The communication arena is more crowded than ever and branding is becoming a pressing necessity for all kinds of companies. Finding a branding partner, though, is not an easy task. As a boutique branding agency, we have often been met with doubts about size. Here is what we think.
The world of branding can sometimes feel complicated for companies. While communication and marketing are easily identified with a set of deliverables (e.g. an ad or a website), branding is sometimes more elusive: what should you expect when going through a branding/rebranding? What is its scale and how much effort should go into it?
These questions are not trivial, because they directly impact the kind of branding partner a company will choose: it could be a very large branding studio, a full-service communication agency, or a boutique branding agency.
For starters, what is a boutique branding agency?
A boutique branding agency is not simply a small agency: while a small agency might be on a path to becoming larger, boutique ones stay small on purpose, to safeguard focus and quality. This is not an easy choice when every business seems to be measured by the question “But will it scale?”.
Of course, while a boutique branding agency gets easily recognized for quality, doubts can sometimes arise about its size: what can it actually manage? How big a brand can it work for?
What branding is all about
In order to know what a boutique branding agency can do, we should start by focusing on what branding demands. Most people associate branding with visual identity: the logo, the colors, the graphic devices, and a long list of templates. This, while vital, is just a part of the work. Branding is a quest towards differentiation and memorability. It starts from a point of view and a narrative, and it then develops in many ways, the visual one is usually the most recognized. A large part of the branding work is conceptual.
The size of the agency thus does not make this big a difference.
Understanding the work: volume in bursts vs. consistency over time
Communication needs big volumes in short bursts: when it comes down to producing ad variations, shooting expensive commercials, or planning elaborate targeted campaigns, the size of the agency really makes a difference. You need a good amount of man-hours to get everything out and running in time. This implies that companies should pick a comms partner that matches their size (and they usually do).
Branding, though, is a different thing. When positioning a brand and creating its narrative, it’s not about volume. It’s about focus and consistency over time. Not bursts, but a steady flow. This is where a boutique branding agency can deliver its best: its small size and limited clients list allows it to focus properly on the project at hand.
It also tends to commit strongly to clients over time, which ensures a kind of consistency that is sometimes harder to get from larger organizations. This makes it possible for boutique branding agencies to work with medium to large brands, as they can bring a very fresh point of view to the early, decisive stages of the branding process.
What a boutique branding agency can deliver
In terms of “deliverables”, an in-depth branding process requires a series of steps. Many of these are internal documents that won’t be seen by the public, but will help the company make the right choices and stick to them for months and years. Here’s what you can expect from a boutique branding agency.
Market and competitor benchmark
A preliminary review of the competitive context. Quintessential for avoiding overlappings and drawing inspiration.
One of the main elements of branding is having a vision for the brand. The branding strategy document might be the most valuable asset a branding agency can deliver and it shouldn’t be rushed.
Positioning and payoff
The definition of where a brand stands in the market and its first verbal synthesis (that consumers will actually read).
Establishes relations between all products and services within a brand. As the name implies, it should be set up early on in the life of a brand.
Visual identity / brand guidelines
The bible that will make the brand visually recognizable by defining its palette, typography, graphic, and photographic elements.
Tone of voice document
A practical guide to writing a text when speaking as the brand. Makes the company more independent in creating content.
Sublimio and the fluid model
While a boutique branding agency can easily manage all the demands of the branding process, more energy and competencies are often needed when moving to the production stage. In real life branding and production are not always separated, so this can be a limitation for smaller agencies. This is why Sublimio has been experimenting with a form of fluid agency: the boutique core (which holds all the skills of strategy and creative direction) can be expanded according to necessity by activating a network of professionals.
This allows us to adapt to different-sized projects while maintaining the kind of focus and dedication that defines a boutique agency.
A boutique branding agency can – despite its name – be a reliable interlocutor for brands of different sizes, offering all the services needed for a branding project. Working with a boutique agency is quite a unique experience, in which both the agency and the client are more committed and focused on a transformative path.
Which, in the end, is what branding is all about.
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