Picking a Winner:
 Eight Traits to Look for in a Branding Agency

In today’s fast-paced and highly interactive marketing ecosystem, brand strategy has gained a reputation as a superfluous—even outdated—exercise, especially for smaller and mid-size organizations. With marketing budgets not as large as they used to be and an increased emphasis on measurable results, these organizations can thumb their noses at investing in an exercise that seems hypothetical—or, at best, not as central to their core key performance indicators. And with companies more conscious than ever of a need to create and sustain relationships with their end customers, a process that is largely focused on building internal consensus can appear esoteric. With all these forces at work, it seems that branding has gotten a bad rap.

However, it’s precisely because the market is so crowded that differentiation through brand work is so crucial. With consumers being exposed to thousands of marketing messages a day and every organization rushing to have a “presence” on online marketing channels, it’s more difficult than ever to stand out from the crowd. A clearly articulated brand that both encompasses what makes your organization different or unique and serves as a commitment to provide value to everyone who interacts with your organization is the key to creating long-term growth and viability.

In this sense, brand strategy is not a stand-alone set of words or visuals; it is a marriage of your business plan and marketing positioning that will translate to greater return-on-investment. In fact, with each brand interaction, a layer of sustainable and distinct emotional and functional value is communicated, and the relationship between the consumer and the brand grows in a much more meaningful and concrete way. And while negative messages about your brand can easily surface—and spread—via new media, so too can the positive sentiments that your target audiences have as a result of consistent and meaningful interactions with your brand.

Knowing then that branding has become much more than just an isolated “brand promise” or creative concept, choosing the right branding agency is crucial. Any agency responsible for helping to differentiate you in the marketplace and create consistent engagement with your audiences must have:

1. The (passionate) belief that the brand isn’t just what you say it is; it’s what your customers say it is. The days of pushing out a one-way message are gone, and great branding agencies know to harness – and leverage – user preferences, behavior and sentiment to make the brand and its communications stronger and, ultimately, more genuine.

2. A time-tested, comprehensive process that leverages exploration with and evaluation of both internal and external stakeholders. By reviewing all existing research, determining any gaps, perform any missing research (often including internal stakeholder interviews) and consolidating and analyzing all of this data, the agency will gain key qualitative and quantitative insights that form the foundation of brand positioning.

3. The ability to truly tailor brand positioning and creative to reflect the uniqueness of each organization. Even though it’s not evident at first, a lot of agencies take a cookie-cutter approach to creating the fundamental assets after a branding exercise instead of truly pushing to develop words, colors, layouts and that express the fundamental essence of a brand—and fuel distinctive, memorable communications and brand interactions.

4. A focus on the internal communications aspect of brandwork, with a process that has been successful in garnering internal adoption of the brand. Ultimately, the organizations that bring the most value to their customers are the ones that “live the brand” in every aspect of their day-to-day operations and whose customers are brand evangelists. While organizations need to share in the accountability for the adoption of brand positioning, the right agency can play a huge role by following a collaborative process that treats internal stakeholder viewpoints as crucial and providing concrete, actionable strategy for rolling out the brandwork—and keeping it alive going forward.

5. The view that “marketing is a three-legged stool”—and ability to apply that concept to brandwork. Without an understanding of how customer service and operations both impact the ability to deliver on marketing promises, an agency runs the risk of making promises that your organization cannot keep or that sharply conflict with certain realities your customers or employees face when interacting with your business or industry.

6. Expertise in—and/or a deep understanding—of cross-channel implementation. Today, many organizations, particularly larger ones, have both a brand agency and an implementation agency. The idea is that the brand agency drives overall strategy for differentiation in the marketplace, usually including creative concepts and campaign strategy, and that the implementation agency “translates” this overarching brand across channels. This presents an obvious challenge in a world that has become increasingly interactive: If the brandwork is not done in consideration of the way target audiences consumer information—and with digital best practices in mind—it will not be relevant or drive return-on-investment, and it may actually cause lack of brand cohesion.

7. The willingness to hold you accountable. While we tend to only think of agencies as professionals we hire to serve our needs, the best branding agencies will truly understand your organization—and push you to honestly and comprehensively articulate who you are and what makes you different. Once they’ve done that, they should continue to push you to consistently and genuinely articulate that story to your employees, your customers and the people who are hearing about you for the first time.

8. Last but not least, it’s crucial for a brand agency to be able to provide compelling examples of start-to-finish work that helped organizations across industries create meaningful experiences for their target audiences. Being able to see a brand promise or a brand launch campaign in isolation can help demonstrate competency, but case studies from clients who saw high degrees of internal adoption, fostered loyalty and differentiated in the marketplace because of brandwork that was both comprehensive in its development and strategic in its implementation will produce a much higher degree of confidence that the agency in question can help you articulate your brand.

Article originally published on Commpro.