For me to use the term “branding industry” often feels odd, even though I work within it. The entry point for agencies and designers is low, and the speed at which consultants and authors have dominated the content space is enormous. But unlike its younger sibling social media, branding has lacked the polish of evidence-based metrics and science to back it up. Until now…
Every day in my work helping grow digital agencies and Fortune 500 brands, I hear countless companies struggle with how to discuss, interact with, and grow their client’s brand, leaving dollars on the table and creating problems along the way. The agency owner offers their perspective, shares why branding is important, but usually lacks the conversational skills to navigate the need. And as a result, it’s not just the client that suffers. Sure, their brand doesn’t grow, but the agency doesn’t either.
The Typical Logo Scenario
One of the top problems I hear from agency owners is how to address branding in their scope of services or even how to bring it up. Usually, clients are coming to them with little to no investment in their branding, and the branding discussion usually doesn’t happen until after the project is signed. They don’t have the words to justify what they’re saying to the client or even to point out the “why” behind the “what.”
It’s a touchy subject no matter how you slice it
Usually the client goes to hand over what few branding assets they have at the start of the project. Then the agency is stuck. Do they simply “clean it up” and miss the opportunity to strategically help their client? How do you tell a new client that their brand assets are sub-par? How do you approach a client about a redesign when they didn’t approach you for that as part of the job? It’s a touchy subject no matter how you slice it.
This, of course, throws the project off-course, generates scope creep, and adds unnecessary anxiety. You may not have the time or resources to address it, and your client wants everything to be successful while expecting something “extra” thrown in. You’re not getting paid for it, but you feel like you have to address the ugly branding since your name is on the site credits.
So, What Do You Do?
Typically, you’ll pitch them a modest dollar amount of time, they agree, and you both move forward by picking a more modern color scheme, a cleaner typeface, and possibly a logo refresh. You try to get inside the client’s head and find something that resonates with them. It turns an adventure into the subjective minutiae of selection, with the client nit-picking about how they hate circles or don’t like the color blue. In the end, the client says they’re happy and everyone moves on.
But so much is wrong with this scenario. The real issue here isn’t about the client’s lack of branding initially, how you tacked on an attempt to modernize it, or that you don’t have the resources to do it. It’s not just when you addressed it, it’s also how you addressed it.
What Agencies Are Missing
If there’s one thing that’s missing from the arsenal of digital agency owners, it’s a solid understanding of branding – one that’s solid enough to convince the client of the investment on the front end, and one that during the process, solidifies the agency owner’s expertise as a strategist and partner.
A lot of digital agencies think that effective branding is a beautiful logo. While a logo is important, it’s simply one of several visual and verbal market-based assets that comprise the client’s Distinctive Brand Assets (more on that later). Most agencies are trying to tackle branding by cleaning up the logo alone, and in the process, are not helping their clients grow and succeed, and end up missing out on a larger amount of success, for both their agency and their client.
With branding only having developed as a commercial industry in the past century, it has undergone significant growth, debate, and superfluous opinion – with lots of “experts” out there. And with most agency owners and designers having gone out on their own, they’ve inherited a broken model, and not all the facts. In fact, what every digital agency needs before broaching the subject with a client is an updated understanding of how brands actually function, grow, and scale.
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