Conducting a corporate rebrand is one of the most valuable things a company can do. And when you do it right, you have the potential to create long-term value for your business.
But first, keep in mind there's a bit of a difference between product branding and corporate branding. This article is focusing on the latter. As the founding board member of a digital agency that specializes in brand development, I've seen that embarking on a new branding project for the corporation requires you to dive much deeper into issues such as positioning strategy, values and voice. And it can make or break you inside (i.e., your employees) and out (i.e., your customers). This is why many brands do not handle their branding in-house and opt to work with an outside agency.
"Corporate branding is about the core values and behaviors that your employees will externalize in the marketplace. It has to be rich and authentic."
You should view your corporate rebrand as a long-term investment. Although it won’t produce an immediate return on investment, if done right, it can stimulate revenue growth, as well as benefit sales key performance indicators, recruiting efforts and even a company's valuation. This is why if you decided to engage with a branding agency, you must ensure you choose the right one for your company.
Below are three quick tactics you can use to ensure success:
1. Look beyond the hype.
Perhaps you've heard of triple-bidding. Start there, but make sure you go deeper. Most branding agencies present exceptionally well. It's what they do, after all. But be sure you validate the agency’s stories about itself by doing your due diligence. Ask to talk to a former client. I’ve been in the business for 25 years, and I’ve only had this question asked once. Also, be sure to cross-reference work by asking design-oriented questions about specifics in each case study. For example, you could ask, "Who from your team did the color treatment or editing or research?”
2. Talk to your CEO.
As Alina Wheeler shared in the book Designing Brand Identity, a rebrand is only effective if it has buy-in from the CEO at the start. Without executive buy-in, most branding agencies probably won’t even entertain a proposal. If they do, they most likely will only give you a new glossy cover to an old stale story. Why? Corporate branding is about the core values and behaviors that your employees will externalize in the marketplace. It has to be rich and authentic. If your CEO is not 110% on board, your project will fall short.
3. Ask the right questions.
Here are three important questions to ask:
• What does your discovery process look like? How an agency conducts its discovery or brand immersion phase is so important to outputs of success. Why? You need an agency that pinpoints how it tangibly does the research and has the people and tools to do deep discovery. We’re in the digital era, and I believe an agency should have some sort of modern way of analyzing data, as well as conducting stakeholder interviews and customer surveys.
• Can you show me a sample of your deliverables? Agencies are famous for talking a big game, but not backing it up after the project kick-off. Ask for the particulars of a specific deliverable. For example, ask to see what a brand strategy document looks like. The agency you're considering should be able to show you something to give you a taste of what tangible value you’ll get at every stage of the project.
• Who’s working on my project? Some agencies will assign the work to subcontractors or interns, but in my experience, few will employ specialists for all phases of an initial project. And there are at least five phases to a full rebrand effort: brand discovery, brand strategy, brand identity, brand launch and brand management. You should know who will be working on your project and if your agency will employ specialists for every stage.
Now that you know corporate branding dives deep into the interworkings of an organization, make sure you triple-bid prospective agency partners, get your CEO on board and pop open the hood on the creative process. Because this is a huge investment, don’t make it easy for your prospects. In the past, my company has consistently competed against up to 20 agencies at a time to win the bid on a single branding project. Make the agencies you're considering compete to win the bid, and listen to how they communicate throughout the entire vetting and procurement process. How they connect, strategize and communicate before you actually ink a contract is an ultimate barometer for project success.
For your next branding project, use all these tactics as a basis for your agency recruiting effort. You won’t regret it.