By Michelle Barnett
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How to choose the right branding agency

Choosing a branding agency can feel daunting. There’s pressure to make the right decision, with your hard-earned money and the most visible part of your company - your branding- on the line. But it doesn’t have to be scary! These simple, logical steps will walk you through the process to finding an agency you feel confident in.

If I were choosing a design agency (other than us, of course) I would be looking for two things. 1) that the portfolio is varied. A good branding agency is different to a good design agency. A branding agency needs to be able to create different vibes (we call it tone of voice) for different projects. Looking through their portfolio, does the brand for children feel fun and creative? Does the brand for sport feel energetic or powerful. Then, 2) I would dig around for work that they don’t put on their portfolio. Often, in larger agencies there is a risk that it will only be the junior designer and interns that will be working on your project, rather than the seniors. This could be great – there is a lot of talent out there. But dig around on their socials (who has tagged them) for the work that is more their ‘every day’ rather than the flashy big projects. You are then more likely to make a decision with your eyes wide open.

Fran Johnson, co-founder of a dozen eggs

Create your brief

Putting a document together, describing what you want from your rebrand, helps you as much as your designer. It brings clarity about what you want, and means that when your branding agency asks you a question, you don’t have to spend time hunting for the answer.

Ask yourself these questions:

  • Why are you rebranding?
  • What do you want your new brand to do for your company (what problems does you need to solve?)
  • What is your budget?
  • What are your goals for this project?
  • When does it need to be ready to launch?

All this together forms your brief. Doing this as a company can be really beneficial. It makes sure everyone is on the same page with what’s happening, and lets you get a range of perspectives on what your rebrand needs to include. Team members from other parts of your organisation may bring an angle that you’d never have thought of alone. They are also more likely to catch a potential pitfall that could lead to an unsatisfactory rebrand.

A few years ago the charity Barnado’s set an organisational goal to share skills and knowledge between all its locations and departments, to benefit from the range of experience held by people who might never normally meet. This is the kind of broad thinking that can benefit a rebranding brief.

Barnardos Learning Organisation logo and illustration

Price and Time

This is hard to answer up front, because the needs of every project is different, and so is every branding agency. When you start approaching agencies to talk through your brief, they will be able to give you a quote for a project of that size. A larger design agency will obviously charge more, but even a small agency working in a small project will be looking at a several thousand pounds.

Branding and rebranding projects are often higher in price than a design task that uses an existing brand, and the reason for this is obvious when you think about it. Instead of having pre-decided elements – like colours, fonts and a desired style – to work with, each of these needs to be researched and created from scratch before being applied to platforms like a website, or office stationary.

Timewise, again it depends on the scale of the rebrand, but you’re probably looking at a minimum of two to three months from having that first meeting to launching your new brand.

If you aren’t happy with the price or timeline you’re getting, you don’t have to immediately leave the conversation. Your agency may be able to advise you on where your brief and expectations could be adjusted to give you a great result, even if it hasn’t got all the bells and whistles you originally dreamed of.

It is possible do a staged launch if you really need to, where the essentials such as a website are released first, and then other products are added later. However if you’re doing this, get a price list for the later work at the same time you are agreeing the rebrand price. Sometimes agencies will offer a lower prices rebrand in order to get customers in the door, but then ramp up their costs for later design work once they have a captive audience.

What you’re looking for is a design agency you can have a good relationship with in the long term, who will really understand your brand and how it has changed, and be reliable in applying that brand to any new ventures or products you grow into over the years. Our work with Charnwood Brewery began as a logo and a couple of beer bottle labels. But as the company has grown and diversified, we’ve been able to supply them with not just the deigns for ever-expanding range of craft beers, but also everything from delivery packaging and merchandise design, all the way through to signage and decor for their bespoke pubs, each with its own sub-brand.

Illustration of the Charnwood Brewery shop and pubs

Which branding agency should you hire?

It can feel like there are just too many options out there! They may have a variety of names; branding agency, design consultant, creative agency, digital agency, marketing agency. Some will be new startups, others will have been around for years, and both might be equally qualified! How are you supposed to decide?

The way to wade through all this is to inspect their previous projects. Most agencies will have a portfolio or gallery on their website. Take the time to look through these, particularly checking for the quality of the work, good testimonials, and projects that have some relevance to yours in size or the end product.

External of dental spa

If you’re a web-only organisation, make a note of their previous web design projects. If you sell objects with some kind of packaging, check that they’ve done that before. If you’re going to want some kind of sculptural installation, they should have in-situ photos of past examples.

For example, this portfolio page shows a rebranding project for Peacock Dental Spa that included a logo, decorative decals, large scale signage and printed literature.

The main thing look for a specific art style (because your branding will be unique to you) but rather ensure that the branding agency has an idea of the practicalities and connections involved in meeting the needs of your project.

Should you go local?

Consider these points:

  1. Is some local knowledge going to be useful in the success of your rebrand?
  2. As you head into bigger cities, prices tend to go up. London design agencies are often priced particularly high, and that might affect what you can afford.
  3. How will you communicate? In today’s digital workplace, you could conceivably hire an agency from anywhere in the world. That said, despite all our technical advances, miscommunications happen most easily via email, where you don’t have the visual and audio cues that an in-person meeting or even a phone call can provide.

If you prefer to have this kind of relationship with your contractors, focus on agencies in your region (most will be willing to travel a bit for meetings as long as they aren’t overly frequent). Face-to-face meetings are easy to set up, even in a nearby cafe for those working from home. You will usually know within 15 minutes sitting together if they ‘get’ you and if this is someone you could work with.

How do I search for a branding agency?

You can just Google it, but based on what we’ve already talked about, be specific. Use multiple terms: ‘local Midlands branding design creative agency’ is going to get you a much more tailored search result.

Websites like Dribbble and Clutch work like a directory of freelancers and small businesses (although a lot of these can be personal or digital-only projects, so again check that they are familiar producing the physical outcome you need, in terms of websites, packaging, installations etc)

Talk to people you know, especially if you already admire their brand. This gets you not only the name of the design agency, but also a testimonial of how they were to work with.

Or, you could work with us! We like to think we are some of the best around.

Once you have some options, go through their websites and look for the 4 P’s:

  • Professionalism. They should have designed their own brand (after all, if they can’t design their own, why should they be trusted with yours?) and be running a smart, easy-to-navigate website with a sense of character to it that is consistent throughout the website.
  • Problem solving. Try not to focus on ‘I like that art style’. Instead their portfolio should showcase projects that are functional, and solve the problems that their clients have.
  • Productivity. Do they update their portfolio and blog posts regularly? This tells you that they’re paying attention to the creative industry and have up-to-date expertise.
  • Personality. If they feature quotes from clients or have a social media platform, you might be able to get an insight into how gelled the team is with each other, and what they would be like for you to work with. Rebrands can be challenging, so a good impression of their people skills is really valuable.

First contact

Most websites will have a contact form, so send an email that lays out who you are, why you picked them, and the basics of your brief.

Hi Agency Name Here

We’re looking to rebrand our Sock Company, and really liked the work you did with Portfolio Example. 

We have a rough budget of £X and would love to launch our rebrand across our website and sock labels in about 4 months from now. Could you contact me at phone number/email to discuss further?


Emily at Sock It To ‘Em

It’s short but covers the essentials. Based on this the design agency will already have a pretty good idea of if and how they can complete your project, and will have a solid answer when they reply to you, along with the next steps you will be taking together.

And finally

If you get a couple of responses, you can move to those in-person meetings, and use their quotes, game plan, and your own gut reaction to make your decision. That way, when it comes to handing them the reins to go ahead with the project, you’ll feel confident about trusting their process and guidance.

Having done your due diligence, and started a good relationship with an agency you like, you’ve laid the groundwork for a really successful rebrand!

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