When hiring someone or some organization to help you with your branding, be sure to know what you are seeking first. Some people think of a brand as a name or a visual identity. Some think of it as a set of messages and communications. Some think of it as an exercise in finding the optimal positioning. Some see it as synonymous with competitive strategy. And some see it as a holistic approach to business that includes all of these things plus IT, HR, customer service and technical support alignment. What are you looking for? What will solve your problem?
Are you trying to increase sales, increase profitability, increase brand awareness, increase brand preference, increase brand trial, increase brand usage, encourage new uses for your brand, target new customer segments for your brand, increase emotional connection to your brand, increase brand loyalty, increase customer retention, overcome a crisis, freshen up a dated brand, extend the brand into new categories, change brand perceptions, reposition your brand, solve a brand problem or something else?
Once you have figured out what you are looking for, then it is time to reach out to individuals or organizations that can meet this need. If you are only looking for a visual identity, brand identity firms and most marketing agencies can help you with this. What you need is a graphic designer who is experienced in brand identity design and brand guidelines development. If you want accompanying messages and communications, you need a good copywriter too. But, if you want these messages to powerfully convey a unique value proposition, you will need in-depth customer research and an experienced brand strategist. If you are looking for help with brand strategy, especially as it intersects with competitive strategy and business model strategy, you are also likely to need an MBA with concentrations in marketing strategy and competitive strategy. And if you are seeking a complete approach to branding, you will want to hire a firm that specializes in this.
For the comprehensive approach to branding, you will need the following skill sets: a business/marketing strategist, a marketing researcher skilled in qualitative and quantitative brand research, a graphic designer skilled in brand identity design and brand guidelines development and a talented copywriter. And it wouldn't hurt to have someone skilled in inside-out branding, someone who can put a CEO's hat on and view your enterprise from that holistic, higher level perspective.
In summary, you need to know what you are trying to achieve, what deliverables you are seeking and what skill sets can get you what you want. Some marketing agencies have all of these pieces, while most tend to be strong in graphic design and marketing communications and weaker in customer research and brand and business strategy. A common mistake is to hire the wrong person or organization to help you with your branding needs.
I once participated in a municipality's branding project RFP process that demonstrated a complete cluelessness about this. When the municipality emailed answers to the questions the agencies had asked regarding the RFP, more than 50 organizations were on the distribution list and they ranged from individual graphic designers and copywriters to marketing research companies, brand strategists, social media companies and full-service marketing agencies. It was clear that the municipality didn't know what it was seeking, nor did it know who to go to to find it. Once I saw that, I excused my company from the process, as I am sure other sophisticated marketing agencies did.
The bottom line: You need to know what you want and who can provide it for you. And you need to be thoughtful about this before you begin the search process.