When you look at the best branding agencies in the world, you will find their work is amazing, but in very different ways. And yet, there are some common traits that define a great branding agency.
Branding is serious business. The best branding agencies in the world – including household names like Pentagram, Wolff Olins, or Landor – know most of the work happens below the surface. When looking for signs of greatness in branding, then, not everything is visible in the portfolio.
The best branding agencies know every job is different
A branding agency might have its own style, but be wary of agencies that approach every job the same way. This doesn’t necessarily mean that their output will be of a lower quality, but rather that they are not caring a great deal about the brand’s real needs and audience.
Businesses are wildly different even within the same category if you know where to look. The best branding agencies provide their clients with a highly tailored approach. This doesn’t involve just the typeface or the palette: even the workflow might vary depending on the business they are dealing with. Templates are the enemies of greatness.
The best branding agencies do their research
What really stands out when you look at the portfolios of the best branding agencies is how thoughtful the work is. This means researching the business, its world, its customers, and the culture it’s immersed in.
A good branding agency won’t start designing right away but will put a lot of effort into the study phase in order to give the brand substance. This can take some time, so a serious branding agency will probably need a longer time to approach a new brand, but given that branding is not something that needs to be done every three months, it’s usually worth the wait.
You might say that curiosity is the golden virtue of branding: being sincerely interested in your clients guarantees that everyone else will be.
The best branding agencies don’t care about trends
Design trends are everywhere, and you can find a great number of listicles about the trends that are going to dominate logo design in any given year.
The best branding agencies are not blind to these trends – identities should feel contemporary, after all – but they are not guided by them, either.
The best brands, after all, are usually timeless, as they are designed around the brand’s needs and not for the design community to applaud it.
This means that an interesting branding agency draws inspiration not just from other design projects, but from the whole gamut of stimuli that the world can offer.
Just think how vernacular design impacted so many great branding projects (for example, Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign).
The best branding agencies speak the truth
Great branding projects are always born out of a genuine dialogue between the agency and the client.
The best branding agencies know that being upfront about key issues can seem to slow the process down but will yield great benefits down the line. A blurred business plan, competition blindness, inappropriate references: all this can harm a brand in the long run, so there is really no space for complacency.
While not all clients love to tackle hard topics, it’s usually part of the skill of a good branding agency to respectfully guide them through, towards a solution. In this respect, branding projects are akin to architectural ones: laying the foundations is the messiest and dirtiest part but also a vital one.
The best branding agencies plan for the future
It’s easy to get caught up in the moment, especially for a business that’s about to launch its brand. A considerate agency, though, knows that branding is a marathon and not a sprint.
It will look at every detail of the branding project through the lenses of time and change: how could the business evolve? How could the context – the market, the culture, the audience – mutate? Will new product lines be added? Will a small shop become a franchise?
An agency can’t predict it all, but it can plan for it and build a resilient brand. This means allowing for uncertainty and adaptation, avoiding being too inflexible, and seeding the brand’s world with opportunities for future development.
The best branding agency understands you
While all these qualities are essential in a great branding agency, you will recognize the right one for your business from the first meetings. The caring, the curiosity, the honesty, the dedication, the originality: they are all there.
You just need to recognize them.
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