You’re here because you’re thinking of hiring a branding agency for your business. This is the first step on the road to success. Your brand will be the primary factor for so many people when deciding whether they want to buy from you, partner with you, or even retweet you.
The agency you hire will ultimately determine how your customers view your brand. Putting this project in their hands is one of the most important decisions you will ever make as a business owner.
So what is there to the hiring process? What are the probing questions you need to ask? Where do you start in your research process? What are the red flags you should look out for? Who do you trust?
You trust us, of course.
Get comfy because this is our complete, comprehensive guide to hiring a branding agency in 2023.
This is arguably the most important aspect of any company. It is the way a business communicates with the world. Branding makes your company recognisable and memorable, but it also brings your employees a sense of inclusion and identification that is essential to loyalty and commitment.
46% of consumers would pay more to brands they trust.
Brand consistency is responsible for a 33% increase in revenue.
77% of consumers choose to buy from brands that share their values.
88% of consumers value authenticity when deciding whether to support a brand.
Relatable ethics and values that can’t be communicated.
A mission without images, words, or sounds to convey itself.
An ambiguous, undefined personality that can’t be shown off or identified with.
Ella Dawson is the resident branding sorceress at MadeByShape. What does she have to say about the importance of branding? Well, I asked.
If you have a job, you’ve probably heard of the internationally-recognised communication platform Slack. A branding agency created slack’s unmistakable branding. You’d be surprised at the amount of logos you see around you right now that were created by agencies.
Unless you run a large company, it’s likely you don't have your own in-house design team. This is the case for most businesses because there’s simply no reason to run a design team every day, and the associated costs can be quite high.
But even large companies with in-house creative teams still approach agencies to work with them on branding projects. Here are some of the main reasons hiring a branding agency is a good idea.
Wide-ranging knowledge and skills: agencies have built their business around the branding industry. Their understanding of how to approach branding projects and execute them is usually much more in-depth than their in-house counterparts because of their experience.
Industry experience and trends: As with the above point, an agency will be able to bring years of combined industry experience and insight into trends to the table to make your brand as strong as it can be in your market space.
Cost-effective: it’s no secret that one of, if not the, most expensive overhead of any business is employee wages. Agencies offer a cheap solution to companies that don’t have the resources or can't justify hiring a full-time design team.
Time-saving: putting your brand project into the hands of any agency is often a way of working smarter. While all agencies will require your input, letting one run with your project after agreeing on certain KPIs means you can get on with other things.
Fresh eyes: living with your business and brand every day can turn you blind to how the outside world perceives it. Hiring an agency will give you the invaluable benefit of an outsider’s input, combined with the insider knowledge of the branding market.
Not all branding agencies are cut from the same cloth. There are many different types of agencies that offer branding alongside other services, such as a branding and marketing agency. Choose an agency that offers the right services for you.
|Design and Creative||Excellent visual command of your brand identity. Highly skilled, intuitive brand experiences that speak to your audience.||Brand assets are only taken so far. No opportunity to professionally launch your new brand through marketing|
|Marketing and PR||Expert strategic promotion of your brand, maximising brand awareness and conveying the right message to the right people.||Visual, audio, and written brand assets will need to be provided to market the brand.|
|Full Service||A well-rounded skillset means access to more possibilities for your brand.||Resources could be stretched too thinly if an agency is poorly managed.|
You likely won’t find a branding creative agency or a branding marketing agency that only offers one or two services. All agencies are different, and usually, they will offer a unique combination. Here’s an example of how services overlap.
Types of Agencies
Where will your branding project go if you don’t know what success looks like? The first step is defining what you want to achieve. This will help you determine what you want for your money and give every branding design agency you approach a good solid foundation to present you with realistic options.
If you aren’t clear on goals, look for a branding and design agency that can help you define them. This is where relationship building is also essential because you will be trusting the agency to define true goals that align with your business trajectory. More on this later.
Either way, you need to go in with a confident plan and pathway. Your branding objectives should be carefully crafted, not just pulled out of a discussion with the C-suite team. Our guide to hiring a branding agency includes an audit template and some exercises that will help you define your objectives properly and present them to the agencies you approach.
Increase brand awareness
Increase customer retention
Refine the brand message
Update the brand identity
You’ll probably start with a google search: ‘branding agency nearby’ or ‘top branding agency UK’. Remember that being at the top of Google isn’t just a result of branding success but also artful search engine optimisation. You’ll need to dig deeper to determine if these agencies measure up in the branding world.
While the first page of Google is a great place to start, make sure to refine your searches to show results more relevant to your needs. ‘Luxury hotel branding agencies’ will certainly cut the legwork out of the process over ‘branding agencies’ (unless you aren’t a luxury hotel, of course).
If you’ve got a certain company in mind that gets you excited about branding, or you’ve seen a style that you really think would work on your business, ask! Unless it’s a direct competitor, most companies will be happy to point you in the direction of the agency that did their branding. What is more, you could also get an invaluable inside scoop on what the agency is like before you even contact them. The same goes for business partners, advisors, and even friends, ask people you trust for recommendations of real branding agencies with good reputations.
Social media plays a more significant part in our lives all the time, for many companies, it's the way their audiences discovered them (it’s how yours truly found MadeByShape in the very beginning). This is especially true of design-related companies like branding agencies who tout their work on visual platforms like Instagram, Dribbble, and Behance.
If you’re looking for a top 10 branding agency list, websites like Clutch and Sortlist will regularly rate and cite companies internationally, including top branding agencies. These websites base their ratings on categories where clients can leave reviews combined with their own vetting processes. Sorting and filtering by factors like budget, location, and services help to narrow down the search and save time finding the best marketing agency for company branding.
Speaking of finding a branding agency UK businesses trust, take a look at what they’re talking about on their blog. Are there lots of helpful resources like how to write a branding brief with a free template and why a digital-first approach is best for your brand? This sort of high-quality content signals that the company knows their shit when it comes to design agency branding.
Form Criteria on Which to Judge Agencies
As professionals of their own, marketing agency branding wow you with flashy website design and compelling user experience when you visit their sites. Creative agency branding is definitely an indicator of the quality of work you can expect, but it’s not everything. Remain vigilant in your search, and don’t let these honeypots get you early on. Create criteria of factors that matter to you and stick to them throughout your research process. This will become more important later on.
Here are some solid criteria to find the best creative branding agency. We cover how to find these in our guide.
In today’s world, finding a branding agency UK, London, or Europe-based isn’t the number one priority anymore. With the power of The Cloud, Google Drive, and video call and recording software like Loom, many companies consider themselves international branding agencies or online branding agencies. MadeByShape is a global branding agency working with clients in all corners of the world, and it never affects our ability to deliver fantastic projects.
Similarly, the cost is all relative. Searching for a ‘cheap branding agency’ isn’t going to get you very far, as a good strategic branding agency will provide a bespoke quote after getting a detailed understanding of what you need. Any agency that offers a price off the cuff or presents you with a price list should be treated with suspicion.
Here; the best approach is to compare the objectives you set out in the first step with what the agencies on your list can deliver. Do you need animation for your branding? Check whether the branding agency does animation or video. What are the budget limitations? Is this a niche area that requires specialist creative branding and a branding agency with previous experience in the same area?
If you downloaded our guide to hiring the right industry branding agency, use the audit you completed at the beginning and compare the resultant objectives to all the information you gathered in the previous research and discovery stage. Give each company branding agency a rating between one and five for relevance to your objectives, and add any notes you need to to convey why you gave them that score.
When you contact a branding services agency and register interest, they will begin to produce a proposal to present to you. This is your chance to test them a bit and make sure you get the most out of this essential stage to gain insight into how they approach projects.
Provide your brand objectives (you can show them your audit as well as a brand brief if you create one, templates for both are in our guide). This will ensure any proposed direction and design ideas are already relevant to what you want to achieve.
Define what you would like to see in examples of previous work, be it projects for similar companies to yours or projects of the same budget range.
Ask for references. This lets you speak to other clients and ask your own questions, getting a deeper comprehension of the agency’s work processes than their case studies will show you.
Ask for some draft examples. Producing some work to illustrate the teams' skills is a common component of a branding proposal. Let the agency know what sort of visual examples you would like to see.
You will meet the team you'll be working with during the proposal presentation. This is one of the most important steps in determining the best branding agency for you. The chemistry between you is vital to the project's success. Are the key stakeholders in the company invested in the relationship? This, too, is critical in building a good connection that produces ROI.
The importance of a good relationship doesn’t mean an agency isn’t capable or flexible enough if you don't get along with them. Sharing a vision, ethics, and even team personality traits all factor into a successful branding agency’s ability to accurately see your ideas and connect on human and professional levels. This organic relationship can help inspire a shared vision with better fidelity to your true brand identity.
Remember to go with your gut on how you feel about the team. This gut feeling tells you if you’ll be friends with someone you’ve just met or if you have that spark with someone on a date. This chemistry is exactly the same, even though it’s in a professional setting.
At MadeByShape, our primary aim is to work with clients with whom we share a vision because those are the most rewarding and successful projects.
We’ve all heard cautionary tales about pitch presentations, after which the client never saw those faces again. Getting a clear idea of who you will work with at this initial stage is vital so be sure to ask the question during the proposal presentation.
Many clients worry that they will never hear from the C-suite members of the company again. Directors often do take a back seat following this initial meeting. It’s not always a bad thing and depends on the size and operation of the agency. We think it's important to have sight of what’s going on, so Andy and Jay are always in the background to let clients know they’re still there.
MadeByShape co-founder, Andy, finds a balance between being present and giving the project the space it needs.
Once you’ve made the decision and partnered with an agency, ensure the relationship's longevity. The next step is to get a scope of work document, a Gantt chart, or a similar plan to map out milestones along the road and ensure you both know what to expect.
Example of Gantt chart
Don’t let go of the KPIs you set out at the beginning. Set up recurring meetings to ensure you always have communication and always have a touchpoint to work towards. Establish benchmark data if you need to. All of this helps to make your agency accountable.
Your new specialist branding agency will draw up a contract or terms of business for you both to sign. Make sure the document contains the following and that the terms are agreeable to you before signing.
Names, addresses, and contact information of both parties
A deadline for the work to be completed or the contract’s duration
A full and detailed scope of the work agreed
Terms of payment (when will payment be made? In full at the end? After certain milestones?)
Terms for late payment (when is the deadline for payment? Is there a fee for late payments?)
Conditions for adding work outside of the initial scope (what rate is extra work billed at? What constitutes extra work?)
A termination clause (what happens when you want to end the relationship?)
An indemnity clause (what if things outside both of your control affect the relationship?)
What happens if the contract is breached
Who owns the assets that are created, and at what point? (for example, are assets owned by the agency until payment is processed?)
Does there need to be a non-disclosure agreement?
It’s important to remember that a branding project is a two-way street, and without your input, an agency won’t do as good a job as if you just let them run with it. This isn't a sign that your agency isn’t good enough; it's just common sense. As the business owner, you’ve grown and lived through the ups and downs of your business. You know it inside and out—better than anyone. Help your agency by providing as much information as they need.
Here are the most valuable pieces of information you can give to your agency (unless you’ve agreed that they do this research).
Your brand audit, including SWOT analysis and SMART goals
Your brand brief
Market research and customer/audience profiles
A list of your competitors
Current brand guidelines
Contact information (names, phone numbers, email addresses, roles relevant to the project, times of availability)
Want to know more about place branding? Perhaps you’re interested in product branding agency work, such as why car brands are simplifying their identities. Find out more in our blog. Brand designer Ella also doles out some of the best agency branding sources of inspiration and classic corporate branding agency examples.
Swotting up on brand lingo isn’t just a good way to better understand what to expect at the pitch presentation. It’ll give you an edge when communicating with agencies and let them know that you know what you’re talking about.
Here are some of the most important terms in branding.
|Ambassador||A person who represents or promotes a company’s brand, building trust among its audience.|
|Assets||Visual, audible, or tangible elements that embody a brand’s identity. For example, logo files, animated adverts, posters, uniforms, and brand guidelines.|
|Brand Awareness||The extent of familiarity people have with a brand’s presence, meaning, and message.|
|Brand Guidelines||A document outlines the rules of how a brand should be presented through any relevant aspect, such as visual design, message, tone of voice, etc.|
|Brand Hierarchy||The positioning and structure of multiple brands within an organisation.|
|Brand Identity or Visual Identity||All of the visual, audible, and tangible assets associated with a brand.|
|Brand Positioning||Where a brand is positioned in the market in relation to its competitors.|
|Brand Recognition||The accuracy and extent to which people can identify a brand through attributes like brand assets.|
|Collateral||A collection of brand assets and media used to market a brand.|
|Differentiation or Brand Gap||The nature and extent to which a brand is different to its competitors.|
|Pictorial Mark||A graphics-based logo, often an icon, that is purely pictorial and doesn't contact any words, such as the Nike logo.|
|Trust Signals||Evidence that helps brands build rapport with customers and audiences, helping them to feel secure in decisions to do with the brand.|
|Wordmark||A text-based logo usually made up of words alone, such as the Coca-Cola logo.|
So now you’re all set—time to start looking for an agency that’ll make all your dreams come true.