How to choose the right branding agency
Brand building requires a significant contribution of time, effort, and money. However, it’s one of the most important investments you can make for your business.
When it comes time to look for an agency to help with your next branding project, you’ll find there are many options to choose from. Every agency is different, in their experience, prices, communication style, and even personalities. How do you know which one is the right investment for your brand?
Here are a few things to consider as you narrow down your list:
You can tell a lot about an agency by the way they engage with you early on. These first rounds of communication indicate what you can expect in the long run. You’ll be able to tell if they genuinely value your business by how proactive they are.
From the first time you reach out, pay attention to their responsiveness and communication style. Do they follow up when they say they will? Do they answer all of your questions? Are they willing to jump on a call to talk details before you sign on?
Whenever someone contacts us about a new project, we always recommend an intro call to get to know each other first. It gives everyone a chance to ask questions and it’s our opportunity to share work samples and what it’s like to work with us. Together, we dig into the details of their company, project goals, and objectives. At the end of the call, we all have a better sense of what it will be like to work with each other.
As you get to know the agency, what is your first impression of their:
- Level of experience?
- Team dynamic?
- Project approach?
- Communication style?
When you hire an agency you’re working with people, not a portfolio. You’ll probably be spending the next several months working closely together, so it’s crucial that you have good chemistry.
Forbes recommends giving it the beer test. Ask yourself: “Would I want to get a beer with this team?” Maybe it’s the wine or coffee test for you. The point is, you should enjoy spending time with the people you’ve chosen for your brand project.
Everyone wants something a little different from an agency relationship so think about the qualities that are important to you – passion, collaboration, and transparency to name a few. It helps to consider your own company culture and the types of personalities that make up your team. You want an agency that’s a good match and can fit right in.
Remember, one of the reasons to bring on an outside agency is to help you push your creative boundaries. You need to be able to trust that the agency is doing what’s best for your brand.
Is there good chemistry? Ask yourself the following:
- Are they professional but still easy to talk to?
- Do you feel comfortable asking them questions?
- Do they seem transparent and trustworthy?
- Are they passionate about your business and solving your problems?
The best measure of an agency’s expertise is their existing work. Their portfolio should give you a clear picture of their creative capabilities.
Consider it a red flag if an agency offers services they can’t demonstrate themselves. 🚩
When you look at work they’ve done for their clients, you should see more than beautiful visuals. Their case studies should clearly communicate the challenges they faced in each project, what their approach was, and the results.
Instead of focusing on industry experience, look at the overall quality of their work. Sometimes, agencies that specialize in a single industry will turn out templatized or unoriginal work.
Remember, branding fundamentals can be applied to any industry. A diverse portfolio made up of different industry work often means the agency can bring a fresh perspective to any brand, including yours.
Keep these questions in mind as you assess their work:
- What does their work say about their skills?
- Do their examples look fresh or templatized?
- Do they have authentic testimonials?
- Do they share how they solved creative problems?
- Is their own brand consistent and impressive?
Bigger doesn’t always mean better.
The way that small and large agencies function is different so the right agency size for you will depend on your branding needs. Consider the following before making your decision.
A small, boutique agency will generally have fewer than 20 employees. They can often provide more affordable services and adapt quickly to shifting project priorities. Their lower overhead and bandwidth means they can be more selective about the projects they take on and devote their full attention to. With a boutique agency like Design in Mind, you get a passionate, tight-knit team dedicated to your project and a level of attention that’s rare from large agencies.
Larger agencies may have hundreds of people on their team. They often have more resources, big-name portfolios, and a wide network of partners to help them with any sized branding campaign. However, their higher overhead often translates to higher costs for their clients. And the larger the team, the more procedures and levels of approval there are to slow down the process.
Something else to think about is who will be handling your account. Just because an agency has a large team and an impressive portfolio doesn’t mean their top talent will be working on your brand. In larger agencies, small projects are often assigned to junior staff before having executives give their stamp of approval at the end. With a smaller team, you’re more likely to have the agency’s best on your account and be able to work more closely with them.
Consider the pros and cons of each:
✔️ Capacity to work on bigger projects
✔️ More resources and connections
✔️ Larger portfolios
❌ More procedures and levels of approval
❌ Less personalized attention
❌ More expensive
✔️ Passionate, more collaborative teams
✔️ More bang for your buck
✔️ Personalized attention
❌ More selective about projects
❌ Fewer resources
❌ Smaller portfolios
Branding projects can run for months at a time and require frequent communication between teams. It’s important that the agency you choose has a solid process and a strong project management style in order to keep everyone on track.
Every agency will have a slightly different way they approach and run their projects, so be sure to ask about their process. They should be able to give you an idea of what to expect from discovery to launch, how deliverables will be sent, and what is expected from you along the way.
Tools and software are typically a big part of an agency’s process. Some are used behind the scenes to help projects run efficiently and others you’ll need to interact with. For instance, our project managers use Wrike to work their magic in the background on allocations and workflows so our clients don’t have to be in the weeds with us on every project detail. Then we use Google Workspace for collaboration and deliverables, Slack for communication, and Zoom for meetings with our clients. The software chosen by agencies should be fairly user-friendly, but still prepare to familiarize yourself with any new technology you’ll be expected to use.
How do you feel about their process? Ask yourself the following:
- Have they provided you with a scope of work and timeline?
- Do their project managers seem to be organized?
- Do you have a clear understanding of what will be expected from you?
- Are you okay with the software or tools you’ll need to use?
If you haven’t been through a brand development process before then it’s difficult to know what to expect with pricing. Brand packages can vary widely depending on the agency, scope of work, and turnaround time.
At its most basic level, branding involves three elements – visuals, messaging, and positioning. What your business needs could be one or a combination of these. As an example, you may need a logo, visual identity, and style guide. Or you may need something more robust that includes messaging, voice and tone, and branded templates.
Of course your budget will be a deciding factor, but remember that branding is an investment in your company’s image. The long-term impact branding will have on your business is worth getting right the first time with the right agency.
As you determine your level of investment, ask yourself the following:
- Are the agency’s services within your budget?
- Does their quote include project specifics?
- Have you considered breaking your project into parts to help stretch your budget?
- Do you have a good grasp of the different branding elements you need?
Another factor to consider is the agency’s location. There are many options out there and remote work opens up the possibilities to agencies all over the country.
You’ll need to ask yourself how important the ability to meet face-to-face is for you. Hiring a local agency will allow you to meet with your branding team in person but limits you to the talent available in your area.
There are advantages to being in the same room where you can pick up on body language and feel a stronger connection than you would from behind a screen. Though we’ve adapted to a hybrid remote work model ourselves, it’s the reason we have regular team meet-ups as an agency.
However, there are many benefits that come from using remote technology. Collaboration between the agency and client is as quick and convenient as hopping on a Zoom call where meetings are more cost-effective and can be recorded for reference. Remote work has even allowed agencies to tap a more diverse talent pool, ensuring they’ve put together the best team possible.
While we work with many clients in our local San Jose area and enjoy meeting with them in person when preferred, remote technology allows us to meet anytime regardless of location.
Consider the following comparison:
✔️ Cost-effective and efficient
✔️ More accessible and convenient
✔️ Can be recorded
❌ Technical difficulties
❌ Less interaction
✔️ Better focus and participation
✔️ Better relationship-building
✔️ Fewer distractions
❌ Commute time
❌ More expensive
Branding projects are a lot of work but they should also be fun and a welcome change that you look forward to. There are many agencies out there that can do the job, but are they the right fit? As long as you compare a few agencies and ask yourself the right questions, you’ll be sure to make the right choice.
At the end of the day, you know what’s best for your business and you’ll be able to tell which branding agency is capable of taking you to the next level. When you feel a connection with an agency, trust your instincts.
If you’re looking for experts to uplevel your brand, and hiring a boutique agency seems like the right fit, contact us to see how we can help.
Check out the Design in Mind profile on DesignRush, where we are listed as one of the Best Branding Agencies in California!