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How we created a boutique branding agency

How do you create a boutique branding agency? As with many things, by trial and error. For us, taking our current form has been the result of years of learnings and progressive adaptation.

This is the story of how we moved from going big to successfully staying small.

You can’t build Rome in a day, and neither an agency. In our case, it took more than 10 years for us to find the right model and become a boutique branding and strategy agency.

Unlike Rome, though – which is our beloved hometown – we didn’t use this time to grow and grow, but rather to focus.

logo design graphic design business card focale

1. The beginnings: focus on design

We started our activity with a strong focus on design. My background in industrial design and my deep love for the discipline played undoubtedly a role in this, with the first clients mostly involving us to design their logos, stationery or venue interiors.

Thinking back to those times, I realize this wasn’t just driven by my personal inclinations, but also by the clients’ expectations: design is the most visible part of communication and sometimes the first and only that gets requested.

In other words, it’s easier to ask for a logo than for a brand strategy. This isn’t the client’s fault of course: it all depends on the guidance the agency can provide.

YouGo Qui branding naming payoff

2. Evolution: from design to branding

With the first long-term partnerships in place, isolated design tasks started to give way to more ambitious branding projects, involving all brand assets and the first elements of positioning (naming, payoff).

While the main focus was still on design, this phase was particularly exciting because it gave us the chance to learn about our clients’ business, objectives and jargon.

One of the clients that hired us at this stage was Italian mobility provider YouGo. We developed their whole brand and communication and while at it we learned a good deal about how people choose their car.

Handling brands introduced us to complexity and probably made us more ambitious.

Fluttuo fashion photo shooting style

3. Thinking big: incorporating new services

You could say this was the longest and most enriching phase in our agency’s growth and it was mostly driven by demand.

As our clients’ roster grew in size and variety, we were asked to contribute on many different levels: web design, video and photo production, event production, social content.

We needed to scale, fast. Becoming a large agency, though, wasn’t the right path for us. We thought it would make us slow and conservative. This is when we introduced our fluid model: by engaging a network of creatives and specialists, we secured the right talent and skills needed to be able to respond to our clients’ requests in all fields. Photographers, videomakers, developers, event producers, scenographers, copywriters, social media managers were now orbiting around the agency.

Different teams would get activated depending on the project at hand, ensuring no waste or inefficiency.

This is how we produced photoshoots for Fluttuo or product shootings for Frontman.

This evolution broadened our possibilities. In theory, this is a good thing. At the same time, though, it could lead to a loss of focus and we quickly became aware of this risk: while we wanted to help our clients, we didn’t need to become a jack of all trades. This pushed us to the next phase.

nesea rebranding monogram

4. Raising the bar: branding and strategy

We realized there was something we had been doing all along but never actually advertised: strategy. The thinking behind all we did was somehow implicit, but it was holding everything together. A strategic approach to branding was what really defined us, and now we wanted to make it apparent to our clients, too.

By making strategy a part of our offer and process we could devote more time and attention to it and make sure all single activities were coordinated, even across a network of different professionals.

Strategic work allowed us to boost our relationship with clients in two ways:

  • HELPING FROM THE BEGINNING we could enter every project at an earlier stage, helping our clients take the difficult decisions that we would typically find already in the brief;
  • BECOMING A STRATEGIC PARTNER we could become trusted long-term partners with all of our clients, helping them guide and evolve the brand across the years. It’s the case, for example, of nesea: an innovation company that we helped turn its brand around.

Seeing all work strategically allowed us to pursue quality at a higher level.

Fluttuo - handmade in Italy boutique branding agency

5. Finding our dimension: a boutique branding agency

Once most of our client relationships were founded on a strategic partnership, we realized we were at risk of spreading our energies too thin. Strategic branding work takes continuous involvement, focus and dedication.

Promising this kind of commitment to too many clients is just unrealistic.

Once you aim to become a strategic partner, you need to go all in.

We needed to make a clear choice about the kind of agency we wanted to be.

This is how we progressively set on the idea of being a boutique branding and strategy agency. We would only take on so many projects each year: the ones where we would have space to add some real value. This was also made necessary by an increased demand and an increasing complexity of the projects.

This is our current model and, after more than 10 years in the business, it is proving the most satisfactory choice for both us and our clients.

We now pick the clients that prove the best fit for our approach and it works wonders. There is no limit to what you can do once two visions align.

In the end, this is what I learned: sometimes staying small is the only way to really go big.

Matteo Sublimio Founder & Creative Director
AUTHOR:

Matteo Modica
Founder & Creative Director

A tireless purveyor of quality, Matteo manages every branding and communication project down to the details, leading creative teams to always express their best.

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