just check in periodically to make sure they’re headed in the right direction? Do you want someone experienced with strategic branding based on research, or the shop with the best beer on tap? Do you want access to the creative team to give direct feedback, or do you want a single point person to guide the whole process? Every agency works differently and the project will go a lot more smoothly if you go into the selection process with a clear set of criteria.
How will we evaluate past work done by a potential agency partner?
One of the most telling—and fun—parts of the agency selection process will involve reviewing their past work. Just like you want to have a clear understanding of their working style and agency culture before signing on the dotted line, you’ll want to see what they can do. More than that, you’ll want to understand how they arrived at the finished product. This means evaluating the work based on more than aesthetic appeal. You’ll want to make sure the work achieved a specific set of goals, resonated with the intended audience, and met the demands of exacting stakeholders.
Questions to Ask Potential Brand Agency Partners
What kind of agency are you?
This may seem like an overly broad question, but there are a million different agencies and every one is a little different than the last. Allowing each agency to explain, in their own words, how they classify themselves will help you understand their unique capabilities, approaches, philosophies, and areas of expertise – all the little and big things that can impact the outcome of your branding project.
How would your branding approach help us achieve our goals?
More than any other aspect of marketing, your brand identity should be unique to your organization. The branding process should never be a one-size-fits-all solution. Share your goals and challenges with the agencies you’re vetting and ask them to explain how they would approach your unique project to ensure they’re thinking strategically with your needs in mind.
What role does research play in your branding process?
In the past, we’ve established branding as the cornerstone of almost everything you do as an organization. Its success can’t be left up to chance. Regardless of which agency you partner with, you’ll want to make sure research is a core component of the process. Ask how they conduct their research and push them to give you insight into their point of view to ensure their approach to research is more than a line item or ticked box.
Do you have case studies that reflect projects similar to ours?
When vetting agencies, many companies make the mistake of asking to see case studies representing work done within a specific industry vertical. Your agency should be able to do their job well enough that they can dig in and understand the marketplace and audiences in almost any industry. It’s more important that the case studies demonstrate their ability to execute on projects that align with your needs and objectives. Are they able to create a logical brand hierarchy after a series of acquisitions? Do they have what it takes to re-introduced a stale brand to a fatigued marketplace? These demonstrations of expertise will be much more important as you venture into the rebranding process.
How far will you take us in the branding process?
Some agencies develop beautiful brands and impressive strategy documents only to abandon you just before launch. If you have the right internal team in place, this may be all you need. But if you’re strapped for time and talent like so many companies are, you’ll want to partner with an agency that can take you through the implementation, helping with brand training, launch strategies, measurement and benchmarking, and more.
What capabilities do you offer beyond branding?
In the same vein, you may want to work with an agency who can run with your brand all the way into ongoing marketing efforts. For example, your website is one of the most important focal points of your brand. It can be beneficial to entrust this key component of your marketing to the same agency who built your brand identity. After all, they’ll literally understand who you are inside and out. Who better to execute on ongoing brand content and storytelling, to ensure that branding is carried consistently across all your touchpoints?
What measures do you take to help us protect our brand after launch?
Even if you choose to take the execution on internally or opt to work with a separate agency, you’ll want to make sure your branding agency gives you the tools you need to protect the integrity and consistency of your brand long after launch. This might be making sure you have the appropriate guidelines, providing easily updated templates, or even serving as a clearinghouse that can review your most important touch points and conduct regular check-ins to ensure everything stays true to the brand identity you established together.
It’s All About Alignment
This list could go on and on. But no one has years to spend in the vetting phase. The most important takeaway from all of this is to take the time to get to know agencies before diving into your branding. You’ll be working very closely with them throughout the process and you want to ensure your vision aligns with their branding philosophy, and that this alignment is just as important to them as it is to you.