Wondering how choose a branding agency? If so, this post is for you. Below, we break down everything you could hope to know about how to find the right partner for your branding and rebranding needs.
As an investment, branding requires time, money, and no small amount of risk. But it’s one of the smartest investments you can make in your business.
That’s why knowing how to choose the right branding agency is so important. There’s nothing worse than going through the rigorous rebranding process only to have to do it all over again because you chose the wrong partner.
To set you up with everything you need to find the best partner for your branding needs, we’ll answer the following important questions below:
- What is a Branding Agency?
- What Does a Branding Agency Do?
- How Much Does a Branding Agency Cost?
- Why Hire a Branding Agency?
- What Questions Should You Ask When Hiring a Branding Agency?
- The Takeaway
The first question is easy: Ready to dive in? Great, let’s get started.
What is a Branding Agency?
A branding agency is a firm specializing in the strategic and creative work required to shape how a business is perceived by internal and external stakeholders.
What Does a Branding Agency Do?
Choosing the right branding agency starts with understanding the needs your business is seeking to address. Are you looking for a brand refresh or a full rebrand? Strategic or creative services? Are you looking to build brand awareness for an already strong brand? Perhaps you need a name for a new product.
There are as many different types of branding agencies as there are types of branding needs. Let’s take a closer look at the variety of branding agencies available to you.
Types of Branding Agencies
Once you’ve defined your specific branding needs, you can determine which type of agency you’re looking for. There are many different types branding companies, each of which specializes in a different set of services.
An agency that is focused on conducting full-scale rebranding projects, including research, strategy, identity, and activation services. Rebranding is a complex and risky endeavor, therefore it stands to reason that if you need to rebrand your business then you should hire an agency that specializes in rebranding.
Brand Strategy Agency
An agency that focuses on strategic services, which may or may not offer, creative services. A brand strategy firm typically provides research and a range of brand strategy services, like brand positioning, brand architecture, and business consulting services.
Corporate Branding Agency
An agency that focuses on rebranding companies versus products or services. The approach for corporate branding is different from product and service branding because the breadth of a corporate brand is much broader and more complex.
Brand Activation Agency
An agency that focuses on building brand awareness. 品牌活化 agencies skirt the line between branding and marketing, but often provide experiential branding, including events and promotions.
An agency focused strictly on naming products, services, and companies. Brand naming agencies generally do not provide any of the other branding services listed in the next section.
An agency offering a variety of brand-centric strategy, design, technology, and advertising services. The diverse range of services offered by creative agencies allow them to help brands develop and implement comprehensive creative solutions.
Global Branding Agency
An agency with offices around the world, offering comprehensive cross-cultural branding services. If your company is multinational, it’s wise work with a global branding agencies.
Boutique Branding Agency
An agency that is smaller in size and specialized in a specific area of branding. Boutique branding agencies are often more agile than larger agencies and can typically meet the needs of most businesses looking for a higher-touch, personalized level of service.
Branding Agency Services
There are types of branding agencies and then there are types of branding agency services. Most branding agencies offer some combination of the same set of four core services.
The four pillars of branding agency services include brand research, brand strategy, brand identity, and brand activation. The variety of agencies above will offer some combination of branding services. Let’s look at what each of these services entails:
Brand Research Services
Qualitative and quantitative research services designed to understand how a brand is currently perceived by internal and external stakeholders. Insights from brand research are often leveraged in brand strategy.
- Customer Research
- Company Culture Assessments
- Competitive Analysis
- Brand Equity Research
- Brand Audits
- Market Segmentation
- Message Testing
- Audience Personas
Brand Strategy Services
Services designed to define the components within a brand framework and/or position a brand within the market.
- Brand Workshops
- Brand Positioning
- Brand Extension
- Brand Architecture
- Brand Communication Strategy
- Brand Roadmaps
- Messaging Frameworks
- Employer Branding Strategy
Brand Identity Services
Services designed to define a brand’s visual and verbal identity along with an array of brand touchpoints.
- Naming & Taglines
- Photography & Video
- Motion Graphics
- Marketing Collateral
- Branded Environments
- Brand Guidelines
Brand Activation Services
Services designed to activate a brand within the market, including the brand launch, brand promotion, and ongoing brand management.
- Brand Rollout
- Brand Implementation
- Brand Training
- Brand Management
- Advertising Campaigns
- Public Relations
- Event Marketing
- Thought Leadership
Different branding agencies define these service areas in different ways, and rarely do two agencies offer the same list of services within each area.
Different branding agencies also specialize in different client needs as well. Some agencies specialize in startups, while others focus on enterprise businesses.
Some agencies specialize in research and/or strategy, while others are focused on creative execution and/or advertising. Some focus on branding and/or brand positioning, while others specialize in rebranding.
A Branding Agency is Not a Marketing Agency
One important distinction to note is that a branding agency is not a marketing agency. Branding and marketing are two interdependent yet distinct areas of expertise. Neither is necessarily more valuable than the other, but the differences between them are important.
Branding defines who you are as a company by asking the big questions:
- Why are you in business beyond making money?
- What is your company’s brand compass?
- Who is your ideal customer? Why do they buy from you?
- What is your brand’s optimal market position?
- How do you make and keep your brand promise?
- What is your brand essence?
Branding defines your company at the most fundamental level by answering these important questions and more. By contrast, marketing gives you the tools to communicate the answers to these questions to your audience.
Branding is the long game, the big-picture strategy that effective marketing campaigns are built on. Over years of consistent, reliable customer experience, branding creates the value that marketing is designed to extract.
How Much Does a Branding Agency Cost?
The cost of hiring a branding agency can vary greatly. Cost depends on the scope of work, the size of your company, the severity of your situation, and the caliber of agency you hire.
Below are 5 common branding projects to give you ballpark of branding agency services pricing. Again, the costs can vary greatly. And of course, you can always hire an agency for much less than these ballpark estimates, but as with anything in business, you get what you pay for.
You can also find plenty of large agencies that charge much more than the following estimates. These figures represent what the typical small- to medium-sized business will spend on branding.
Brand Positioning: $20k-$30k+
Brand positioning includes workshops and foundational brand messaging. As with most of these initiatives, brand positioning could cost significantly more if you also need to conduct customer research and competitive brand audits.
Naming includes the research, brainstorming, and vetting involved in naming a business or product. Naming services can cost significantly more if you need extensive trademark research, visual identity, and positioning work.
Visual Identity: $20k-$40k+
A core visual identity system includes logo, color palette, typography system, and basic brand guidelines. A visual identity system can cost significantly more if you need comprehensive brand guidelines and/or touchpoints like collateral and packaging designed.
Brand Creation: $80k-$130k+
Creating a new brand includes positioning work, naming, visual identity, a simple website, 和一个小的集合营销抵押品.
Rebranding includes internal brand research, customer research, brand audit, brand positioning, renaming, visual identity, custom website, marketing collateral, brand guidelines, brand rollout. The cost of rebranding ultimately depends on the scope of your rebrand.
Why Hire a Branding Agency?
Many companies assume that rebranding is something that can be handled by their internal marketing team. How hard can it be to design a logo and write some core messaging, after all?
The fact is, even the best marketing team isn’t equipped to make the objective, big-picture strategic decisions a rebrand requires.
Not only does a branding agency offer an invaluable objective perspective, it also gives you proven expertise across a range of industries and the insight you need to ensure your brand experience is consistent, cohesive, and compelling.
Let’s take a closer look at the essential benefits you get when you hire a branding agency:
A Strategic, Unbiased Perspective
Rebranding isn’t the type of initiative that can be successfully accomplished by an internal marketing team—even the best marketing team.
A rebrand requires a big-picture, strategic approach, as well as an outside perspective. It isn’t realistic to expect an internal marketing team to do an objective assessment of the brand they’ve helped to shape.
Nor is it possible for such a team to survey the competitive landscape from an unbiased standpoint. The very things that make an internal marketing team valuable for an organization (passion for their work and dedication to their company) make them unsuited to the task of optimally repositioning it within the competitive landscape. This something best left to a third-party expert.
A branding agency’s ability to do a big-picture analysis of your organization from an all-important objective perspective is what allows them to bring your brand to life in dynamic fashion.
Unique and Proven Expertise
Just as branding is distinct from marketing, branding agencies offer unique areas of expertise that you won’t find working with a digital marketing firm or an internal marketing team. Critically, branding agencies provide best-in-class research, strategy and identity services.
Research is critical to rebranding. Very few companies have an in-house market research team and not many marketing agencies provide these services either.
When it comes to the strategy required for a rebrand, there’s a big difference between a brand strategist and marketing strategist.
The latter is a critical role if you hope to get the most out of your new brand after you launch it. But only the former can provide the big picture expertise needed to identify opportunities for differentiation within the competitive landscape and optimally position your brand for long-term success.
Finally, the type of design expertise needed to create a powerful corporate identity is not within the wheelhouse of most graphic designers—even talented individuals who have decades of design experience under their belt.
When you hire a branding agency, you get a design team that specializes in the creation of dynamic brand identities founded on research and strategy.
Beyond their individual talents, a branding agency’s team has likely worked on dozens, if not hundreds, of rebranding projects before yours.
They’ve developed a well-established process over the course of those projects, fine-tuning it along the way. By hiring a branding agency, your company gets to reap the benefits of that process, which means you’re less likely to encounter the type of expensive and time-consuming slipups that can happen with a less qualified partner.
Most branding agencies also offer the benefit of having worked in a broad cross-section of industries. An internal marketing team is designed to specialize in its given industry, which is great for marketing purposes.
Branding requires a broader perspective, however, because your brand isn’t confined to the industry in which it operates. Brands affect and are affected by stakeholders across business, political, social, and cultural spheres.
Cross-industry experience enables branding agencies to bring new ideas into an industry. It’s only with this type of fresh perspective that many brands are able to meaningfully differentiate themselves from the competition.
Just because an agency’s portfolio doesn’t include direct experience in your industry should never be reason enough to rule them out as a partner. What’s more important is their proven ability to solve the unique challenges of brands across a broad spectrum of industries.
Ongoing Brand Management
A branding agency’s value goes beyond just rebranding. In fact, all your marketing efforts will be more effective—and therefore less expensive—following a rebrand.
In addition to giving you more bang for your marketing buck, however, a branding agency represents an invaluable partner long after your rebrand is complete.
No one will know your brand better than the agency that partners with you to define it. With this in-depth familiarity, a branding agency can help orchestrate the creation of powerful marketing campaigns designed to amplify competitive differentiation and solidify positioning.
When it comes to marketing, nothing is more important than a cohesive and consistent experience across touchpoints. For businesses whose model doesn’t include an all-important brand manager position, a branding agency can serve as just that, ensuring that your brand is reliably maintained well into the future.
What Questions Should You Ask Before Hiring a Branding Agency?
Hiring a branding agency is all about asking the right questions. With this in mind, we put together the top 10 questions you should ask yourself in your search for the right agency partner.
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 from the get-go is to understand that there’s a difference between a branding agency and a marketing agency that offers “branding” services on the side. 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. When you choose a branding agency, 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. Spend some time on Google doing branding agency-related searches.
When we do brand audits for our clients, we scour the competitive landscape for similar companies to get a comprehensive sense of the market.
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?
Trying to choose a branding agency 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 when it comes to choosing a branding agency? 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 a smaller firm.
The services of larger agencies also just cost more than those offered by a boutique firm. So, for small- and medium-sized businesses who are seeing signs it’s time 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 when you trying to choose a branding agency.
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 brand design 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. Do They Have 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 when trying to choose an agency.
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 visual and verbal identity than one that works with companies like yours all the time.
The most important thing to look for in a branding agency portfolio is objectively excellent work.
Does the agency produce quality work regardless of industry? Do they have a track record of capturing the authentic spirit of the brands they work with? Does their portfolio represent 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 it in the past, they should be able to do so with your brand as well.
6. What’s the Agency’s Industry Reputation?
These days, every agency has an industry reputation—whether they like it or not. Quality agencies leave quality digital footprints. When you’re trying to choose a branding agency, the trick is to look for the footprints.
One of the most important attributes of any agency is that they practice what they preach. If a company offers to boost 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, posted on a referral site like Clutch 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.
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. The sign of a serious agency is a focus on research, including in-depth customer interviews and the rich insights they provide.
8. Where is the Agency Located?
Thankfully, there’s really no need to ask this question anymore. Location has essentially become a non-issue for rebranding projects in the new remote workplace.
Beyond the slight inconvenience of misaligned time zones, the coronavirus pandemic has shown that nearly anything is possible working with a remote branding agency.
There are simply no more advantages to limiting your search to local agencies. Doing so only ensures that you’re missing out on some great branding partners in cities you may not have considered.
This means your list of potential partners might be longer when trying to choose a branding agency, but it also means you’ll have a lot more quality options to choose from.
9. Do They Offer Solutions Within My Budget?
Budget is area where, while it’s important to establish a realistic comfort zone, it’s 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 five to ten years, provided you’re able to maintain brand focus. When you amortize the cost over that length of time, budget differentials become all but negligible.
As we mentioned in the introduction, 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 business transaction, when it comes to branding 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 Those of Our Own Brand?
Last 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 that is trying to choose 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.
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in May 2021 and has been updated with additional insights.