10 Top Tips
Selecting a branding company
Hi, Mark here from design studio Superfried. So, being honest, I would obviously prefer you to simply hire Superfried for your project – why look anywhere else? : ) However, I want this post to be useful, so I will try my best to be as objective as possible.
So, if you are considering options for branding in the UK, for either yourself or your company, selecting the right design agency can be a daunting prospect. There are so many good studios + the outcome will dictate the personality, perception + future direction of your organisation. Consequently, it is a matter of trust. They have to be a good fit.
Bigger is not always better. In fact I have spoken to a few agency owners that actually scaled down their business to reach an optimum size. Don't get me wrong, there are obvious advantages to working with a larger design agency. They will have access to more resources which may be reassuring or allow for faster turnaround. But that comes at a price. They may also cover a wider spectrum of services. However, no company can cover everything. Even multinational agencies outsource to smaller design studios for specialist disciplines or when the in-house team are stretched. I know because I have been hired by them : )
So what are the disadvantages. With the bigger studios there is a chance that the senior designer you speak to is not actually working on your project. Particularly if your budget is relatively small, it may be passed to some of the junior designers. For larger firms with big clients on their roster you may be overlooked and not receive the best service they can provide. Conversely, for smaller studios there is no junior team to be passed onto and the revenue from every account will be far more significant, so you are less likely to be ignored.
Working with collaborative teams can also lead to higher levels of expertise for your budget. A large agency can provide a big team, but it is unlikely that each member will be a specialist. Where as a small studio can efficiently build a bespoke team of individual specialists, only covering the disciplines you actually require. So none of your budget will be lost on the inefficiencies of scale.
But it would be remiss of me to not also mention the downsides of going small. I have heard from clients in the past of individual freelance designers simply going AWOL mid project?? I have always found this quite staggering since new clients are hard to obtain, so once I have secured a gig, I am certainly not going to let it go. So do your research.
02 Sector expertise
For certain sectors, and if you have the budget, it may be wise to opt for a specialist, renowned for your market. However, if you are looking to disrupt and stand out, a completely new, non sector specific approach can be an advantage. Research repeatedly demonstrates that diverse groups consistently lead to better decisions and solutions. Like-minded collectives have the risk of sharing the same blind spots, leading to missed opportunities.
All good creative agencies and designers should have the required soft skills to adapt. To listen, learn, be open minded and have empathy to place themselves within the shoes of your potential customer.
This is where the research and discovery stage is so vital during the branding process of any project. If conducted correctly, it will lead to a robust foundation upon which to base the creative strategy to reach and resonate with your target audience.
So look at the client lists. Have they worked in the right sectors? If not, are all of their clients in one industry, or is it an eclectic mix showing they have the ability to adapt as required.
The internet has changed business for good. Location has became less relevant which is why Superfried have been able to work with clients all over the world. However, for some, classic face to face is important for building trust and long term business relationships. If so, this will not be a problem as there are loads of quality, creative agencies in Manchester and every other city throughout the world.
But over the past two years we have seen an even bigger shift towards remote working due to the Covid pandemic. So even the more traditional of clients have been forced to work with a remote design agency, which with the right approach in place, can still lead to an efficient process and effective results.
Ultimately it comes down to the nature of the project and the people involved. Sometimes the most efficient way to solve a problem is to get the right people together in a room. Conversely, endless meetings for the sake of meetings can quickly sap the energy and momentum from a project. So personally, I would not let location put you off if everything else feels right.
I think this is a particularly important factor to consider for branding. Don't get me wrong, if you are looking for a short term campaign that has to be bang on trend with a young demographic, then a new, young creative team could be the best fit. However, when developing a brand identity, we are usually looking at the long term. So basing anything on short lived trends is risky, potentially leading a succession of expensive rebrands. This is where experience can be so valuable to avoid the pitfalls. To have the confidence to ignore what everyone else is doing and focus purely on the correct strategy and creative solution for this particular brand. For identity design versatility and the ability to evolve are key. And often, the icing on the cake is to create that magical marque that feels completely timeless.
This can be misleading so tread carefully. It is very easy to be taken in by the pretty images and amazing photography. I have been fooled myself. At first glance the work looked amazing, but a closer inspection revealed the work was actually ‘ok’ and in fact it was the very skilled photographer that deserved all the credit! Looking good is a given. More importantly, design is about solving real problems. So a bit of reading will bring context to the work and help you to understand how much thinking, research and strategy went into it. Did they solve the original problem? If they have not explained why and what they did, why not? Too busy, too arrogant or did the design decisions lack substance so they would rather not say?
A portfolio is also a good way to see how they think and approach a problem. Does the work vary depending on the nature of the project / problem being addressed or does it seem to all follow a set style? Do the solutions make sense to you? Are the solutions inspiring, distinct, thought provoking? Or do they just seem to be a bit obvious and safe, suggesting they are merely going through the motions?
Without doubt, the best form of advertising is recommendation. But to achieve this they must create quality work and be great to work with. So speak to friends and colleagues. Have they had any experience of working with an agency? Or heard of some horror stories. You can also take a look at their social platforms of your design studio shortlist to ensure there is nothing unsavoury on there.
I don't care what anyone tells you, good design takes time and careful consideration. If you wish to achieve quality results and solutions, there are no shortcuts. There are many designers and studios out there that will offer to develop your branding for a bargain deal. But ask yourself, at that price, how long can they realistically be spending on your project?
So, how much should it cost? Unfortunately there is no right or wrong answer to this. I am not a fan of off the shelf 'package' deals as I feel every project is different and can not be shoe horned to fit. Consequently, the budget will vary dramatically depending on the complexity, number of deliverables, number of markets etc that your project requires. The reason one project maybe complex, could be completely different to another. One may require a far deeper level of research and design iterations to target a niche demographic. Whereas another may have to negotiate geographical, cultural and language barriers etc.
When the studio asks 'what is your budget?’ please do not be offended or assume they are trying to take whatever you have allocated. This is usually requested as a means to quickly assess whether you are a good fit. It also tells us that you have thought the process through and actually assigned funds to proceed rather than just as an after thought.
Everything you buy these days has a review of some sort. But instead of making it easier, purchase decisions have never been more difficult – 200+ 5 star reviews, but now I am worried about the 2 customers that gave a 1 star rating?? So, when presented with client reviews, check to see if they have been validated by a third party such as Google reviews or Clutch. Otherwise what's to stop them writing their own? The fact that the design company has gone to the effort to use a third party is a good sign that they value their own brand. They care that they are perceived as a trust worthy company. And if they respect their own brand, they are more likely to also respect yours. But if in doubt, you could even look up the company of the review in question and drop them a quick email to check they really said 'Steve is the best designer they have ever worked with' ; )
A tricky one. But I will be honest. Have I entered and won awards – yes. Did it make me happy – for a minute or so, yes. Did it make any difference to my business – no, I don't think so. But for others I have heard it really helped and for advertising agencies it seems to be more important than life itself! Ultimately they are not a true sign of whether an agency is better since only a small proportion of their competition will have entered. I know a lot of amazing designers that have never entered a single award because they have never felt they had anything to prove.
So what do they mean? Realistically not that much, but I suppose at the very least it would suggest the studio has enough pride in their work to feel it is worth paying the submission fee.
Strangely after everything I have just mentioned, ultimately this is probably the most important. After finding the best designer ever, when you finally meet / chat you may just not click. If this is the case, it is usually better to walk away. As mentioned at the beginning, this process is all about trust. There can be tough moments during any project, so if you do not get on now, how will it feel then. Do you believe they will stick by you and see it through to completion?
So I hope those points have helped you reach a decision. If not, you can always just hire Superfried : )
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