Branding agencies tend to be called on when things change. Events like new ownership, new leadership and new directions can force a company to reposition, revitalise or simply clarify their brand.
Even without major changes at the top, companies, much like people, can change over time. They can outgrow their existing identity, change their purpose, or just feel the need for their company to move with the times.
Branding agencies can also play a vital role before a business or product even gets off the drawing board. They can add value during the naming process and generally act as a midwife to a newborn brand.
But what exactly is a branding agency? How do they differ from a design agency? Or a digital agency? And why should you invest in their expertise?
Let’s start by defining what a branding agency is and isn’t. To qualify as a branding agency, a team should consist of people fluent, skilled and experienced in business, brand strategy, digital, design and communications. Remove the former and you have a design agency or a digital agency. Remove the latter and you have a brand planner or brand consultant.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with either of those, but they are only part of the puzzle. For everything to work collaboratively, seamlessly, end-to-end, and be produced under one roof, you need the full set. In an ideal world, this is also overseen by a project manager, to help keep the whole process on the rails.
Any decent design agency should possess some degree of strategic thinking, this will usually underpin their design ethos and rationale. The same goes for digital, manifesting itself in the thinking behind a user experience.
“The core brand services are: brand strategies, translated into communication strategy, developed into creative concepts and then implemented in the marketplace.”
Stephanie Kurz, Stan Hema
Neither design nor digital expertise creates a brand alone. They both happen after brand. Or more precisely, brand happens to them. If brand is the heart, design, digital and communications are the limbs, helping the brand move and reach out into the world. But to reach out into the world, these limbs need blood from the heart. A weak heart means weak limbs, a weak brand means weak messaging.
This means that clearly articulating your brand story is the starting point of any branding process; because it pumps blood to every other element. Without the guidance of brand story, every part of your company either does its own thing, or ends up being basic and generic.
A lack of consistency will dilute your messages and weaken recognition. A lack of differentiation will simply mean you fade into the background and get ignored.
It seems obvious, yet it is worth repeating: when it comes to your company or product, brand isn’t one thing, it is everything. Your brand is the fuel everything else runs on and it is inherently linked to your business strategy.
Because brand flows through every single part of the company. It has an effect both internally on your staff and externally on your clients and customers. It should inform every single action an organisation takes, from the inside out.
And that is exactly how it should be approached. Beginning with the very heart and soul of your company, your reason for being, getting to your why. This is made up of not just what you do, but who you do it for and how you do it differently.
This in turn, breathes life into your company values, which should act as a GPS for your decisions and behaviours. Which means that they inform not only what you say but how you say it. Your values feed into the character of your brand and even into the signature style summary of your brand; your strapline.
All of this should happen before anyone starts thinking about logos, colours, typography, image styles, layout and communications. And you guessed it, every element you put out into the world should be influenced by the brand thinking at the core of the process. Why? Because your ‘why’ is supporting your business strategy, so why waste money on muddled messaging and ad hoc communications when every asset you pay for could be strengthening and clarifying the perception your brand?
Out in the real world all of this effort is cleverly hidden, brand is skilfully woven into the tapestry of big names. On a basic level, brand is the net impression a customer holds in their mind, based on every experience they have with a company. From people, to product, to service, through to advertising, social and digital. Marty Neumeier famously said about brand, “It’s not what you say it is, it’s what they say it is.”
And yet, paradoxically, in order to get people to come to a consensus on ‘what something is’ you need someone to help you define what you’d like them to think it is. You need someone to help steer it when the world starts responding to it. The people best placed to do all this is a brand agency.
People no longer blindly agree with brand communications, instead they question, engage, converse with, and even subvert brand messaging all the time. Which is all the more reason for having a branding agency involved from the outset, and keeping them along for the ride, so that your brand can be steered safely through any choppy seas.
“The skills required are listening, empathy, creativity, collaboration, organisation, and persuasion. The services I expect around brand and innovation include steward- ship, identity, positioning, design trend evaluation, and strategy development.”
Bill Luna, Albertsons
To do this a branding agency needs highly skilled people in every specialism, brand thinking, design theory and practice, digital, communications and by keeping them all working closely together throughout a project – and even after it’s completion – we get a more cohesive, effective, outcome.
Along with the right people, a brand agency also brings tried and tested structures and processes to the whole endeavour.
In a nutshell, a branding agency can uncover the unique essence of your company, distill it into an authentic strategy, then translate that strategy into a creative expression or experience that clarifies messaging, increases differentiation, builds customer loyalty and drives revenue for their client.
“A brand consultancy translates business strategy into a customer-centric platform that shapes the purpose of a company and guides all brand-building activities internally and externally, including communications, marketing, innovation, and product and service design.”
Hampton Bridwell, Tenet Partners
At Better we use a process called DISCOVER to get to the heart of your brand. It starts with stakeholder interviews and research, building a thorough 360º picture of a company, in order to articulate what makes them different. The next step is condensing those findings into a strategy, there are obvious benefits to keeping the person defining that strategy embedded throughout the creative process. It’s the best way to ensure the big idea doesn’t get diluted, so that’s exactly what we do.
We call ourselves an agency, but in reality we also act as a guide, controlling the process from research to strategy and all way through to creative execution.
Ultimately it’s about ideas and it always has been. At one end of the process we gather data, at the other end of the process we push out a distilled, crafted, message through the relevant communication channel.
“A branding agency is a collective of people who communicate relationship strategies through words & images.”
Bill Luna, Albertsons
There will always be new tech, new channels, new techniques – and we need to stay on top of those – but somewhere between research and execution you better have a big idea, and you better have the talent to articulate it. Verbally and visually.
Whatever name you want to give it, that’s what we’re here to do: turn a ton of often disparate and conflicting information into one concise, compelling, idea … then communicate it as clearly, consistently and effectively as possible.
And that’s why you hire a branding agency.