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Choosing the right partner to brand your small business

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Tuesday, July 5, 2011 - 07:20

It is not remarkable to encounter a small business in need of a holistic refresh of their brand’s look and feel. However, it becomes noteworthy when you are informed that they have just recently invested thousands into their design, only to be disappointed by the results.

There are a myriad of reasons why this occurs. At the center of them all is the fact that many small and early-stage enterprises simply don’t have any familiarity with the process and they choose the wrong partner. What should they have been aware of?

Know the difference between design and branding

You wouldn’t step up to the podium without a speech prepared. The same principal applies here. Hiring a designer without a brand strategy is introducing a speaker without a speach. Instead choose a partner with branding expertise to identify the audience and tailor a persuasive and rhetorical message.  More

Know good design when you see it

Make sure you compare the portfolios of the firms you are considering. Look for strong work, and depth. As with love you may not be able to articulate why one portfolio is more attractive than another. That’s okay. Trusting your gut is a good place to start. Get a second opinion if you have to.

Read between the labels

As with most industries, words can mean different things to different people. For one shop 'web design' might include Information Architecture, wireframes, and design through development. Meanwhile, a competitor may focus only on graphics under the same label. When comparing studios don't assume all things are equal simply because their nomenclature is.

Don’t be fooled by big brands

If you find a small studio that has a portfolio full of world-class brands you should be cynical. Chances are that the studio did not create those brands from scratch. Rather they probably made a small contribution that extends on the good work of others. Don’t hire a line cook to do the job of a head chef. Look elsewhere.

Don’t be seduced by awards

While having a laundry list of awards and honors is not a bad thing, you should be aware that many competitions are expensive and time-consuming exercises. With some going for as much as $600 per entry it is a luxury that inherently discriminates against smaller outfits making submissions; A fact that should not diminish your opinion of them.

Beware of specialists

When an agency works exclusively with clients in one industry then their approach to your enterprise is more likely to be cookie cutter. It is fair to say their experience may have yielded strategic insights. However it is also fair to ask its value if it is being shared with both you and your direct competitors. If you are both using the same playbook then the real winner is probably the studio that sold it to you.

Look long term

Think of the studio you choose less as a dance partner and more like a life partner. Look for a portfolio that indicates a track record of long-term collaboration with their existing clients. This indicates they foster strong working relationships and insures their investment in your brand isn’t fleeting.

Independent of the aforementioned considerations many small and early-stage business owners are left to make their choice of studio on cost alone; A metric that is deceivingly simple and cruelly ironic.

As noted at the onset, a great deal of money can be wasted in the interest of saving cash. After all, there is nothing frugal about paying to do your branding twice.

John Gavula
Contributed By John Gavula

John is the creative director of Gavula Design. He has provided design and illustrator services for many of New York and the region's biggest brand consultancies. Leveraging this experience, and his multidisciplinary background he now works closely with Gavula Design’s clients as a trusted branding partner and steward.