LOOKING FOR THE RIGHT
Three approaches to finding the perfect brand consultancy
CHOOSING THE RIGHT BRANDING PARTNER IS NO LESS IMPORTANT THAN CHOOSING YOUR NEXT CEO
Who you select to guide you through the branding process will be one of the most important decisions you will make regarding your brand’s future. You need to find the right branding partner — one who has the right kind of branding expertise, relevant experience and is culturally compatible. Of course, it has to be someone who is affordable as well. These and many other issues are the factors that will shape the selection process.
FINDING THE RIGHT BRANDING PARTNER
In the search for the right branding partner, it is essential to understand what problem you are trying to solve. However, you may not necessarily know what the underlying problem is. It may only be the symptoms that are apparent.
First, identify what kind of brand expertise you are looking for. Some of the most common concerns will be industry experience, reputation, size, location, and leadership among many other factors.
The hard part is finding a specific company that matches the kind of branding services you need. It must be someone who can most effectively solve your problem, is an excellent cultural fit, and don’t forget affordable. Not an easy task. This kind of search is going to require investment in research, investigation, analysis, and objective evaluation.
THREE WAYS TO FIND YOUR BEST FIT
1. Referrals Are Gold
There is nothing more valuable than hearing from a trusted source that they have worked with and can recommend a particular firm. If you know of other companies who tackled a similar branding problem, call them up. And if they are willing to share their experience, they can be an invaluable resource for insights on the process, timing, cultural fit, and budgets. It is also an ideal way to gain information needed to begin negotiating your project.
2. Negotiation Works
Deciding which firm to work on one of your most important assets — your brand — is as much of a relational decision as it is about expertise. A firm’s experience and applicable knowledge are certainly essential. However, finding the right cultural fit is equally crucial. This engagement is going to require someone that you can work closely with for months, if not years.
Your branding partner is someone you have to trust.
You will be entrusting your brand partner with your organization’s most sensitive information. Moreover, it will have to be someone that you feel comfortable with, listens attentively, and works with you in a highly collaborative way. Establishing a successful client/consulting relationship will depend on many of these intangible considerations.
Finding the right branding partner and negotiating an agreement can be challenging. It requires a lot of homework and investigation on your part. However, it is the kind of analysis you should be doing even if you go the RFP (Request For Proposal) route. Ideally, you should be able to narrow down to a list of three or four potential candidates. You can then ask them to respond to an RFI (Request for Information) that will provide an opportunity to probe specific questions regarding their experience, expertise, philosophy, and budgeting.
Negotiating is a two-way street.
Assuming your potential branding partner fits all of your criteria, transitioning to the negotiating phase is best done through a collaborative approach. Focus on scope first before jumping into the price. How the engagement will actually function is the second most important issue. How will decisions get made? Who makes the decisions? Who needs to participate in the process? How is the internal and external communication of the progress handled throughout the project? Then it is time to discuss the timing constraints. All of these will influence the costs. It is at this point that both parties can realistically negotiate fees to arrive at an informed budget.
Assuming there are budget constraints, then it is best to share what those constraints are so that your branding partner can help you make the necessary trade-offs. While this should get you to a realistic project scope and budget, it is still best to initially commit to the Discovery phase first.
Invest in “Discovery” before committing to a full comprehensive engagement.
One key advantage in a negotiated agreement is that you can initially engage the branding consultant to undertake a limited scope Discovery phase. This step is particularly important if you are not entirely sure about what the underlying problems your brand has. Defining the problem in advance ensures that the scope of the work will follow precisely what you need. Understanding the scope helps establish a realistic budget and timeframe to do the project. Getting a feel about the working relationship with the consultant is also a benefit should you decide to continue the engagement in the subsequent phases. Alternatively, you have the latitude to consider other options with more clarity on the kind of skill sets required.
If you want to pursue an “apples-to-apples” comparison of like companies, then you may want to go the RFP route.
3. Consider both the Pros and Cons of an RFP
The RFP process is the conventional means to search for branding consultants, but it should be approached with caution. An RFP only works if you:
- Do the homework to identify a limited number of comparable agencies (no more than six).
- Develop a clear RFP that accurately reflects what you want to achieve.
- Understand the branding process basics.
- Allow sufficient time to engage with the prospective agencies.
- Create decision criteria to evaluate the submissions fairly and objectively.
The failure to clearly define the problem to be solved and the results to be achieved is one of the more challenging issues with an RFP. A strong RFP requires an understanding of the problem and not just a reaction to the symptoms. Too often, a company will jump to conclusions before an objective assessment of the facts.
When handled correctly, the RFP process can provide an objective comparison of similar companies. The comparison allows you to evaluate each company’s approach on methodology, philosophy, timing, and of course, budget.
WILL AN RFP GET YOU THE BEST DEAL?
“Best deal” depends on how you define it. If you are looking for the “most” for the “least” then there may be a misperception of what the objectives are for an RFP. If, on the other hand, you define “best deal” as finding someone who has the most relevant experience and expertise, has responded with an approach that will solve your branding problem, and can do so within a reasonable budget and timeline, then you are on the right track.
Using the RFP process to get the best price has a couple of problems to be aware of:
The companies with the most experience will often price work on the high side. This is because they have the best understanding of the work and know exactly what’s going to be needed on their side. They may even include work that is not requested in the scope of work simply because they know it will be necessary. Plus, they appreciate and account for the time that must be dedicated to a genuinely collaborative working relationship.
The less experienced companies will often price work on the low side. Underpricing is usually because the bidding company has less of an understanding of the actual work. They can’t account for the things they don’t know about because they haven’t gone through a comparable experience. On the other hand, some less experienced companies might price very high because they want to have a buffer in case they haven’t covered everything.
Always approach lowest price bids with caution. It could be a reflection of inexperience and inadequately accounting for the work. Some companies might also price low assuming they can “change order” their way to a profitable position. Alternatively, they may merely be desperate. Carefully and thoroughly evaluate a low price bid to understand the risk and potential unintended consequences.
Once you have received your RFP proposals, narrow the candidates to no more than three. These will be the ones that you want to invite for in-person presentations to help you make a final decision.
DON’T MAKE THIS MISTAKE
One of the most common mistakes that companies make in the RFP process is not allowing sufficient time. Rushing through an RFP is not going to yield the best results. You need time to do your homework to prequalify candidates and develop a clear RFP scope. Allow time for candidate dialogue through the process. Be realistic and considerate about the time for the candidates to prepare their response and for you to evaluate them. Responding to an RFP is time-consuming. It is not uncommon to spend hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars. If speed is critical, the negotiated route is a better option.
THE FINAL CHOICE
Whatever method you use to select your branding partner, approach it like you would with any other important business decision. It is not a beauty contest. Let objectivity guide the decision because your BrandLifeTM is worth it.