You know your professional services firm is in need of a brand refresh. Whether you’re looking to modernize your brand, create a more consistent brand infrastructure, or completely revamp your firm’s identity, hiring the right design partner is your first (and arguably most important) step.

But where should you begin? Unfortunately, hiring the right branding partner isn’t always as straightforward as it seems.

That’s because the word “branding” so often means different things to different people. Within the world of marketing, many firms are quick to call themselves branders. That’s true whether they are ad agencies, video production specialists or something else entirely. What this means is that you must learn to look far beyond the sales pitch to truly assess a firm’s capabilities and determine which agency is best for you.

Branding is the most high-stakes marketing activity there is. After all, your brand is the public face of your organization. Add to that the fact that most branding initiatives represent a major investment of time and money, and you can see that it’s imperative that you get it right. Before you make a hire, take a moment to consider the following tips.

6 Ways Your Agency Partner Can Ensure Branding Success

The right branding partner should do much more than just whip up a handful of trendy design options in response to your request for proposal (RFP)  or design brief. They should lead your firm through a structured, intentional process. One that paves the way for a strategically sharp brand with the power to elevate your firm to the next level.

Before signing on with a branding agency, make sure your prospective branding partner:

1. Takes a strategy-driven approach

Branding work should never begin with aesthetics. That’s not to say that aesthetics aren’t important. They are. It’s just that using them as a starting point is putting the cart before the horse.

Each and every design decision you make about your brand should flow out of your brand strategy. And your brand strategy must be built on a solid foundation of business objectives and market research. If your branding partner starts by asking about your firm’s preferred colors and typographic choices, that’s a problem.

2. Leverages a detailed discovery process

The discovery phase of any branding or design project is critical to achieving a successful outcome. Your design partner should use this time to dig deep and gather all the information they need to advise you on your brand. They should assess your current brand (including its perception in the market), perform a competitive analysis, conduct stakeholder interviews and work with your team to understand your biggest brand-related problems. At the same time, they should tune into your business goals to understand the why behind your brand refresh or rebrand.

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3. Takes the lead in building consensus

Everyone within your organization is bound to have an opinion about your brand. And that goes double when it comes to key stakeholders on your leadership team. When brand decisions are based solely on aesthetic preferences, those inherent differences can be incredibly hard to resolve. Your design partner should take the lead in building consensus among your partners or executive team.

The best branding firms do that in three ways:

  • First, they take the time to truly listen to each of the key stakeholders within your organization.
  • Second, they promote consensus by encouraging your leadership team to filter each decision through your brand strategy (instead of personal preferences).
  • Third, rather than waiting to present their branding work in a dramatic “big reveal” at the end, they will share smaller deliverables at key checkpoints. This allows your team time to buy into your new brand incrementally.

4. Takes time to understand your organization’s structure

In the end, your brand is only coherent and effective to the extent that it is executed consistently. A truly effective branding partner won’t just deliver a brand identity and a set of guidelines and call it a day. They’ll work with your organization to ensure you have the right systems and processes in place to support your new brand.

For example, if your organization is decentralized, you will need to develop a different sort of infrastructure to support your  brand than would a centralized organization. Your external branding partner should coach your team on the underlying brand strategy as well as the proper use of branded assets and visual identity systems. At the same time, they should inspire your team to buy into the new brand and steward it well moving forward.

5. Has a solid understanding of your industry

Like all industries, the legal and financial services spaces each have their own unique sensibilities, marketing conventions and (in the case of financial services) regulatory constraints. The more your branding partner understands your particular industry and market, the better they’ll be able to serve your firm. For example, at Decker Design, we specialize in partnering with legal and financial services firms. Over many years, we’ve honed our understanding of these industries. As a result, we more readily understand our clients’ pain points. And we can point them to the solutions that will best meet their needs.

Whatever you do, don’t trust any agency that claims to be able to do “everything.” Every firm has its strengths—and its weaknesses. You should only take a chance on a young, unproven design firm if you are looking for a very different solution and are willing to be part of your agency’s growth process. Just be sure you enter the engagement with eyes wide open.

6. Offers an effective, structured process

Your branding partner should come to the table with a strong yet flexible process to guide your team in the branding process. Ask your agency candidates to describe their approach. Look for a process that starts with strategy, builds on concepts and includes key recommendations in a stepwise fashion.

Hire a branding partner that checks all the above boxes, and the success of your new brand will be all but guaranteed. Interested in learning more about how Decker Design can help your legal or financial services firm up the ante on your brand? We’d love to hear from you.

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