Find the best branding agency for your product or company. Featuring the top branding firms and creative agencies from San Francisco, NYC, and LA.
Last Updated September 2, 2020
In 2020, a successful branding company is more than just a creative agency or marketing firm that employs graphic and logo designers. Today, a well thought out brand strategy is essential to make sure the communications are consistent across multiple channels, such as ads, digital, website, etc.
Mobile apps and websites play a significant role in our lives, and digital brands have become as important as ever. Traditional graphic design firms simply don?t know how to create a brand identity for such clients. As a result, many top branding and digital marketing agencies have emerged to exclusively serve the companies building digital products and services.
This list of top branding companies will help you find the right partner for your tech startup, SaaS, mobile app, or enterprise product.
Top Branding Agencies ? September 2020 Ratings:
A digital branding agency for tech companies ? clay.global
Clay ? A Digital Brand Agency
Location: San Francisco, CAClients: Slack, Facebook, Google, Coinbase, Amazon, CiscoTeam Size: 38 employees
The largest independent branding and creative agency ? pentagram.com
Pentagram ? a brand identity firm
Location: New York, London, Austin, BerlinClients: Yahoo, Netflix, Slack, Oppo, Samsung, VerizonTeam Size: 334 employees
3. Wolff Olins
A global brand strategy and design agency ? wolffolins.com
Wolff Olins ? a brand identity company
Location: New York, London, San FranciscoClients: Uber, Google, Grubhub, Treatwell, Zocdoc, AlibabaTeam Size: 154 employees
A branding and digital creative agency ? design.studio
DesignStudio ? a digital agency and brand design firm
Location: New York, London, San Francisco, SydneyClients: Airbnb, Twitter, Logitech, Deliveroo, Evernote, TruliaTeam Size: 93 employees
5. Moving Brands
A global creative agency and branding company ? movingbrands.com
Moving Brands ? a global creative and branding company
Location: New York, London, San Francisco, ZurichClients: Asana, Skype, Eventbrite, Sony, Netflix, GoogleTeam Size: 94 employees
Why is branding so important?
Branding is the process of creating a brand. Brands are more than just well-designed representations of a company ? they are the visual embodiment of a company?s identity. The brand communicates with current or potential customers the story of the company and what makes it unique. An effective brand elicits recognition and understanding in those who see it ? two key dimensions of any company?s overall success.
Recognition is when someone sees a brand and immediately knows what the company is or does. For some of the world?s biggest brands, recognition is almost universal. This is one of the major goals of branding ? to increase and spread recognition beyond the base of customers or users a company already has. Google, Facebook, Coca-Cola, and Nike are some of the most famous examples ? each one of these brands elicits immediate recognition by nearly everyone who sees them. Recognition turns brands into household names. It allows the company?s product or service to self circulate and therefore increase sales.
Understanding is related to recognition ? it is how the person who sees the brand makes a deeper, emotional sense of the company or product. For example, when one sees the Nike Swoosh there?s an immediate emotional understanding of the company ? competition, athleticism, and winning. This understanding plays a role in emotionally connecting people to the brand. With Nike, if someone recognizes athleticism in the Nike swoosh, then those who desire to be more athletic will be drawn to the brand and purchase the product.
Branding is therefore a crucial process. If done well, it can be the key that unlocks a company?s success.
What is a branding expert?
Unlike an illustrator or designer, a branding expert is a person who understands the ins and outs of the entire branding process. Because branding is a delicate, time consuming, and expensive undertaking, it must be done precisely and accurately the first time around. If a brand comes out poorly, inordinate amounts of time and money will be wasted. A branding expert is a person who ensures that every step taken while creating a brand is both professionally planned and executed.
Founders of a new company might have a clear vision of their brand, but more often than not they lack the experience needed to make their vision a reality ? this is where a branding expert comes in. They effectively organize the crucial steps and details in this process. For example, brand strategy, brand development, and brand positioning are three pillars of the branding process. Within each, there are a number of more particular and detailed steps that must be taken.
Further, because branding experts are familiar with so many different types of brands, and why they succeed or fail, they are able to effectively actualize the conceptual visions of others within the real-world conditions of how brands function. Branding is not merely about creating an image or designing a logo (though that is important!) ? it is about situating a brand in an effective, resonating way within a particular market and for a specific audience.
Last but not least, a branding expert is also a master of communication. Throughout the branding process, the branding expert communicates ideas and visions with the client and is also able to explain clearly and directly what works and what doesn?t. This communication is essential for creating brands that maintain fidelity to the original vision of a client.
FAQ: Working with a Branding Agency
How to hire the best brand or creative agency for your company.
Q: How much do branding company services cost?Brand design can cost anywhere from $2,500 up to $50,000, depending on what you need. And that?s not even the highest price. For example, if you want to have several brand iterations, you should prepare to spend even more. Upon completion of all the branding tasks, the agency should provide you with all the source materials, including .jpeg and .png files, mockups, backgrounds, and all other logos.
As mentioned above, $50,000 is not even the highest price you might come across. Some of the largest top digital marketing agencies charge $30,000 for brand strategy development alone! This means that when messaging, research, visual design, and other aspects of branding come into play, you may very well end up paying over $100,000. But, if your budget is tight and you can?t afford to spend this much money, you can always hire a smaller agency that provides thorough and sophisticated branding services at a much lower cost.
Q: What deliverables does a brand agency usually provide?It?s essential to understand what exactly is included in deliverables provided by a brand design agency. Below is a list of the things you should expect to be included in a branding package.
NamingDigital marketing agencies typically have brainstorming sessions to develop suitable and exciting names for their clients? businesses. Therefore, initially, you will be provided with a list of names to review. At this stage, you need to consider the list of proposed names and choose the best ones, or if none of the suggestions complement your vision, ask the agency to conduct another brainstorm.
Corporate identity developmentAfter you?ve decided on a name, the agency will meet with you to learn more about your business vision. Your input at this stage is critical. The team will then do research and sketch out several concepts along with an initial draft for a couple of them. You will be welcome to participate in this process ? and you definitely should ? to get the most suitable results. Make sure to find out how many revisions are included in the package and how much each new change above this allotted amount would cost.
Production. Once the concept is approved, the digital agency will provide you with the final logo artwork (either in color or black and white, depending on your agreement) and various file formats that you will be able to use in different media formats.
ExtrasAfter the basics are dealt with, you can get some additional branding elements, such as:
- Branding guidelines. This is a detailed brand bible with specific details about your company?s branding. It will at the very least include your logos and how they will be used; details, colors and their codes; as well as fonts and other typographic details;
- Email templates. Ideally, your company should customize its email marketing templates. But, it could also be a good idea to begin with a standard template that will help you leverage your fresh new branding;
- Signage. In the event you have a physical storefront, you are going to require some kind of signage;
- Business cards. Perhaps, one of the most crucial things you will need in the long run is business cards. Although you can print them out almost anywhere today, it?s in your best interest to let professionals design and print them out, so they accurately reflect your overall branding concept and strategy.
Q: Where are the best agencies located?Considering that the Internet has largely connected the entire globe and made things that were previously inaccessible by vast distances and oceans today only a click or two away, the market landscape is different today from what it was even ten years ago. More and more companies are turning to the web to develop remote departments. Some are even moving to remote work altogether. In other words, a particular location of a branding agency is not as important as it was before. Now, entire projects can be done through the web.
Nevertheless, many top digital marketing agencies are located in major tech hubs and large cities such as Austin, Boston, Los Angeles, New York, Portland, San Francisco, and Seattle in North America, London, and Manchester in the UK, Toronto, and Vancouver in Canada, Melbourne, and Sydney in Australia, and Amsterdam, Berlin, and Paris in Western Europe.
Q: Is it best to hire a large brand design agency or a boutique design firmPeople generally understand that even in a large company, their branding project will usually be handled by only two people ? the agency?s account manager and designer. Although it may be soothing to know that a creative agency has many employees, you will most likely be working with no more than two people. And yet, you?ll still pay a project fee that could support the entire staff.
At the same time, smaller digital agencies are in a somewhat unique position. The two people that take care of projects in these firms are often the company co-founders. Therefore, while you won?t get access to a large staff, you are going to work with a small creative team that provides the same purposeful design and strategic thinking that people usually expect to get from larger companies.
Q: Why hire a branding firm instead of full-range digital marketing or advertising company?Branding agencies tend to look at brands as the big picture. This could be a company?s philosophy, values, reputation, and image. Customers may consider it their perception of a business as they experience it and decide for themselves if it adds anything meaningful to their life. The goal of a good brand is to build a connection between the two.
Simply put: branding is the ?why,? advertising is the ?what,? and marketing is the ?how? of your business. Advertising is about developing a concept that draws attention to your business. Marketing converts your goals into sales. These two disciplines are rooms in your house that you can add later. Branding is about supporting the entire infrastructure, so you can focus on building your business one? room? at a time.
Hiring a branding company is an essential investment, without a doubt. But, you shouldn?t expect immediate returns on that investment. Regardless, it is still a step worth taking even in the early stages of your business. Some of the reasons why hiring a digital marketing agency might be your best option include:
- Expertise and efficiency;
- More speed and professionalism than your in-house team due to the digital agency?s branding focus and therefore perfected strategies and practices;
- Opportunity to reserve your in-house resources for more fruitful uses;
- Market knowledge and understanding;
- A fresh and objective perspective on your business.
Q: How long does branding take?First of all, you must define precisely what you need. Let?s say you need comprehensive and all-encompassing branding services. This process begins with strategy development, brand positioning, and consumer insights and then ends with logo design, look and feel. A project like this can take up to a year to complete if it?s a brand new product or service. If it is the reworking of an already existing brand, this process takes anywhere from 6 to 9 months.
Then, there is brand identity, which pretty much consists of a logo, look and feel. This typically takes up to 3 months to complete. In case you have to create a brand from scratch, it could take up to 6 months, since making an agreement, finding an open name, and registering it is a rather lengthy process.
Q: Why is brand identity so important?Brand identity is essentially how a particular brand stands out among its competitors. Unique and recognizable brand elements for promoting business are the most well-known aspects. While it is true that such parts of a company, including the brand name, logo, and tagline, play a significant role, brand identity goes far beyond these elements. The brand identity encompasses all visual aspects and features included in the overall brand experience. And each part plays a particular role:
- Brand Image. Whereas brand identity is the brand?s outward expression, brand image is how the target audience perceives the brand. Visual identity is crucial for businesses because the brand image is based on it. One of the hardest and most important tasks for any marketer today is to make audiences develop a brand image that conforms to the identity.
- Differentiation. Identity helps a brand differentiate itself from its competitors. This, in turn, is essential for positioning strategies.
- Consistency. Out of everything related to branding and brand identity, consistency is the most critical part of all. Developing a consistent outward expression is crucial to generating the perception that the brand needs.
- Personality. Brand identity helps communicate the brand?s personality via visual means.
Let?s boil down all of the above into one general point. In essence, brand identity helps develop a brand image that audiences can consistently relate to and, therefore, always associate the brand with the services or products it provides.
Q: What skills should a branding have?Many creative agencies offer a wide range of services. Usually, they?ll have core capabilities alongside new and developing ones. To get a taste of where a brand company?s strengths lie, consider looking at its employees. Check out the agency?s About Us page on their site or take a look at their professional profiles on LinkedIn and see what kind of skill sets they have and how many employees are working within each specialty.
For instance, how many senior-level brand designers and strategists are there? Why is there only one copywriter or visual identity designer? This could mean that the agency?s strength is in building and developing things rather than in providing creative services.
Q: How to choose a creative agency or branding firm?Your brand?s success depends on hiring the right digital agency. It?s necessary to consider the factors listed below:
- Research the top creative agencies. Check rankings, tap your network, and see which companies are ranked highest in your area (and align with your budget);
- Be specific about your project?s objectives. Map out goals and objectives before contacting the agency?s management team;
- Set proper timing expectations. The branding agency team must have a clear understanding of what their time commitment on your project should be;
- Be realistic about your budget. Prices vary from agency to agency, so you have to understand how much you can afford spending on branding services from start to completion. This will also allow the agency?s team to have a grounded understanding of what types of services they can offer you;
- Outline relevant creative agencies. After discussing your branding needs with several agencies, make a strategic move and pick those with spotless reputations, excellent portfolios, but which have different takes and approaches to solving your brand?s problems;
- Pick the top three firms from your list of candidates. See how the top three agencies you?re considering would develop your brand, ask them to talk you through their branding design process from start to finish;
- Compare the possible outcomes. Provide the same project information to every creative agency to see each of their proposals, timing, and budget, so you can see how each team would approach your project;
- Make the pitch. Choose two agencies with the best proposals and make your pitch. The one you ultimately see eye to eye with is the perfect brand company match and the one you want to go with.
Q: Where can I find more branding agencies online?It?s always useful to check out design awards and look up the winners and runners-up. It?s common practice for companies to flaunt their awards on social media profiles and websites proudly. In general, awards categorize agencies. Some typical ones include the ?best social media campaign? or ?best small digital agency.? Although it?s not an exact science, looking at awards and affiliations in conjunction with the other tips above can be a helpful way to find more reputable branding agencies on the web.
Things To Know About the Brand Identity Design Process
Brand identity design is not only intricate ? it is also a rewarding process. However, even though brand designers try to develop the best possible brand identities, there are cases when things don?t happen as intended. To make sure results meet the initial requirements set forth by clients, any creative agency and all branding designers have almost universally devised a process.
One thing you should note before we get deeper into the details of this process is there are many ways to handle it. Pretty much every company approaches this process as it sees fit for its team, skill set specialty, and other particular factors.
The branding process consists of two major parts: client onboarding and creative aspects. Let?s take a detailed look at both of them.
Client onboarding process
Meeting the clientFirst and foremost that no two client meetings are identical. However, a few commonalities do exist regardless of who you are meeting with. We will review these common threads below.
Design agencies usually do their research before meeting with their clients. They investigate their businesses, products, social media accounts, projects, and other avenues that are easily accessible. Based on the information collected through this research, agencies write down observations, questions, and probable solutions that they may find during this stage. This helps them get an idea of what a client might be looking for or need. So, when the meeting starts, clients get an opportunity to see the homework and preparation the agency has done. This stage helps develop trust in the agency in question. There is no denying this process is crucial for ensuring a mutually beneficial working relationship.
During that first meeting, digital agency representatives talk in detail about the process and may also discuss the budget for the client?s perspective project. Neither agencies nor clients want to waste their time only to realize that the price was too high from the start. This is also the point at which agencies suggest their schedule estimate for the project?s completion. If you believe that your project should be completed quicker than recommended by the agency, note that these estimates are usually higher than they end up being in reality.
All in all, the first client meeting helps find common ground for both the agency and the customer before delving into more serious discussions.
The design briefAfter a successful initial meeting, many agencies prefer to sit down with their teams and sort out what exactly they?ve learned about their client and the project before presenting a final offer.
This is the point at which agencies focus on creating a design brief. Design briefs come in various shapes and sizes. The agency can email it to you as a separate document, or they can make it using Typeform or Google Form. It largely depends on the agency?s preference.
The information you provide to your digital agency in the design brief will directly affect the work and overall outcome of the project. Since you are not a designer, you may unintentionally provide short or inadequate answers to some of the questions in the design brief, so you may be asked to provide more specific answers to them. Everything must be clear between you and the branding firm before any real work starts.
The ProposalAt this point, your branding agency will create a well-designed document known as the proposal or creative brief. This document functions as a guiding light for both you and the agency.
The proposal covers the following points:
- Personal agency presentation;
- Agency?s services;
- Case studies of some of its best work;
- Your project?s scope of work;
- Questions and answers from the design brief;
- Project budget;
You will have to approve this document upon receiving it. There is still room for discussion at this stage to ensure that everything is clear between you and the branding firm. If you think the price is too high, this is a stage when negotiation and discussion are still possible. One thing you should remember is that no one has time for an endless back-and-forth, so you have to be as precise as possible about the scope of work.
If you go beyond this scope, you may lose quite a lot of your and the agency?s precious time. So, if brand identity isn?t the only thing you want from the digital agency and you also want to design, say a website, make sure to mention it before the work starts. Otherwise, you will have to discuss it as a separate issue from the current scope of work. In a nutshell, you must understand what you need for your brand identity design and be as precise as possible about it.
The ContractA contract is a must. Both for you and your creative agency, this document ensures both professionalism and proper results. In most cases, you will have to make a 50% upfront payment before the work on your project begins. Some agencies may require less, some more. But you should be prepared to pay upfront regardless. There are some contract templates written and vetted by design organizations.
Once you settle all the questions, you should sign the contract and make a deposit needed for the digital marketing agency to get started.
Unraveling the Creative Process
As was mentioned previously, branding design processes can differ drastically from agency to agency. But, we?ll try to boil all this down to the most crucial points. While the picture drawn below may not be completely accurate, it represents the way most branding agencies approach projects.
ResearchWhen the goals are set, and your company?s personality seems clear, branding experts will get going on research. This step is essential for all kinds of design tasks, whether it?s a logo or a website. Research helps one immerse into the environment of the future brand and understand the peculiarities that will play a role in its potential success or failure.
Strategy developmentA brand strategy is crucial in showing which trajectory will enable the growth of a brand. Brand strategy development takes a mix of rational thinking and creative imagination. The reason is, the creation of a strategy must work for the company internally and for its clients externally. A brand strategy should clarify:
- Target markets;
- Competitive advantage;
- Brand values;
- Brand personality;
- Brand promise;
- Brand proposition.
Identity designAfter examining the analysis and strategy report, the branding team will use its experience, creativity, imagination, and intuition to implement the strategy into representing the brand visually. Different branding teams and specialists have their unique ways of working, but designing a corporate identity always involves time and patience, and usually starts with the creation of several ideas that are eventually condensed down into one final concept over time.
The brand company will provide you with the final iteration of your identity design. And you will choose the best of them. This may require some back-and-forth because you may not be able to choose one final design option and might even have some heated discussions with your team before finally making a decision. You will have to approve one final design that can be used for your brand?s image and all the collateral branding.
CollateralThis stage involves taking the identity created in the previous step and applying it to many mediums that serve as points of contact between a business and its clients. These touchpoints may include:
- Business cards;
- Product or packaging design;
At this point in the process, the identity will be tested in real applications, as opposed to the hypothetical ones from the previous stage. Once it?s clear that it ?works,? the design of all of the touchpoints can proceed to finalization.
Hand-offYour creative agency will prepare all the deliverables of the brand identity in all the necessary and required digital formats (the ones you?ve agreed on during client onboarding) and the guideline manuals and send them to you for further use in your marketing materials, campaigns, and anything else. This can be done via email, shareable Google Drive links, physical mediums (flash drive or even disc), or another way you might prefer.
Asset managementBrand identity asset management requires a long term commitment from company owners to building and maintaining the brand. For a brand to succeed, it must be monitored and given consistent input over a long time. This type of maintenance is crucial for the success of a brand.
The Bottom Line
The process described above is in no way a strict paradigm. However, it certainly helps you understand the crucial key points of working with a branding design company or digital marketing agency. You must know what you need and be disciplined about it to keep the entire procedure going and not halt it with inadequate information or slow responses. Although a reliable and professional branding design company will always guide you through the process, it?s in your best interest to maintain professionalism yourself.
Thanks for reading!
Questions, suggestions, ideas? Email me ? [email protected]
Check out my lists of Top UX agencies and Top Web Design Agencies: