Why Hire a Brand Agency…and How to Make the Most of It

See which business experiences mean that it’s worthwhile to hire a brand agency, what to look for as you vet agencies and how to make the most of your engagement.

If you love it, share it.

Why choose a brand agency to support change?

If you’re reading this article, you may have recently experienced or considered one or more of the points below and are seeking solutions to move your business forward.  

  • You’re launching a new business, product or service. 
  • Your organization has new leadership who wants to make a mark on the business. 
  • You feel as though your current campaigns have hit a plateau and your brand needs new spark. 
  • Your latest strategic plan requires an expansion to a new market or target audience.  
  • You’ve expanded your product portfolio to the point where your brand seems limiting. 
  • There’s been a merger or acquisition and you’re tasked with bringing brands together under one happy umbrella. 
  • Your current agency doesn’t seem to “get” you and you’re tired of all the revisions. 
  • You don’t know (or don’t want to acknowledge) the last time you took a thorough look at your brand. 

In these circumstances, you have a choice to make. You can do nothing (please don’t do that), continue working with (or hire) a full-service agency where brand strategy is only one part of what they do every day or work with a boutique brand agency with a specialized approach to these unique challenges. If you’re considering the latter option, this article will inform your decision-making process.  

What to look for in a brand agency. 

Given their specialization, a brand agency is typically structured differently from a full-service marketing agency. Their team is often comprised of senior advisors, creative and business strategists and account managers. Bigger is not always better when it comes to brand agencies, especially if you have a complex or specialized brand challenge.  

Here are some things to consider in a brand agency: 

1. Agencies that specialize in brand strategy are typically smaller in size. 

This is often intentional in support of the strategic work required to build a great brand strategy. Building and growing a team focused on brand strategy means finding experienced talent. Brand strategy is not typically a focus in higher education and is not learned through Google or Hubspot online certification courses. It's a combination of real-world experience and exposure to business challenges, ongoing internal mentorship and the continued, collective experience gained working on a wide variety of clients in different industries. 

2. Great brand agencies don’t just have a process; they have a philosophy. 

As you interview prospective agencies, look for areas in which they distinguish themselves above and beyond the standard process of discovery, plan activate (or some similar combination of steps or stages.) Experienced brand agencies have refined a unique methodology or set of techniques to support smart decisions at each step of the process. At Muse, we lean on Simon Sinek’s Golden Circle for brand architecture, narrative organization and purpose identification. We continue with our own Change Stage Framework to guide clients with the communications they need to support and sustain change.  

Change Stage Framework Chart

3. Brand agencies practice true business immersion.

“We’re not a vendor; we’re your partner,” is a phrase often tossed around by agency salespeople to convey a sense of commitment to the client’s business. The true depth of “partnership” is often directly related to two things; the number of clients on an agency’s roster and the type of work they do. For example, many agencies that specialize in digital media have mastered the art of automation and low-touch service, allowing these companies to service dozens (if not hundreds) of clients. Brand agencies may have no more than 25 active clients at a time, allowing time and space to truly understand their businesses to advise on a deeper, more intrinsic level.  

Make the Most of Your Brand Agency Relationship 

Brand development and evolution is an expensive proposition, but one that has a long-term ripple effect that impacts employees, investors and your buyers. You’re investing in an agency team to advise you on big decisions, and depending on the nature of the engagement, you’ll also spend countless hours and additional funds integrating the brand changes within your organization and across your marketing landscape.  

Here are a few considerations that will set the relationship up for success:  

State your challenge and trust your brand agency to solve for it. At Muse, clients often come to us with a list of deliverables they think they need for a brand engagement. It is quite normal and natural to jump straight to problem solving, like, “My brand seems dated; I need a modern logo.” or “This merger means we need a new name.” A quality brand strategy firm will help you understand the journey associated with these decisions, including the domino effect of these actions. This may even reveal an unexpected (and more cost-effective) path to reach the same destination.  

Align your brand agency with ownership, executives and board members. The future direction of the brand is best informed by the business’s strategic plan. It is also important to consider potential implications of brand decisions affecting other facets of the organization, including HR, sales and finance. Ensure your brand agency is aware of your priorities and has access to your decision makers whose perspectives and approval are essential to the success of the recommendations. With this knowledge, your brand agency can help guide you on when to involve different stakeholders at each stage of the brand development process. 

Embrace an objective perspective. At Muse we often hear the saying, “I’m too close to it.” This is why our founder developed Productive Distancing! It shows awareness of the natural limitations that come when you live in your brand every day. Objective discovery will unlock new perspectives. In the early stages, the insights are likely to surprise you and challenge your own perceptions about your business. Trust that this knowledge is essential to identifying the authentic value inside your organization, which is the anchor for all decisions moving forward. Read more about the Productive Distancing techniques practiced by Muse at our founder’s personal site. 

Know your long game...and manage expectations accordingly. Change is cyclical, not linear. This theory applies to any behavioral or mindset change, including brand evolution. Not all changes will stick at first. You should expect your brand agency to develop an effective rollout and brand maintenance program to ensure core concepts are revisited and woven into the ethos of your organization. Persistent action is required for your brand to go from good to great; it doesn’t happen at the flip of a switch (or the launch of a new website).   

Maintain your brand agency relationship to ensure the integrity of your investment. Once the brand engagement is complete, your brand agency will hand off all the documentation, files and templates that will build the bridge between strategy and execution. At this point, many brand agencies (including Muse) offer an extension of the engagement to oversee brand launch, activation and some tactical execution. If you choose to transition the application of the brand strategy to your internal resources or other agency partners, it's often beneficial for your brand agency to complete the “firsts” of any marketing project to ensure that the look, feel and personality are fully represented before this transfer. 

And, finally… 

As we move into this new age of technology and AI, some branding and creative work is becoming more commoditized. When it comes to brand strategy work, we love to quote one of our favorite colleagues and fellow brand agency owner Deb Gabor, “There are countless individuals and bots out there willing to slap a logo on your product and call it a brand. Few, however, are willing to invest the time and effort into…the strategic process of uncovering what sets your organization apart and crafting a narrative that resonates with real people.” 

Hiring a new agency for brand work is a big decision. As you explore your options, select a brand agency with the methods, mentorship and motivation to dig deep and connect with what makes your brand authentically yours.   

Let's Start a Conversation About Your Visual Identity

    More Good Reads

    Jackie on the Ambitious Entrepreneur Show | From Why to Wow: Rebrand with Confidence & Clarity

    Are you considering a rebrand? Gain insights into how your team can make the most of the opportunity. Listen to our founder's podcast feature.

    How a Unifying Brand Narrative Helps Your Organization Achieve Strategic Goals

    From mission to movement: How you can leverage your association's story to ignite purpose, engage members and increase retention.