There are many reasons to rebrand your business; whether you want to tap into a new demographic, adapt to market changes, shake off your old image as you’ve outgrown your original mission or simply because you never had a solid brand in the first place. Developing a brand is a complex process requiring team effort, time and investment. If you are ready to make the next move then finding the right partner is crucial. But it’s not the easiest thing to do. As an agency ourselves, we wanted to share signs to look for when choosing a rebranding agency to work with.
Rebranding: agency, consultancy or a solo designer?
There’s an overwhelming amount of rebranding specialists and they come in all shapes and sizes. The first thing to do is to define what type of specialists your business needs in order to successfully rebrand. We divide them into three categories: agencies, consultants and solo professionals.
Typically, a rebranding agency is an end-to-end firm that employs a team of strategists, designers, producers and developers. An agency will be 100% responsible for both the process and rebranding results. Different agencies have different focuses and specialties, such as marketing, brand strategy or design, but most will still own the end-to-end process. You should consider hiring an agency if you do not have the capacity (or focus) for creative work in house and prefer to task someone else with developing guidelines and materials for your team.
Consultants will do just that: they advise and provide insights that inform the direction of your rebranding; but the rebranding itself will be on your team to deliver. This approach is helpful if you’d like to conduct the rebranding in-house but either do not know where to start or do not have the expertise to lead it.
Solo designers are the early stage company’s best friend. If you do not yet have the capacity to think about your brand but require a professionally-looking logo and several assets to start, hiring a solo designer is a good place to start. Solo professionals do not have agency capacity but they’re a great way to get your brand off the ground.
Size doesn’t matter, but performance always does
When first picking an agency you will naturally be drawn to larger players, perceiving them as the less risky option. This is unsurprising: a portfolio of familiar names and large brands brings a sense of stability to the seemingly complex and obscure world of branding.
Large agencies however have a particular way of doing things. They tend to work with prominent clients on long-term, capital-intensive contracts with large production budgets. They also tend to be more traditional in their process, used to corporate timelines rather than growth stage or start-up pace.
Although considered the “dark horse” smaller agencies bring multiple benefits to their clients: they will be almost entirely focused on your business, you will have access to their best talent (compared to large agency, where you might be working with a second-tier team without even knowing it); the pace will be much faster and project budgets tend to be more modest thanks to the lack of excessives overheads.
The point is, regardless of which type of rebranding agency you go with a good fit should not be defined solely by size. Rather their ability to perform the services your business requires, in time and on budget.
Let them walk you through their portfolio
After you’ve picked a provider and studied the rebranding services they offer make sure to check their portfolio. Ideally schedule an intro call and ask them to walk you through it. An agency will not always have examples that match your company exactly. In most cases they won’t be able to work with you if they have rebranded a competitor previously. But they may have worked with companies in the same industry, or with similar business models.
As they walk you through their portfolio consider if their previous strategies and designs could be applied to your business. If you’re confident in their ability it will serve as a proof the agency is able to adapt, think proactively and ground their actions in insights and research while looking for industry patterns.
Assess the scope and process of a rebranding agency
Brand is a long-term story – on average, a company rebrands only once in 7-10 years. A solid brand is the platform for long-term business success. Therefore, view any and all brand work as a crucial investment that must be done correctly.
After you’ve seen the agency’s portfolio, make sure to get a clear understanding of their brand development process. What does each step involve, what are the deliverables (ideally, with examples), how long does every stage take and how many iterations does every deliverable have?
Key things to look for:
- Research phase: Make sure the agency’s process is grounded in asset research, market strategy and target audiences. Effective research enables both sides to establish a level playing field when it comes to evaluating creative work. You are not your customer; the research (or brand strategy) phase helps us understand what your customer actually likes and wants to see. Research allows creative work to be justified, avoiding feedback such as “it just doesn’t speak to me” or “I feel that way”. Branding is only part art – the rest is science.
- Creative phase. Take a look at the number of creative directions the agency is committed to providing and how many iterations each includes. You might prefer to reduce the number of options if you want to avoid making tricky decisions; you might want to request a more creative directions if your target audience and market are complex and you’d like an input from multiple team members.
- Brand Guidelines. Your brand guidelines must work for your business, and not be printed out in a beautiful folder and put in the drawer. Things to look for before striking a deal with an agency are:
1) are they going to help your team adopt the guidelines?
2) are there ready-to-use assets provided with the brand book?
3) do the guidelines cover assets and instances that are unique and important to your business or do they feel copy-pasted and overly general?
Search for a long-term partner
Brand, like every relationship, is about long-term commitment. Rebranding requires active effort and management. You need to work with an agency committed to a long term partnership, not a one time service.
Initially many clients are uncertain of the word “retainer”, viewing it as a scary long term financial commitment. However the goal is to find an agency ready and with capacity for such commitment; even if you decide to postpone it. Always test the waters before jumping into retainers and enquire about the agencies existing long-term partnerships and clients.
Once a brand is finalized, it needs to start living — through sales decks, collateral, social media and marketing activities. A rebranding agency can help with brand strategy, art direction, managing your in-house team, production, as well as marketing services (if they have this capacity) and sometimes even with hiring creative talent in-house (we do). The agency-partner you should be looking for is one with the expertise and awareness to let you know when it’s time to make a change to your brand. A good partner should have your back and maintain the relationship regardless of how much, or little your business requires their services.
Unless they’re large scale (new logos or colors) brand updates often go unnoticed by consumers. However even the smallest of updates can act as an emotional trigger, subconsciously affecting your audience in ways they are not even aware of. With that in mind working and building a relationship with a branding agency is a true marker of your company’s commitment to growth and evolution.