Working with a Creative Agency: What to Expect

05.01.18 / Diana Fryc

If you’ve even begun to dip your toes in the market for a creative agency, chances are you know something is broken with your brand. At the very least, you have the inescapable sense that something’s just not right, not working the way it should.

More often than not, the underlying issue with your brand is hiding in plain sight. But before you can identify what that is, you have to be on the lookout for the symptoms of your problem.

Perhaps your sales are flat or trending downward in a marketplace that’s growing, or you’re dealing with sales that are generally inconsistent and unpredictable. Maybe you’ve had success with an aging audience but are struggling to gain traction with new consumers. Problems with sales like these are typically a strong indicator that there’s a deeper strategic issue with your brand.

High turnover or changes in your company’s leadership or product line can also signal that you need help from a branding agency. Sometimes, particularly in the case of turnover, these symptoms can reveal evidence that your internal brand is broken. Other times, there’s nothing technically wrong with your brand, but new leadership or products mandate a change all the same.

The important thing is to be aware and acknowledge that you have a problem, even if you don’t exactly know what the root of the problem is. If you’re looking to hire a strategic branding partner with that knowledge in mind, you’re on the right track.

What a Brand Strategy Agency Is — and Isn’t

There is a lot of ambiguity around what a branding agency actually is, and that muddiness has regrettably caused misplaced mistrust in creative agencies as a whole. And why wouldn’t it?

You’ll find so many agencies that call themselves branding agencies, but what they’re really doing is brand application — for all intents and purposes, they’re graphic designers. Graphic designers absolutely have their place in the market, but if you’re looking for creative solutions to fix a more fundamental problem with your brand, you’re starting in the wrong place.

Maybe you know something is broken with your brand, or maybe you just need help figuring out where those weak links might be. Either way, you need a brand strategy agency, plain and simple. They’re the ones who will be able to strengthen your brand for future success and elasticity.

Brand Strategy and Creative Strategy Are Not the Same Thing

So many potential clients walk into our doors thinking they have one issue when they actually have another.

Case in point: We had a brand come to us asking for billboards they wanted to put up around town. As we got deeper into conversations with them, however, we realized that their problem wasn’t that they weren’t doing enough advertising — their problem was that their brand was fundamentally broken. We were blunt and directed them that if they fixed their brand first, a solution to their advertising woes would naturally follow.

Unfortunately, strategy can be a tough sell for our potential partners. Strategic consulting isn’t sexy, like a billboard or a magazine ad, and it can’t deliver instant gratification like a creative deliverable can. Combine that with upper management teams who tend to prioritize time and budget over all else, and the decision to hire a brand strategy agency can be a hard pill to swallow.

But if you want to strengthen your brand, you have to be open to beginning with brand strategy. Brand strategy births creative output, not the other way around. Don’t be afraid to invest in your branding strategy — you’ll be glad you did, and so will your superiors.

Ask the Right Questions

If you want to find the right branding agency (or really, if you want to know if it’s the right time for your brand to work with a strategic firm at all), you have to ask the right questions. When it comes down to it, we recommend you start with one fundamental question: “What is my end goal?”

Your end goal is not a packaging system or some other creative output. Your end goal is defining your target audience, finding new channels, or increasing turn on shelves. Make your brand strategy about an end game, not a deliverable.

It’s that simple. Instead of saying, “I need new packaging,” ask “Why do I need new packaging?” If you can ask the “why” questions, the right agency will know the right questions to ask in return.

Trust the Experts

So you’ve asked the right questions and found an agency with a history of growing and evolving brands through brand and creative strategy. Perfect. The foundation of trust has to begin with the hiring decision.

Very few of us would presume to dictate how our doctor analyzes our health or provides care when we’re sick — and with good reason, right? We recognize that a doctor is a licensed medical professional, and we, with a few exceptions, are not. The same level of trust should hold true when you work with a branding agency. Once your brand makes the decision to hire an agency, feel confident that you’ve hired an expert and trust them to do their job with the tried-and-true processes they have in place.

It may sound counterintuitive, but if you’re working with the right brand strategy agency, you should know off the bat that results will not happen overnight.

If you want immediate results, there are certainly agencies out there that can deliver Band-Aid solutions, (though they may not admit as much). But real strategy that produces lasting results takes time. You can’t hurry the process.

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