Rebranding your company is a significant investment. When you commit to the cost and time that a rebrand entails, you want to make sure the job is done right. That’s why choosing a branding agency can feel like such a daunting endeavor.
You want a partner with the expertise to solve your brand’s unique problems, the capabilities to execute on those solutions, and a range of experience that shows they can deliver. Finding that partner takes a bit of diligence and a little patience, but these are a small price to pay in the long run.
Think rebranding is expensive? Try doing it twice because you hired the wrong agency the first time around.
Knowing the right questions to ask when selecting a branding agency can make the process a lot easier—and ensure you find the right partner for the road ahead. With this in mind, we’ve put together 10 questions that should be front of mind in any agency search.
1. How Many Agencies Should I Interview?
First things first. There’s no shortage of agencies in the world who claim to specialize in branding, so it’s important to narrow your search. One way to cull the field at the outset is to understand that there’s a difference between a branding agency and a marketing agency that offers “branding” services à la carte. You’re looking for the former. Once you’ve got this initial criterion out of the way, we recommend a selection process similar to the following:
- Identify a long list of five to ten agencies that look interesting and do more in-depth research on each.
- Narrow down the list to three to five agencies that feel like a good fit. Request and review their proposals.
- Select the top two or three agencies for final presentations and interviews.
Different agencies have different capabilities, processes, and experience, and it’s important to get a feel for what’s out there so you can make an informed final decision.
If you’re struggling to put together a long list to start with, ask around to see if friends or industry peers have recommendations. When we do brand audits for our clients, we scour the competitive landscape for similar companies to get a comprehensive sense of the market. The search for the right branding agency should be a similar undertaking. Spend time on Google doing branding agency-related searches. Reading agencies’ blog posts and case studies is a great way to see their approach to the different phases of the branding process. Or, reverse engineer the process by looking into which agencies are responsible for brands you admire that are similar to your own.
2. What’s Your First Impression of the Agency?
The age-old wisdom about first impressions isn’t wrong. You can learn a lot about an agency’s passion for service and commitment to quality by the way they engage you in the earliest phases of your relationship.
Are they excited about the prospect of working with you? Do they value your time when it comes to phone calls and email responses? Do they ask the right questions and demonstrate an understanding of your needs? Do they make time to answer your questions and ensure you are educated on their process and approach?
Finding the right partner for your rebrand is not unlike dating. You’re looking for the right chemistry, a natural rapport with an agency that understands your brand’s unique needs. An awkward partnership is only going to lead to an awkward outcome, whereas a truly compatible working relationship can bring about some truly remarkable results.
3. Are They the Right Size?
Does size matter? Sure, but it’s relative. If you’re a large global brand in need of a comprehensive rebrand you’re probably going to need a large global branding agency. A boutique firm simply isn’t going to have the wherewithal to handle the scope and complexity of such an undertaking.
Conversely, if you’re a small company, a large branding firm might be able to handle your rebrand, but they’re probably not going to give you the hands-on attention of smaller firm. The services of larger agencies also cost more than those offered by a boutique firm. So, for small- and medium-sized businesses looking to rebrand, the larger the agency the less value you’re going to get for your money.
You want an agency that can nimbly handle the scope and complexity of your unique project. Most of all, you want a partner with the expertise and resources to execute on your project’s deliverables.
4. Do They Have the Right Expertise?
Expertise is a critical question to ask as well. Most agencies offer similar capabilities or services when it comes to branding. Expertise, or the proven skill to execute on the nuances of those capabilities, is where you’ll find substantive differences between the agencies you review.
These nuances include specialized offerings like in-depth brand research, a proven naming process, and the ability to bring clarity to a confused brand architecture. They include proven processes for strategy and positioning. And they include dynamic creative execution to bring your brand to life in a way that makes audiences say, “Wow.” Without expertise behind them, even the most robust set of capabilities is essentially useless.
Ultimately, expertise is the ability to solve your brand’s unique problems with an array of custom solutions that together comprise a cohesive and compelling brand story.
5. Is There a Diverse Portfolio of Quality Work?
The best measure of an agency’s expertise, of course, is its portfolio. And knowing what to look for in that portfolio is important. Experience in your particular industry can be nice to have, but it should never be considered the be-all and end-all of qualifications. Overemphasizing the importance of industry experience is a common mistake.
The truth is the rebranding process is fundamental enough to apply to any industry. Plus, agencies that specialize in only one vertical are often less equipped to develop highly differentiated brand experiences within that space. An agency outside your industry is more likely to offer a fresh perspective on your positioning and identity than one that works with companies like yours all the time.
What you should look for first in a portfolio is objectively excellent work. Does the agency produce quality work regardless of industry? Next, you should ask if the agency has a track record of capturing the authentic spirit of the brands it works with. Finally, you should see whether the portfolio represents a good range of creative styles.
The ability to consistently create quality work regardless of industry, resulting in authentic brands across a broad spectrum of styles is the mark of an agency that can confidently rebrand your company—no matter which vertical you’re in.
Don’t be dissuaded just because an agency’s portfolio doesn’t include a brand experience that’s close to the one you’re envisioning. What’s important is their proven ability to solve the unique challenges of each of their former clients. If they’ve been able to do so in the past, they should be able to do so with your brand as well.
6. What’s the Agency’s Industry Reputation?
In the digital age, every agency has an industry reputation—whether they like it or not. Quality agencies leave quality digital footprints. One of the most important attributes of any agency is that they practice what they preach, and their reputation will tell you one way or the other. Let’s face it, if a company offers to improve your brand loyalty, you want to make sure they’ve been able to cultivate loyalty of their own.
Client testimonials are among the most obvious hallmarks of industry reputation. Whether featured prominently on their website or available upon request, the opinions of former clients are firsthand social proof of an agency’s expertise.
Another important indicator of industry reputation is whether the agency is positioned as an industry thought leader. Does their blog contain intelligent and frequently shared content? Do they offer downloadable guides, white papers, or checklists? Do members of their leadership team speak at conferences or workshops? Agencies with proven expertise and solid processes are likely to be sharing these valuable assets with the industry at large.
7. Do They Have a Well-Defined Process?
On the topic of processes, effective branding boils down to proven, evidence-based methodologies. A clearly articulated process is the mark of a capable agency. It ensures quality work that is on time and on budget.
Beyond being well-defined, a proficient agency’s rebranding process should begin first and foremost with research: a thorough look at how your brand is currently perceived by internal stakeholders and customers alike. A data-driven, research-based approach ensures that the ensuing phases of strategy and creative execution are grounded in objective evidence. Evidence takes the guesswork out of the branding process, resulting in authentic brands with compelling messages.
8. Where is the Agency Located?
Location is becoming less and less relevant in our increasingly interconnected world. Finding the perfect agency located right in your backyard may seem ideal, but technological conveniences mean that the search doesn’t have to end there. Too many companies end up ruling out the right branding partner because they mistakenly believe that geographical distance will make it harder to endure the rebranding process.
The truth is the majority of the meetings we do with clients are done virtually these days—whether their office is down the street or across the country. And for milestone events like workshops and final presentations, we love the excuse to hop on a plane and get out of town for a night or two. We’ve done wildly successful rebrands with clients in every corner of the country, and location has never been an issue. It’s the 21st century, after all, and things are only going to get easier.
9. Do They Offer Solutions Within Your Budget?
Budget is another area where while it’s important to establish a realistic comfort zone, it is never ideal to let strict parameters determine which agency is right for you. A rebrand, after all, is an investment that should last your company 5 to 10 years, provided you’re able to maintain focus. When you amortize the cost over that length of time, budget differentials become all but negligible.
As we mentioned in the introduction to this article, what’s truly expensive is getting your rebrand wrong because you went with a cheaper agency only to have to do it all over again to get it right. As with every other realm in business, when it comes to rebranding you get what you pay for. When working with a larger agency, this means a smaller scope for the same budget. When working with a boutique agency, it means that by cutting corners on your budget you cut corners on the quality of work you can expect.
10. Do Their Values & Culture Align with Yours?
Lastly, but far from least, great partnerships begin with alignment on values and culture. You’re going to be spending 6 to 9 months with your rebranding partner, doing intimate, in-depth work together. You want a branding agency that you feel a connection with.
An agency’s core values are a good indicator of the type of relationship you can expect. You want a partner that is collaborative, imaginative, and passionate. You want someone who isn’t afraid to tell you the hard truths and who seems genuinely excited to work with you. Look for camaraderie amongst team members and confidence in their ability to solve your brand’s unique challenges.
Perhaps the most important advice we can give to a company in search of a branding agency, is to always look at multiple candidates, and compare apples to apples in each area of consideration. Give each agency the same project scope so you can get a sense of the differences in proposals, approaches, and costs for the same project.
Personally, we never want to be the only agency in consideration for a project. We love the opportunity to showcase our capabilities against other agencies because we’re confident that our proposals stand out even stronger in context.
We work hard on our proposals because we realize that choosing a branding agency is no small feat. We empathize with companies in your situation. Knowing the right questions to ask, however, will put you in the best position to select the right partner for your brand’s unique challenges—a partner with whom you can work seamlessly in charting a course to the future of your brand.