3 Rules Before Hiring a Branding Agency

color palette with various colors

 3 Rules Before Hiring a Branding Agency

I just finished reading a recent business article about the “perils” of hiring a branding agency.


Let’s just say this “big” exec considers all branding and ad agencies “asses.” If you’ve ever read his writings, he’s a no-nonsense kind of guy. He’s quite candid and curt.   

And he’s not entirely wrong.

There are a lot of branding agencies that do what he says they do. These are branding agencies that upsell, that are combative with the companies they serve, and they simply don’t listen. And one key clarifier that can easily be missed in his article is that he is talking about “young firms” that hire a branding agency. I agree that startups shouldn’t dive into branding when they are still trying to figure out the business.

You don’t want to hire the wrong branding agency. So, here’s how to do it:

Rule 1: Your brand is you, and you aren’t perfect.

Your branding agency’s job is not just to give you a color palette and a suite of deliverables, nor is it to craft a fluff brand story that doesn’t actually reflect you. The objective of a great branding agency is its ability to go beyond design, listen, and help you understand your current brand and what it can be. This includes exposing some “roses and thorns” along the way – where you excel and where you can improve. And this can only happen if the agency gets to know your members, the C-Suite, the board, and your frontline staff.

While it is the job of your branding agency to uncover strengths and weaknesses, ultimately your brand is “you.” The agency must recognize they are building a brand that represents your credit union and not Apple, Google, Tesla, Amazon, or any other high-profile organization. Your brand is uniquely you, and no one else.

Rule 2: Know that internal alignment is king.

This is perhaps where most brand development fails. Two things can happen:

• The client hires the agency and establishes new advertising and marketing. However, the marketing fails because there’s no focus on the internal brand.

• The agency focuses on internal branding, but the client doesn’t consider it a priority. There’s a disconnect, and as a result, the marketing fails.

After all, what is “creative?” It’s problem-solving, albeit sometimes straightforward and other times… creatively. But you can’t solve external problems when internal problems persist. As a branding and marketing agency, we’ve seen what happens when we drive traffic and build an audience and the credit union is unable to deliver. The right branding agency will help you identify pain points within your organization and work together in identifying solutions.

Rule 3: Rank your priorities.

When hiring a branding agency, think carefully about your wants and needs out of this new relationship. What is the endgame? At YMC, we often start with our Roadmap to Rebrands. “Should you pump the breaks or put the pedal to the floor?” After having a strategic conversation, we’ve had some that realized they aren’t ready to work on their brand and have pulled out of the process, and rightfully so.

For those who do want to rebrand, rank your priorities. What do you need clarity on the most? This could be mission and vision, value proposition, perception in the marketplace, shifting how you serve in the current economic conditions, delivering service differently to your changing community, unlocking your ideal member, or retooling how your team thinks about the brand.

If you are going to build toward an authentic brand, we must have a very real, open, and honest discussion about why we are in business, who we serve and what makes us different.

Is your branding agency ready to have that conversation? Are you?

Are You Ready For An Authentic Brand?

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Alex VanHaasteren

Senior Web Developer

Alex is YMC’s Senior Web Developer and, as the title suggests, she is an absolute pro! While she initially started in graphic design – working long and hard to expertly bring concepts to life – she also felt drawn to technology and applying her natural ability to problem solve. Web Development proved the perfect blend of her creative passion and technical savvy.

When Alex is out with friends – including her YMC colleagues – she’s up for Greek cuisine or some good pulled pork BBQ washed down with Diet Coke. Or an Old Fashioned, if the occasion demands. Someday, she hopes to go to Africa on a safari. Hopefully she’ll see a giraffe in the wild, because – as she’s pointed out – its neck is too short to reach the ground!

When she isn’t jamming out to T-Swift, she’s happy to impart some marketing words of wisdom, “Aim to create something unforgettable.” For day-to-day inspiration, she would remind you of two fundamental truths: You decide your happiness, and Ice cream is its own food group—not just a dessert.

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