How to Hire a Branding Agency
Having a brand or branding your company isn’t something new. Ever since supply-chain management of materials and supplies became a national and federal norm, consumers have been familiar with brand-named companies. However, as the market for goods and services has expanded and become competitive, ensuring your brand is on point is more important than ever. Creating a brand has even become common for personal use; like when you apply for a job—the employer will ask you who you are and what you stand for, another way of saying “what is your brand?” In this article, we discuss the different types of branding services, the pros, and cons of hiring a freelancer vs. an agency, how to find a branding agency and we will hear from some of our experts for some tips.
What is a Branding Agency?
A branding agency is a marketing agency that specializes in branding specifically. An agency will help to launch a new brand or reshape, or rebrand, an existing one. A “brand” is broken down into three parts:
This is the set of ideas, feelings, and perceptions that a customer has about a company or person and their services or products. A brand is intangible because it is a feeling or emotional experience.
Branding something is the process of creating a brand. Unlike a brand, it is a tangible action because you have control over the result. Branding your company means the actions and steps you take to build consciousness and a reputation.
A brand identity is the marketing asset that visualizes your brand. These include logo, colors, typography, tone, and name. Through the collection of these assets, your customer should have a feeling and idea of what you represent.
Often a branding agency can be confused with the work that an advertising agency does—they both are focused on different aspects of marketing. However, a branding agency is focused on creating a persona, “look” and feel of your company, while an advertising agency is focused on selling that brand to the public.
What are the Different Types of Branding Services?
There are several types of services that a branding agency can provide. They can do this ala carte or provide full service. Below are the typical services that an agency can provide.
A logo is often the first thing a user or customer thinks of when they think of a brand. It is the visual definition of who you are as an organization. A successful brand and logo can even be marketable in its own right—just look at Nike’s “swish” for an example.
Brand messaging is the copy explanation of your brand. When a customer reads your messaging (e.g., social media, taglines, etc.), they should understand the following about you:
- Company culture
- Value proposition
- Target audience
- What makes you different
- Your services or product
It is through messaging that you can target the specific audience that will benefit from your services and/or products. If your potential customer is confused about your value proposition, what you do, or why they should buy from you, then your messaging is not up to par.
Creating a brand voice means creating a personality. This means that if you read a marketing material and didn’t see the company’s name, you would know that it was that company because the personality or voice of the content is that of that company. Having a voice is important because it makes your brand identifiable to customers. If you don’t have a voice or the voice is muddy, it confuses the customer, and they are less likely to use your service or product.
A style guide is the guidelines that your company should follow to maintain your brand. It includes the logo, examples of messaging, an explanation of your voice, and templates of how it should be done. When you hire a branding agency, they will create the style guide for you so you can implement it. Creating a style guide is no small task. It takes strategy, research, and creative talent to create. Deviating from the style guide is disrespecting the work that went into it and ultimately weakens the brand.
If your company is going through a major change due to an acquisition, product launch, or a negative PR experience, you may choose to rebrand your company’s identity. Rebranding is no small feat. Your company likely already has an established brand which means that your customers know who you are, what you do, and how you are different. If you decide to change all of that, you need to be sure that your new brand identity makes sense and is launched smartly. A branding agency will be able to take all the guesswork out for you and make sure the launch goes as smoothly as possible.
The value that a branding agency can provide you is to do all the steps listed above. While you may have a staff member who can design a logo, are they able to match that logo to your messaging? If you have a copywriter on staff, are they able to do the research to understand who your target audience is? A branding agency will create an overall strategy, creating a brand identity and brand awareness for your company. Through the branding process, they also can create a brand positioning meaning they know exactly how your company or product fits within the current market of your industry—making you profitable.
Why Do I Need to Invest in Branding for my Business?
Investing in branding for your company will ensure that you stand out from your competition. If your brand identity is not clear or is all over the place, how will your potential customers find you and use your services or product?
There is even research that consistent branding can increase 10-20% in revenue for a business. By not having branding guidelines and enforcing these practices, your business can lose out on valuable revenue. However, unless you have a marketing team internally, it is unlikely that you will have the bandwidth or creative skills to create the guideline to begin with. Therefore, investing in a branding agency will support growth for your company.
Hear From Industry Experts
Read the latest tips, research, best practices, and insights from our community of expert B2B service providers.
Should I Hire a Branding Agency or a Freelance Brand Designer?
Now that you have an understanding of the value of advertising, it is time to decide how to hire your branding partner: either through an agency or freelancer.
Positives and Negatives of an Agency
As with hiring any agency, the biggest benefit of hiring them is the breadth of resources they can provide. In addition to creatives (brand designs, typography, copywriting, etc.), they can look at the big picture and come up with a full brand strategy for your brand. Then after implementing and creating, they offer brand management so that your branding doesn’t falter due to necessary updates that come with the day-to-day of owning a company. The downside of working with an agency, however, is that they can be more costly because they are maintaining the salaries of the whole agency vs one or two individuals so that they can provide you with a full-service brand marketing plan.
Positives and Negatives of Freelancers
Hiring a freelancer to work on your branding is most beneficial when you have a small, one-off project. For example, if you need someone to help just with updating your logo or need someone to provide a market research report, having a freelancer will be ideal. Freelancers typically only work on one-off small projects so if you are looking to create long-term or more complex projects, this option won’t suit your business needs.
Why You Should Hire a Branding Agency
Whether you already have dedicated staff to marketing or not, branding is important. As a small business, your priority is to meet your business goals and that is done through marketing plans and KPIs. Should you have an in-house staff member who works on marketing, their role is likely data-driven and not on the creative side. Hiring a branding agency to work on the creative component to build your brand allows you to work on operational functions to maintain and grow your business. When you hire an agency vs a freelancer, you are sure to have a group of expert individuals who will be able to do the work needed to build your brand.
Hiring a Branding Agency
If you have come this far, you have likely smartly decided to hire a branding agency. But how much does it cost and where do you start? Look at our thoughts below.
How Much Does It Cost to Hire a Branding Agency?
The costs associated with branding agencies are usually either based on the task completed or can be an hourly rate. Here is a breakdown of hourly services vs task-specific:
- Project (Prices listed are based on smaller agencies):
- Basic tagline and messaging: $1,000
- Market research: $1,000
- Logo design: $2,500
- More advanced visual identity design: $8,000—$15,000
- Brand strategy and positioning: $5,000—$20,000
- Overall hourly fees:
- Consultant: $100 to $350 per hour
- Agency: $150 to $600 per hour
If you are working with a full-service agency, then it is likely that the RFP will be based on an hourly rate with some project-based fees (e.g. hiring a graphic designer if they don’t have one on staff). However, if you hire an agency to complete one project, then their proposal will be based on that specific project vs an hourly rate. It’s worth noting that pricing can also vary depending on location, experience, and industry specialty.
How to Find a Reputable Branding Provider
Starting the process of finding a branding agency that works for you can be a big task. However, it doesn’t have to be. A great first step is to check out UpCity’s detailed list of branding agencies. Other places to find an agency include doing a Google search, looking through LinkedIn, and as our experts say, good old word of mouth. Using referrals from your friends is a wonderful option because you are more likely to find a good cultural and communication fit.
As you comb through the types of agencies, be sure to have your list of the most important items ready. If the agency focuses on rebranding but you are creating a brand from scratch, then they will likely not be an option for you. Once you have narrowed down the options, look at the agency’s website and look at their portfolio—Is their work aligned with your vision and personality? If so, then look at the testimonials and reviews to see how their former customers found the working relationship. There is nothing worse than finding what you thought would be the right fit only to find out that their communication style or culture is not aligned with yours.
Questions to Ask a Branding Agency
Once you have created a shortlist of agencies that you are interested in, schedule a chat, and come prepared with the questions. Here are examples of questions you could ask:
- Do you specialize in my industry?
- After researching my company, how would you describe the “voice”?
- Are there any gaps you see in our marketing budget or goals that we could maximize?
- Do you have a graphic designer or web designer on staff, or do you outsource this?
- Are any of your staff members of the American Branding Association?
Here are some additional questions to consider from one of our experts:
“Be clear on what services you really need. Are you looking for brand strategy and positioning, with naming and logo to emerge from that? Do you need help with website design and development? Ongoing digital marketing? Do you want one firm to manage everything, or are you open to best-of-breed services from multiple agencies? Branding firms tend to be known for different specialties, and you can hire anything from a dedicated naming firm with design and strategy expertise to a full-service branding and digital agency that views naming as a loss leader.”
—Maria Cypher, Cofounder, Catchword Branding
Expert Tips for Choosing the Right Branding Agency
While we could share some tips and tricks to find a suitable branding agency, we thought we would reach out to the experts themselves. UpCity surveyed leaders in the industry, and this is what they had to say:
In your opinion, what are your top tips for finding and hiring a great branding agency?
“Make sure you look at previous work the agency has completed for other clients. It will give you a good indication of their capabilities and style. If it doesn’t resonate with you, move on. Also, sometimes you get what you pay for, so make sure the agency with the lowest price is really worth it in the end. Your brand is too important to make a decision solely on price.”
—Elyse Lupin, President and Founder, Elysium Marketing Group
“I run a web design company that handles the bulk of some of our clients’ branding and the number one tip that I can provide is to ask for references and actually speak with them to understand the process from the business owner’s point of view instead of the sales pitch that the branding agency is trying to sell you on.”
—Miguel Cairo, CEO, Unique Web Designer
“My number one tip is to use good old-fashioned word of mouth. Recommendations from friends, family, neighbors, and business associates are always best. In order to find a great branding agency, it’s ideal to talk to those who have been in your shoes before–those who have either hired or worked with a branding agency themselves. Ask around and see if there are any others out there that would be perfect for you as well. If you’re not having luck getting recommendations from satisfied customers, then try searching the internet for agencies by name or specialization. These days with everything going digital, there are countless numbers of agencies advertising-free services or design portfolios on their company website which can be very helpful when looking at what they offer and their pricing structure.”
—John Hofmann , Operations Manager, Fusion Marketing
What traits should you look for in a branding agency?
“When looking for a branding agency, one of the most important traits is excellent listening skills. It’s the agency’s job to ask the right questions and gather relevant information in order to transform your brand into one that stands out, attracts the right customers, and drives growth. Other qualities to look for include an agency that demonstrates its expertise early on. Do they have a strategy to achieve your goals? A qualified agency will tell you what you need AND what you don’t.”
—Meg Mothershed, Co-owner, Mothershed Design Co.
“You should look for an agency that has an appropriate level of expertise and experiences, relevant past projects, a strong and well-presented portfolio, one that values transparency and honesty, and one that works at a reasonable rate in terms of time and cost. Their level of enthusiasm is also a bonus that makes a considerable difference when it comes to the experience of working with them on your project.”
—Sam Manshouri, Marketing Specialist, Brand Vision Marketing
“Find an agency that is responsive. Yes, this means being prompt, but it also means having a point of contact that meaningfully answers your questions and is smart enough to understand why you are asking them. We don’t know what we don’t know that’s why we rely on guidance from experts to point us in the right direction. A good agency should do that.”
—Austin Evans, Digital Content Strategist, 5by5 Agency
Are there any mistakes that you should avoid when hiring a branding agency?
“Guaranteed quick results, these results might work for a little bit, but will not work in the long-term. No process and gives you a price on the phone, when this happens you are likely to get hit with additional fees later in the project. Avoid working with someone that isn’t local when at all possible. Local companies tend to be more hands-on and give better support in the future.”
—T.J. Pierce, Creative Director, Hometown Creatives
“One mistake that can be made is hiring an agency with too limited of capabilities or time to be thorough. Find an agency willing to guide you through the entire process before kick-off and after delivery, willing to research and analyze your industry and competitors, work with you to get messaging and design just right, and one that helps you implement the brand identity across physical and digital mediums.”
—Paul Echols, Creative Director & Owner, Square 205
“My two big mistakes to avoid are not trusting your agency’s process (trust them!) and having too many points of contact (pick a “pilot” and have them lead communication between the two parties).”
—Christopher Nault, Founder, Growth Marketing Firm
Once you have found the right agency and your contract is ready, you can expect a few things once the work gets started:
- Reconfirm understanding of project requirements
- Conversations with your internal marketing team (if applicable) and the agency to discuss marketing goals, target audience objectives, and deliverables
- Initial work gathering information and data on existing branding
- Follow the project management model established in the initial proposal
- Regular reports on successes and opportunities including graphic design proofs and reporting on KPIs.
Do you have any questions about hiring the best branding agency for your business? Check out our picks for the top companies for further information.
About the author
Haldis Toppen is the Director of Communications of the cultural exchange organization, Greenheart International. With 10 years of experience in leading marketing and communication teams, Haldis has a proven record of successfully leading national campaigns and international programming. She is passionate about bringing the right message to the masses and finding those audiences who need to hear it!