How to find and select the right branding agency for your business
These are challenging times for most brands. The pandemic aside, the world order has been shifting for some time. There are excitement and anxiety – in equal measures – around advancements in artificial learning and machine science. Our consumer habits have dramatically altered and are about to evolve further. The environment is a growing concern. Covid may have unleashed subtle and unsubtle cultural shifts, but there is no turning back with many businesses seeing this as an opportunity for change. They are seeking advice from independent branding agencies, but what is the best way to select a partner that is right for your business?
The obvious first step is to identify a branding agency you like. It helps if they have experience in your field, but that shouldn’t necessarily govern your choice. Rather, it’s imperative to get to know, admire and respect their work, and it helps to share similar values. The creative work should always be the conversation starter, says Sharry Cramond. Writing in The Drum, the executive vice-president for marketing and communications at Southeastern Grocers believes ‘a brilliant idea is the most important thing.’
What’s more, the global trend appears to be moving away from favouring agencies with single market expertise to ones with a broader knowledgebase and skillset. It reflects the changing landscape where businesses have become much more fluid in how they navigate multiple areas. Take the example of the BMW Group. Once considered a straightforward car company, it is now positioned as a global tech brand to signal the changing nature of cars into complex semi-autonomous transport systems.
Large companies are likely to have an internal creative and marketing team. However, smart brands are also aware that it works positively to engage independent external agencies in the creative process. According to Bill Duggan, group executive vice-president of the Association of National Advertisers, 90% of marketers who have in-house capabilities are also using external partners. Michael Kassan, chair and chief exec of MediaLink, agrees that you still need the agency expertise. He told The Drum recently, ‘we’re finding in-housing where agencies are still putting their proverbial fingers on the keyboard of the client. That’s what we’re going to see more and more of.’ And it goes without saying that it is critical for internal and external staff to work harmoniously with one another. There has to be mutual trust and a culture of positive collaboration.
Ultimately, it is about creating the right environment for original concepts to grow. ‘We’re so obsessed with great ideas that we know if we only allow agencies to stay in their swim lane, we’re already putting limitations on the opportunities,’ advises the Budweiser vice-president of marketing, Monica Rustgi. ‘Our big rule of thumb is, as long as you deliver on your sweet spot then you are more than welcome to be disruptive and think outside of the box.’ In a recent interview in The Drum, she admits to being an advocate of championing the best ideas, no matter how they originate. ‘We make sure that our partners have that same mentality so that there isn’t this unhealthy sense of competition. We reward collaboration,’ she says.
The old model of taking on the biggest and brashest agency doesn’t always pay off either. Larger agencies may have a big pool of clients, and they may seem more seductive at first, but their senior experts are also likely to have less personal time for your project. Boutique branding agencies, on the other hand, often make up for smaller client portfolios by being hands-on and dedicated to a project. And since the human side of the business is likely to become even more important following the pandemic, this will be a leading factor in deciding on an agency.
‘People want to be inspired with good ideas and passion, excited about how good their brand can be, and energised by creative thinking,’ advises Leigh Banks, branding director and partner at Spinach Branding. ‘Judge an agency by its energy, personality and values. Agencies are here to deliver that little bit of magic, to pitch a vision that everyone can get behind.’
Spinach is involved in a number of projects where it is essential to work harmoniously alongside internal teams. ‘We established extensive project teams from across multiple agencies, disciples, and channels to deliver in-line with our initial positioning work. Take the example of Barking Riverside, Campari or Cowshed. These are three very different yet exciting brands that we are working with, and it has been fantastic collaborating with respected peers, learning from them, and sharing our knowledge and expertise. Ultimately, it is about realising a shared vision for creating powerful and timeless branding and design.’
A healthy collaboration also adds to the dynamics of the project. Teams can learn from one another, share ideas and approaches – have fun in the process. Spinach recently collaborated with Thunderbird Fried Chicken on the fast-food chain’s latest branding strategy. ‘The Spinach team worked relentlessly at digging into the core of our brand before designing the actual brand architecture,’ says Thunderbird’s chief executive Marcel Khan, who has worked with Planet Hollywood, Belgo Group, Loch Fyne and Nando’s. This, he feels, ‘provided us with not just amazing brand articulation but a foundation to work from that will serve us well into the future. All that, and they’re top people. What’s not to love?’
Spinach Branding is a specialist branding agency based in London. We work with established businesses and start-ups around the world to build and refine their brands. See how we work and get in touch to discuss your brand.< Back