6 good questions about branding agencies and their owners
Questions always arise when people ask me “What do you do?”
“I have a branding agency.”
“Oh, you mean like Coke, or like cattle branding?”
“Coke. Only smaller. We help the little guys become big-name brands. ”
Inevitably, that leads to even more questions. Branding is a broad, misunderstood term that often requires explanation. Our scope of work is far-reaching and always evolving, so I thought I’d help spell it out for you.
These are some of the questions I’ve heard over the years:
“Why the hell do we need a branding agency? We’re not a packaged goods company and we already have a logo.”
Many business people think that branding agencies only design logos and packaging. So if they don’t have a product on a grocery store shelf they have no use for a branding firm. That’s not the case.
Packaging certainly is a big part of our business. And we love building new packaged good brands from the ground floor, like we did with Smidge.
But service business also need a lot of help because their offerings are intangible and often commoditized. For those companies, branding makes all the difference.
Like in the insurance business, for example. GEICO spent more than $2 billion on advertising in 2020. State Farm, Allstate and Progressive aren’t far behind. They’re all trying to bank some brand goodwill and top-of-mind awareness for the next time you decide to switch insurance carriers. It’s a low-involvement, no difference business, so their brand advertising becomes the only differentiator.
Every business in every category needs help with their branding, to some degree or another.
“Do branding agencies have some sort of process that you follow, or is it just random magic that you’re pulling out of your hat?”
Sure, just about every branding agency has some sort of process graphic that outlines the basic steps we follow along the way. We need that visual aid in order to help set budgets and demonstrate that there is some method to our madness. CFOs always gravitate toward toward the process.
But quite honestly, those graphics are simply window dressing on what is inherently a chaotic, creative endeavor.
Volumes have been written about the secret to creativity. Academics try to deconstruct it, explain it, and wrap it up in context that business people can get their heads around. But at the end of the day it’s a highly intuitive, unapologetically unstructured process.
But it is a process, and it starts with good habits.
My team and I are in the habit of creation. We’re in the ideas business, so we come up with ideas every day, often starting in the early morning hours before we’re fully awake. We create, we iterate, and we throw away tons of crappy ideas. The more prolific we are, the easier the creative process gets and the more magic we create.
We also maintain balance in our lives so we don’t get burned out. Being outside having fun on the ski slopes, bike paths, hiking trails or golf courses, is also part of the creative process.
When it comes to naming businesses, we employ our own namestorming process that brings objectivity to a rather subjective exercise. It’s the hardest part of our overall branding effort, so every little bit of process helps.
“What’s the difference between branding agencies and design firms?”
Design firms approach everything as a visual exercise. Every problem has a visual solution. It’s very art oriented.
Branding firms approach things from a broader, business-oriented perspective. It’s more holistic. We do design, but we also work further upstream, on the foundational strategic work that informs the design. At my firm it’s strategy first, then copy and design.
Our job is to help you convey, communicate and build trust with your audience. Because trust is the root of all brand growth. To do that, you need words and well-written content as much as you need stunning visuals.
Every business category has its own lingo. Food industry folks talk about SKU rationalization and store velocity. Golf industry insiders talk about coefficients of restitution and straight line frequency matching.
In the marketing business it’s CTRs, PPC, GRPs and UX iteration. It’s unfortunate because all the acronyms can be very confusing.
One of our jobs is to translate the industry insider mumbo jumbo into compelling story lines that anyone can decipher.
Ours is a business of creative reduction… we reduce down your messaging into its most impactful form and then serve it up in a variety of ways. It all involves design on some level, but it’s not limited to the visual arts.
The real magic is in the combination of all elements — words, visuals, sounds, textures — into a coherent, unforgettable brand experience.
“Do I really need a marketing consultant AND a branding firm? Seems like overkill to me.”
Marketing consultants are infamous for charging exhorbitant fees and leaving clients with impressive reports that never see the light of day. Just about every client I’ve ever worked with has been burned by a “consultant” of some kind.
In a perfect world management consultants would team up with branding firms on strategy and then stick around long enough to see their vision through to the logical conclusion. Unfortunately, that rarely happens.
I’ve been trying for 20 years to get a management consultant to collaborate with us on how their clients might implement the consulting plan they just paid so much money for.
Branding firms work all the way through, from early strategy development to execution. It is, without a doubt, the broadest, most all-encompassing mix of services in the entire world of marketing. The best of the breed have serious consulting chops, as well as creative skills.
In a business filled with specialists, we are the ultimate generalists. We bridge the gap between management consultants and marketing tacticians. Art and commerce. For smaller companies and start-up brands, that’s a good thing. We can work efficiently, leverage our client’s skills and resources and save our clients money while producing long-term results.
“We already have a digital marketing agency. Why would we need you?”
Digital Marketing Agencies know a lot about technology, marketing automation, social media platforms and pay per click advertising. They operate deep in the rabbit hole of their respective specialties, like SEM, SEO or web programming. They can help you with some tactical planning and technical details, but they know nothing about persuasion, image and the power of a long-term brand strategy.
Producing clicks is not the same thing as producing trust.
At my firm we spent three years researching digital marketing firms. We talked to dozens and tested several before we settled on one. Now that company is an integral partner. Their technical know-how allows us to extend our branding services even further down stream, much to the delight of our clients who don’t have to try to understand and manage that digital world themselves.
It’s all part of one, big branding effort that’s led and inspired by us and executed by many.
We help our clients sort through the endless array of “marketing opportunities” in order to prioritize their efforts and remain focused on long- term strategic objectives.
Because let’s face it… there’s always something else you could throw money at, some new techno marketing platform, but is it really a good move strategically? Is is on brand, or are you just chasing short-term results at the expense of the brand experience?
Branding agencies produce strategic campaigns that play well in any media outlet, from websites and print ads to outdoor, digital banners and social media posts.
For us, it’s not about the form or medium, it’s about the idea. When you have a great idea it’ll find its way into everything you do. From a branding standpoint, that continuity is critical. What you don’t want are social media ads saying one thing, and your website and sales presentations saying something else.
“What kind of background do most branding agency owners have? Where do you guys come from anyway?”
I’m an anomaly among branding agencies. I’m a writer, not a designer, and I’ve held a variety of positions which all led up to this. My origin story is unique, including stints in the video production business, advertising and even printing.
Most branding agency owners were trained as graphic designers. They rise up through the ranks at a design firm and then hang up a shingle of their own. So there’s a lot of cross-over between design firms and branding agencies.
Some of the owner/designers have teamed up with account executives or copywriters to form their agencies. That’s the ideal solution for clients because it always takes a team to produce the best work. The real magic happens when an art director and a copy writer team up and collaborate closely with the client. We don’t have all the answers, but we know how to get you moving in the right direction.
If you have more questions about branding firms, ad agencies or anything else related to marketing, click here. Or just be dialing. I’d be happy to take your call. Fire away!