How to Choose the Right Branding Partner
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How to Choose the Right Branding Partner

January 29, 2020

The ultimate guide to choosing a branding firm who can help transform your business, create differentiation, engage customers, change perceptions, and drive growth.

Great brands aren’t static. They evolve as the market evolves, as their customers’ needs change. The best brands, in fact, are able to anticipate these changes — to grow proactively rather than reactively. Reaching that point, however, isn’t easy. It demands that you keep a close eye on the consumer landscape, gathering insights and leveraging them to create strategies that will spark engagement today and tomorrow. 

To ensure their brand adapts quickly to the changing marketplace and ignites growth, many marketing teams partner with a brand strategy firm. But choosing the right firm can feel overwhelming. How do you navigate the process and make the best choice? In this post, we’ll teach you how to explore the brand strategy landscape and discover your ideal partner. Keep reading to learn how to get started with your search.

Step 1: Choose your mission and gather your fellow explorers

Brand strategy encompasses a great deal, everything from messaging to campaign tactics to visual identity to brand positioning strategies and beyond. If you go looking for everything all at once, you won’t find anything. An effective brand strategy is your key to ignite passion and purchase, so it’s essential that you consider the specifics of what you’re trying to achieve. First, get specific about the mission you’re pursuing. Common challenges include: understanding how to enter a new market, developing a more effective value proposition, and deploying a full-scale rebrand. Brand strategy consulting firms vary greatly in both the capabilities they offer and the scale of their typical projects. If you don’t have your goals defined, it will be hard to find a shop that’s a good match.

This initial stage is also a great time to figure out who your fellow explorers will be — the others who will be involved in the search and decision-making processes. Inviting too few people on the journey, too few voices to the discussion, could mean key company needs go unaddressed. Bringing in too many, on the other hand, could lead to chaos, slow progress, and too many cooks in the kitchen. Try to strike the right balance as you assemble your party.

Step 2: Map the territory

Once you and your team have a sense for what you’re trying to achieve, it’s time to start exploring. Google your challenge and check out the results. Ask colleagues for recommendations. Keep a list of exciting potential firms and dig into those companies’ websites. When you do, there are some essential things you need to look for. The first few are things that will help you and your team make sure a given agency is broadly a good fit — the “due diligence” stuff:

  • Case studies: Top-tier brand strategy consulting firms should offer case studies that highlight similar work they’ve done for other brands. These resources are important, because they’ll give you insight into whether an agency has experience solving problems similar to the ones you face — and for organizations of a similar size. If a particular agency is structured to work with billion dollar brands, they might be cost prohibitive for a startup. On the flip side, a firm that focuses on small businesses probably isn’t the best fit for a global, Fortune 500 brand.
  • Specific capabilities: You need to make sure any firm you choose to partner with has the ability to solve your unique challenges. Need insight into your target audience? Look for an agency with robust insights offerings. Does your brand need a new visual identity? Then you’ll want to choose a partner with strong design capabilities. 

And then there are the things that will help you determine whether an agency actually excites you: the messaging, the press, the work itself. Do you respond emotionally to the way a firm presents itself online? Are you impressed by what they’ve accomplished, and what other brands are saying about them? Trust your enthusiasm. You’re not just trying to find a partner who can do the work — you’re trying to find one who does work that inspires you. 

Step 3: Make contact

After you’ve found a number of agencies that seem to meet your criteria, it’s time to narrow your search. Evaluate your list and cut it down to the most promising three (give or take). With your choices in hand, it’s time to send some RFPs.

If you aren’t sure how to put together a strong RFP, you aren’t alone — many companies struggle to know what to include. That’s why we created this guide: How to Write a Great RFP. It includes checklists and sample templates so that you can make sure you’re giving the right kinds of information.

In our experience, it’s helpful if you start by considering some of the following questions:

  • How much flexibility do you want to give the agency? If you have specific methodological suggestions, be up front about them.
  • Are your goals realistic for your budget? Consider doing some initial research on average costs to make sure you’re allocating enough budget, and be prepared to pay for good thinking.
  • Are you open to co-scoping? Co-scoping an engagement can promote absolute buy-in on both sides from the outset.

Step 4: Use our scorecard to find your ideal partner

You’ve sent your RFPs and received some proposals in return — great. Assuming the agencies you’ve contacted are serious about winning your business, they’ll want to schedule a pitch. That’s good. It’s important to meet any potential partners in person, and their presentations will give you valuable insights into their capabilities and dynamics. 

But do you know how to evaluate different agencies in a way that ensures you’ll land on the ideal partner? Again, many companies don’t. The process is part science, part art, carries high stakes, and offers no guarantees. If you don’t know what to look for, it can be an overwhelming decision. 

Hopefully by now, though, you’ve picked up on the fact that we like to help — which is why we also created this scorecard. It will give you a concrete strategy for holistically evaluating brand strategy consulting firms, from the proposal to in-person meetings. It’s a tool designed to help you quantify what can feel like an abstract decision — and ultimately choose the right partner for your brand.

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