In general, sourcing professional creative services can be a bit of a minefield. It’s no different when we look for a branding agency. Put 10 branding professionals in a room and see if you can find consensus on what branding is!
So, what is the small-to-medium business owner or marketing manager going to do?
Well, it’s like any relationship. Identify what’s important to you and look for a partner who values the same things.
What’s important to you?
This is what you want to get out of the process. Do you want to sharpen your brand identity or redesign product packaging? Perhaps you’re determined to dominate a particular advertising channel? Maybe your brand story just isn’t resonating with the target audience?
Understanding the specific reason for addressing your brand is fundamental. Articulate this and you know what to look for in your partner.
A partner who values the same things…
As I suggested at the start, branding pro’s come in all shapes, sizes and viewpoints! That said, in my experience, most demonstrate a particular bias. Looking at branding agencies facing small-to-medium businesses you have 3 types:
The Design Branding Agency
The original breed and probably the most prolific. Design-led agencies are rooted in crafting visuals. Effective modern designers recognise the importance of strategy in the mix – balancing form with function.
Design at its core is about problem-solving. A good agency or independent designer will understand the problem, get inside the head of the end-user and use design to bring them together.
It’s no surprise that design-led branding is what you need if you’re addressing a visual problem. Brand identity, brand communications (web, print) and branded environments.
Brand experience (or customer experience, user experience, interaction experience) is another area where design thinking and methods can make all the difference.
The Marketing Branding Agency
Marketing is a very broad term. If you want to sell, you have to market. This is what marketing people do best – sell! A good marketing-led agency will know the best channels for your brand and be expert in making the most of them. They should know where your customers are and how to get more of them.
Marketing-led branding is therefore a wise choice for the brand that isn’t changing all that much. Branded advertising and campaigns is where they add value. Developing the existing identity to create effective, targeted, selling communications and opportunities.
The Content Branding Agency
The newest of the bunch. Content is mostly in the digital space. We’re talking blogging, social media and sometimes traditional media PR. These agencies are concerned primarily with story-telling and human impact pieces. It’s a two-way street. Content branding seeks regular engagement and interaction with audiences.
Content-led branding is effective in opinion management. It’s all about putting your brand in the here and now. Telling stories, starting conversations and driving enquiries. Less direct, but as much about selling as marketing-led branding.
Of course, most agents have an understanding of design, marketing and content and other factors such as experience and pricing are important. Before you get to these, make sure you know your focus and that you’re shortlisting specialists who will come at it from the right starting-point.