How to avoid the boasters, the ‘yes-men’, the fake case studies, and the click-baiters…and instead find the deeper thinkers, the probers, and those who execute on ideas…

Okay, this title may be a little click-baitey but….you really should read this before contacting a branding agency.

They say it takes ten thousand hours to master a skill.

But who has ten thousand spare hours lying around when you’re trying to build a successful business?

The answer is no-one. If you do, then you’ve either discovered time travel (free tip: this is probably more profitable than what you’re doing currently) or your business isn’t getting off the ground.

The modern start-up

In this day and age, the one-man-band start-up is becoming an ever more attractive (and ever more possible) method of founding a business. It’s possible to start, run, and grow a business from your laptop or mobile phone. Business can be fully automated, and branding is only one of many things that the modern entrepreneur can now do alone.

A typical start up founder Contracting a Branding Agency
A typical start-up founder.

How well it can be done is another matter. As businesses grow – which, for those in rapidly expanding sectors such as renewable energy or fintech – they also need to expand. Whether this is in terms of staffing, investment, or accessing new markets, the greatest businesses are ultimately those that are able to carry on growing.

Inevitably, this means that the workload often becomes too onerous for a small team lacking specialism in certain areas. It is in specialist areas such as branding that contracting a branding agency begins to become attractive.

The stereotype of the agency signals welcome relief for some, grand opportunities for others, and for the doubting Thomases, a big red flag with an even bigger red cross on it.

Boris shovelling food down his troff. He won't be Contracting a Branding Agency
Feeding time at No.10

The problem is, it can be difficult to work out which agencies are design and strategy by blood, and which are going to send your brand reputation crashing and burning faster than the cheese and wine slid down the Prime Minister’s gullet. When you’re building a business, strong branding is imperative.

However, its true value is still perhaps misunderstood amongst businesspeople who can be deterred by added costs and a dilution of decision-making power. Ironically, the very thing that would sway the sceptical project managers and owners when it comes to contacting a branding agency is trust – exactly what branding is meant to create.

So, what exactly should you know before contracting a branding agency?

There are several ways to weed out the good’uns from the bad’uns when it comes to contracting a branding agency. Telling signs will exist from the very first interaction to the delivery of the final project.

So what should you look out for? What are some of the most common mistakes companies make when contacting a branding agency? And what should a visionary branding agency give to your growing business?

Here is the truth told, from the heart of a branding agency itself.

What now when you want to Contracting a Branding Agency
Example of a poker face

1. Don’t shy away from a branding agency that asks you probing questions

Imagine going to the doctors and leaving as soon as they asked you “what seems to be the problem?”. You’d not only be wasting their time, your own time, and everyone else’s time, but you wouldn’t actually get a solution to the problem you were experiencing. To diagnose, the doctor has to understand what’s wrong.

A similar principle can be applied to contacting a branding agency. Sometimes, companies can be deterred by agencies who allegedly ask ‘too many questions’. And, to an extent, that’s understandable given that you ultimately pay for somebody else to do the work for you.

Deep in a fake conversation for the photo. This branding agency has contracted a great photographer.
Deep in a fake conversation for the photo

But this approach is weaker than a hamster who’s just gone twelve rounds with Tyson Fury. Whilst an agency is there to do the work for you, branding is a particularly personal process that, to receive the best results, needs the most collaboration. You don’t need to hold the agency’s hand every step of the way, but you do need to face up to the probing questions that the agency will want to ask you.

By understanding what lies behind the facts and figures, a branding agency will be able to create a bespoke final identity that acts as a sale-spinning pivot between you and your target consumer. You’ll also simultaneously learn more about your own offering and how to improve it.

To create personal connections, it’s important to answer the questions that get to the heart of any brand: the people. 

ME me branding when contracting an agency

2. Accidentally contracting a branding agency that’s all ‘me, me, me’

A website littered with glittering awards and superb testimonials…

An office with lined walls of CEO and super client ‘partner outreach’ photos, all of which involve a copious amount of alcohol on the desk in front.

A staff culture that screams ‘work hard, play harder’.

In theory, there’s nothing wrong with this. After all, who wouldn’t love to partner with an agency with a vibrant staff culture whose work is clearly of a good quality. But what about when things become less Richard Branson and a little more David Brent?

When contacting a branding agency, it’s important that their outlook is entirely consumer-first. Of course, it’s a good idea to share achievements and awards to build credibility, and branding should always be seen as a discipline of business that revolves around the concept of togetherness.

However, when an agency is all ‘me, me, me’, things can get difficult. It’s important to look for honest customer reviews and join a brand workshop to see whether the agency in question is willing to help shape your vision for your company, first and foremost.

Great branding results come when experts in design use their expertise to shape another organisation’s vision and portray this value to the consumer, not when the experts decide to reimagine their client’s entire outlook. Honesty and empathy are key virtues to look for when contacting a branding agency. Don’t compromise on them.

A fake branding mockup used to contract an agency

3. Beware of fake studies

It’s not always good to be pessimistic, but when you’re contacting a branding agency, the criteria should be stringent. Naturally, entrusting an independent team to bring your business to life off-paper carries a degree of risk as you simply aren’t in control.

Fear not. Any credible branding agency will be composed of lateral thinkers with the ability to engage with tomorrow’s visions from innovative renewable energy or forward-thinking fintech, to large NGOs seeking a transparent and hard-hitting identity.

The problem is, not all branding agencies are so successful. Not all hit the sweet spot. Some just lie. Yeah…really.

The fake case study is all four horsemen of the apocalypse when it comes to contacting a branding agency. But how do you spot fake case studies? Look out for:

  • Outlandish claims and even more outlandish figures – no, BS Marketing did not experience a 700% increase in lead conversions with their new website.
  • A poorly proofread final copy – no credible case study will mix up ‘their’, ‘there’ and ‘they’re’.  
  • No links back to the business whose branding they worked on – in 2022, the phantom company isn’t ‘underground’ or ‘moving quietly. It simply doesn’t exist.
a yes man Contracting a Branding Agency
You know this guy says yes to most things he shouldn't

4. Steer clear of ‘yes men’ when contracting a branding agency

We’ve already said that it’s not good to work with a branding agency that places themselves at the centre of your project. However, the proverbial ‘yes men’ can also create problems within the branding process.

Any creative discipline requires a collaborative approach. Bouncing different ideas on them – and challenging these ideas to form better ones – is a crucial part of the branding process. As they say, the first idea that comes to mind isn’t always the best.

However, if your branding agency goes along with your each and every request despite them being the experts, you may as well do it yourself. A good branding agency will help shape and guide your vision, keeping your core values and thoughts at the heart of the process, but ultimately combine their experience and skills with your outlook.

When contacting a branding agency, remember: a yes is good…but only for good ideas.

Elastica band from the 90s Contracting a Branding Agency
Bonus points for anyone who gets this reference

5. Connection with the branding agency is the most important thing

Branding is all about connections. Connections between customer and brand, between brands and other brands, and even between the people that make up these brands.

Branding creates customer loyalty, and this loyalty is earned through the subconscious relationships that are forged between a customer’s values and the complimentary values that an organisation’s branding portrays. This can come through the colours used on the logo, the copy used on the website, and even the experience a customer has in store.

Social media from Bridge Studio
Social media design

So, if branding is all about connecting values and visions, you and your branding agency need to be on the same page. We’re not suggesting that you need to embark upon a complimentary Christmas card exchange each year, nor that you need to offer the creative director the chance to be your middle child’s godfather.

However, it is vital that a healthy channel of communication and a clear willingness of the agency to put your business and its intended identity first exists.

Cheap prices at a cafe
You get what you pay for. Photo: Brett Jordan

6. You get what you pay for

Everyone likes a bargain, but nobody likes bad quality. The problem is, the former often leads to the latter. Aldi and Lidl have some excellent products at a great price, but the Queen will probably continue to shop at Fortnum and Mason’s.

 A similar principle applies to contacting a branding agency. Sure, nobody likes to be ripped off, and some agencies do take liberties with their pricing. However, branding is an intricate art that requires a diverse skill set and knowledge base spanning an intimate understanding of UI/UX, user psychology, website coding, complex digital creative tools, and much more.

As a rule of thumb, the best agencies will charge more, and deliver results. That’s not to say that cheaper agencies won’t, and there’s nothing wrong with charging a little less. However, when the pricing looks suspiciously low, it’s probably a good idea to go with your gut. Buy cheap, buy twice.

A town called Answers
Photo: Hadija Saidi

7. Before contracting a branding agency, ask the right questions

So, you’ve managed to narrow down your options and have weeded out the yes men, the fakers, and those whose ego makes Zlatan Ibrahimovic look humble. You’re about to send off the email to kickstart your branding journey. What should you ask about?

  • Whether they have previous experience working with businesses like yours
  • Case studies, if not publicly available
  • Pricing structure, length of contracting agreement, and time frame for completion
  • Whether they need anything from you – be prepared to share your business guide/pack/introduction and make yourself available for meetings. No branding agency will be able to create your new brand from your old website!
  • Their approach to the branding process
  • What measures they can take to protect the brand identity

Similarly, it’s a good idea to ask questions of your own business. Who really are you, in a B2C and B2B sense? What morals or values underpin your business? What is the main point of value you bring? What do you want to achieve with your brand?

If these questions are difficult to answer, we’ll help you find clarity and alignment within your organisation.

Stay in front in a changing world. Get in touch today, and begin something bigger. 

By Sam Hudspith - Bridge Studio content writer