Before all else, it’s important to set out a brief that outlines your objectives — and be unequivocal about what you want to achieve. Whether you require wholesale change for a brand that’s fallen behind the times, want to tweak the dials to raise the profile of the company, achieve bigger and better sales targets, enter new markets, launch a new product or anything in between — everything must be outlined in a really clear brief.
Then, and only then, can you expect a prospective partner to interrogate those objectives, and then outline a proposal that will be effective and measurable.
If you’ve done plenty of research, the competing agencies will provide the proposals you need to make your final decision. If you need additional help to finetune the shortlist, here are 10 green flags to look out for before you appoint a design and brand consultancy...
1. Specialist experience
Experience is a crucial factor to consider when appointing a design and brand consultancy, because it indicates a proven track record of success in delivering effective client solutions. As well as having a deep understanding of the market, industry trends, and the behaviours of different consumers, they will also have worked with a broader range of organisations, across a variety of different sectors — giving them a breadth of knowledge and expertise.
Better still, an established design and brand consultancy will have refined their process over time. Understanding what works and what doesn’t will ultimately allow them to deliver effective results for your brand, more efficiently, and with respect for the many stakeholders likely to be involved.
2. A solid reputation
Being highly-regarded in industry — whether by many professionals or a select, trusted few — indicates a history of delivering quality services and client satisfaction, which is exactly what you’d expect from your prospective partner. Be sure to do your homework here, and do it well. Consider not only what a firm’s online reputation says about their approach, but what word-of-mouth referrals and previous clients have to say too. You can often learn far more about a business by looking at its client base!
It doesn’t just have to relate directly to project work either. As a design associate for Design Council, I offer support on a national l level because I’m truly passionate about the effective procurement of design — but I’d like to think this translates as trust and credibility in my discipline too. The same goes for companies who have been recognised and rewarded by leading industry bodies. In our world, a DBA Grand Prix award is particularly highly thought of.
3. Open communication
Complete transparency is the foundation of every successful project. Once you’ve hired the right design and brand consultancy, you’ll want to empower them to do what they do best. That’s why appointing a partner you can trust to self-manage, who will update you on a weekly basis with effective progress reporting, is key.
Of course, if the scope of work requirements change along the way, costs will almost certainly change too. However, as standard, the agency’s pricing structure should align with the budget and expectations set out at the beginning of the relationship too. If any budget creep arises, this must be relayed to you at the earliest opportunity.
4. A defined brand process
A clear and structured approach to project management (The Engine Room uses Monday.com) will ensure deadlines are met on time, resources are deployed appropriately, as well as results delivered consistently. Plus, with complete oversight of the entire project, your project lead or ‘go-to’ contact will be able to maintain open lines of communication throughout the branding process.
Understanding how a design and brand consultancy plans to operate will also help you evaluate whether their approach aligns with your expectations from the get-go. We’re very transparent about how we work at The Engine Room — with every workshop, conversation, and pixel committed to delivering commercial benefit
Fostering a sense of teamwork and shared ownership of the project, collaboration is key when appointing a design and brand consultancy. Not only can leveraging the client’s company-specific insights result in a more well-rounded outcome — working closely with other project stakeholders can also ensure the strategy accurately reflects their vision and objectives.
Plus, because ‘on the ground’ employees usually play a critical role in driving the brand forward once launched, it’s crucial they too are involved at every stage of the process. Inviting them to ask questions and empowering them to fuel ideas will play a key role in this respect.
6. Strategic thinking
Bringing a thoughtful, considered, and analytical approach to brand strategy development — including market analysis, competitive positioning, and potential growth opportunities — will be significant for driving brand success. Is there real rationale behind the agency’s ideas? Does their perspective align with your overarching business goals? Have they applied their own strategic acumen to the brief set?
Thinking commercially, rather than purely creatively, from the point of proposal, will set the tone for the return your investment will generate in the future.
7. Flexibility in approach
Structure and process is important, of course. But can a consultancy adapt with your evolving needs? If a challenge arises or priorities flex, will they have the capacity to cope with this?
No matter the size or scope of a project, the multitude of factors underpinning change mean hurdles are destined to arise at some point or other — whether that’s challenges relating to decision-making, budget, illness, intellectual property, technology, project requirements, or something else. Having the confidence that virtually any circumstances can be accommodated, should make it easier to choose your partner.
8. Varied capabilities
Particularly if your organisation’s project needs are varied, appointing a partner that boasts a comprehensive suite of services could certainly be beneficial — providing expertise in areas such as market research, brand and identity management, creative copywriting, design direction, animation, video production, and more. Though, it’s key that the true depth and level of these capabilities is understood.
That's not to say that all services do have to be procured from the same, single partner. Sometimes, it’s more important to entrust multiple true specialists in their respective fields. While this may mean a project involves a greater number of parties working together, this shouldn’t be seen as a bad thing. In this scenario, seeking out a partner with proven experience collaborating with others — be those other third parties or a range of internal stakeholders — will ensure delivery remains streamlined across the board.
The most compelling design and brand consultancies will also encourage you to look at the world in new ways, and explore different stakeholder benefits. At The Engine Room, this manifests in a three-pronged proposition — design for business, culture, and society.
9. Innovation across the board
Yes, technology is important — not least for augmenting project management and design capabilities. But innovation can major on ideation too. When scoping out the perfect partner, do each of their projects deliver something different to the previous one? Or do they look like a copy and paste exercise?
It’s crucial that work is truly bespoke to suit the needs of your business, and that the expertise is applied to add unique value — whether your objective is to cut through the noise and steal a march on competition, reflect organisational shifts, capitalise on the evolution of a market, drive behavioural change, or something completely different.
Often overlooked, but more important than ever, is the need for your design and brand consultancy to be truly invested in their work. Understanding an organisation’s unique value proposition and creating a compelling and cohesive identity as a result, is not only underpinned by experience, but genuine excitement too. A passionate consultant will be committed to delivering exceptional results, and will be more likely to collaborate effectively with wider stakeholders, however varied, to achieve key objectives.
Enthusiasm is infectious too. Seeing a fire burning so brightly throughout every element of a project is a surefire way to get your teams engaged — which will pay dividends when it comes to the roll-out and future of your brand.
As an award-winning design and brand consultancy with over 20 years of experience, The Engine Room has long been empowering positive change for business, culture, and society. As such, should you need any advice or support for your organisation, we’re well versed to offer our expertise. Why not get in touch, to discuss your requirements?