Submitted by: Scott White
Business large and small should consider hiring a professional branding company. A branding company brings a lot to the table. First and foremost they bring a third party objective point of view that a business is unable to obtain. The old saying holds true, you cant see the forest through the trees. But how do you choose the right branding company? Ask yourself these questions.
How do they promote themselves? Are they calling themselves an advertising agency that also does branding? If so, they are not a true branding agency. An advertising agency has a hidden agenda, to sell advertising. A branding company does not favor one tactic over another so they should not and would not promote advertising unless it is the right direction to go in. Be careful of these ad agencies that say they do branding. It is much easier to use a buzz word like branding then to actual know how to brand properly.
Are they a web design company that says they do branding? These are the absolute worst offenders of not being a branding company. Ask them simple branding questions like what is positioning or explain the difference between brand identity and brand image. Most will not even know the answer. Then you can ask them a trick question like define brand equity (currently there is no definitive answer). Web design companies are well, web designers. They are not strategic branding experts by any stretch of the imagination.
Are they a marketing company that says the do branding? Be very careful of marketing companies as they are the sneakiest offenders of all. They will talk strategy and integration but they know little about internal branding. They typically promote external branding tactics like direct marketing, logo design, advertising etc. Marketing companies do marketing not branding.
Are they a direct marketing company that says they do branding? Boy oh boy, these companies are so far from true branding they wouldnt know it if it hit them in the noggin. Direct marketing can be a great tactic but branding it is not. True branding companies only promote direct marketing when the return on investments warrants it. The average return on investment with a direct mail piece is a half to a full percent. Personally I think that is a small return for the investment required which is why direct marketing is typically used as image building with branding companies.
Are they a search engine optimization or internet company that says they do branding? Internet marketing is one of the most effective returns on investment in the business today. Search engine optimization is probably the best single tactic for building brand awareness and sales and is the reason we hired a staff of SEO gurus. But when it comes to branding they will fall very short in planning, strategy, creative and many other areas.
Are they are branding company that really does branding? Unfortunately we have seen a lot of companies call themselves branding agencies but in all reality they are not. So how do you know how to choose the right branding company?
Ask them the following:
What types of services or programs do they have established for internal branding? Internal branding is often overlooked by every other type of company out there. It is a great indicator that you are not really dealing with a true branding company. Sure external branding is exciting and fun but if employees do not buy into it or unaware of it you are going to find yourself in big trouble as well as having wasted tens of thousands of dollars on your external campaign. Look inside yourself and make sure you have set up the right policies and procedures that best leverage your brand identity and positioning. For instance, Volvo the automobile is clearly the safety car company. Their employees should eat breath and sleep safety, safety features, safety technology etc. They should know their brand promise and how it relates to their customers. This is why even though Volvo is probably not the safest car on the road they are perceived to be. Ask ten people whats the first thing they think of when it comes to Volvo and the answer will be safety.
Once you have confirmed that the branding company does instill internal branding practices then you can move forward with them on strategic direction and planning. Look for companies that only recommend tactics that will obtain the best return on investment and not canned specific tactics like advertising or direct marketing. You want open objective strategies and tactics to move your brand forward which is why choosing the right branding company is so critical.
About the Author: Scott White is President of Brand Identity Guru
a leading branding company and market research firm located in Boston, Massachusetts.