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Winning Strategies

Do You Need Brand Strategy Consulting? 11 Questions to Ask Before Paying a Consultant

In 1973, entrepreneur Fred Smith was running out of money, fast.

Despite his best efforts, he was down to just $5,000 to maintain the operations of his company. After being denied for another loan, Smith decided to take a gamble, literally.

He hopped on a plane to Vegas. Hoping for the best, he gambled the last of his money playing blackjack. Thankfully, fate was on his side, and he walked away with $27,000.

That may seem like a huge, unnecessary risk. But, today, Smith’s company is worth $60.32 billion.

We know that business as FedEx.

Do You Need Brand Strategy Consulting?

Similar to FedEx, the success of an organization can sometimes come down to timing.

However, creating a truly remarkable brand requires more than just luck. It's a goal that few businesses ever achieve. It's challenging to develop and promote that type of brand at scale. And, to help gain traction, many entrepreneurs choose to work with a branding consultant.

However, hiring a branding consultant doesn't guarantee ROI.

Brand strategy consulting isn't for everyone. If brand consulting isn't what you need to see success, don’t waste the money. To avoid spending unnecessary time and budget on a brand strategy consultant, here are some critical questions to ask before signing a contract or coming to an agreement.

12 Questions to Ask Before Hiring a Brand Consultant

1. What is a Brand?

Branding is about perception. When defining what a brand actually is, let's look to David Ogilvy. As Ogilvy said that a brand is "the intangible sum of a product’s attributes."

So, for instance, Kleenex is a brand known for their most popular product, the Kleenex tissue. The mention of Kleenex can trigger thoughts and feelings such as convenience, trust, and value in consumers.

At first, Kleenex tissues were intended as a way to remove cold cream. However, over the 1920s, the Kleenex company realized that consumers were using tissues for a variety of things. The brand made a change, and started to advertise their tissues as a multi-use product, for everything from dealing with colds, to removing makeup.

Over the years, the Kleenex brand continues to strengthen, with new innovations such as fun package designs, different colors, and various package sizes. The name Kleenex is now even synonymous with the tissues, with many consumers referring to facial tissues as "a Kleenex" even when the product isn't sold by the company.

The perception of what a Kleenex is, and why it's valuable, has always been based on the customer. The company creates and maintains such powerful branding because they focus on what their consumers want, and identify ways to give them Kleenex tissues in the exact way they need them. An exceptional branding team utilizes that knowledge to create memorable messaging and marketing to promote the product or service of a company.

2. What Is Your Experience?

These days, anyone working in public relations or marketing can claim to have relevant experience in branding. However, for a brand strategy consultant to bring value to your company, they need to possess a certain set of skills to be successful. When companies and startups seek a brand consultant to help outline a strategy, there are a few skills they should require, such as:

  • Experience with marketing budgets
  • Experience within your industry
  • Experience with market research and analysis
  • A strong network
  • Expertise in public relations and social media

These are the minimum skills you should seek from your brand consultant. Otherwise, they may require additional on-the-job learning, which could eat up your budget.

3. What Are Your Credentials?

When meeting with a brand consultant, getting credentials is important.

Brand strategy consultants traditionally hold at least a Bachelor's or Master's Degree in a relevant business or marketing field of study. However, their ability to drive results supersedes any formal education credits.

The best credentials to look for, beyond education, are the companies they have worked with, and the results they have produced. A high-ranking member of a team at Apple or Google probably has a little more insight into branding strategy than a high-ranking member of Walmart.

4. Are You Industry-Specific?

You want a branding consultant who knows your industry inside and out. This will make it easier for them to onboard, and start providing value right away. Otherwise, they'll need additional time to research and catch up, which isn't what you want to pay for.

5. Can I See a Portfolio of Successful Branding Stories?

Any experienced brand consultant will be able to demonstrate their success. When assessing consultants, ask for a portfolio of branding stories. This can help determine how effective and experienced they are within your industry. Without examples of what they've already done, you'll just need to go off their word.

6. Can I Get Recent Client References?

Brand consultants worth your time will have references. Recent references - even current clients they will allow you to speak to.

An enthusiastic, happy client is the best evidence that a brand consultant will deliver results. In the instance that a brand consultant seeking work with you cannot provide client references, this could be a red flag. Even written referrals, client testimonials, or feedback could act as a reference.

7. What Results Can I Get From ‘X’ Budget?

Before handing over any amount of money, make sure there are clear goals and expectations set. Brand consultants should provide an idea of how various channels and branding tactics will perform. Experienced brand consultants have utilized similar methods for clients, so they should be capable of explaining how the budget will be spent, and what the expected result will be.

8. What Is the Fee Structure? Are There Hidden Fees?

Hiring any kind of consultant can be tricky. It's important to make sure you understand any and all pricing requirements upfront. For instance, some consultants already have access to tools and platforms they need to be successful. If they do not, they may ask you to pay for these things later.

9. How Long Before A Positive ROI?

Again, when you're working with an experienced consultant, they should know how well certain initiatives will work. A consultant with experience in similar branding campaigns will understand how long it will take to get results. Timelines and performance can vary, but a good consultant will set goals and see them to fruition.

10. What Happens If Deadlines/ROI Is Missed?

In the case that initiatives don't work, there should be a contingency plan. Because, even the best brand strategy consultants can’t really predict the future. And, eventually, they will miss a deadline or something will cause them to fall short of their goals.

Before hiring a consultant, make an agreement that includes contingencies about missed deadlines or deliverables. This can include an outline of services or a documented plan. Working with a contract upfront can help prevent a lot of headaches later.

11. Do I Have The Infrastructure To Truly Benefit?

Brand consultants can only work with what you have available. A consultant cannot make up for crucial inbound marketing initiatives that are necessary to orchestrate an effective brand strategy. Regardless of how great the consultant is, if you have a talent shortage, an agency may be a better investment. Rather than spending money on consulting, companies can also focus on training team members to help drive results.

12. Are Your Expectations Healthy?

Consultants don't work miracles. Do you really understand the return you will get from hiring a consultant? There won't be overnight results. One person can only contribute so much, and it may take some time for them to deliver on their promises.

Hiring An Agency vs. Brand Strategy Consulting

Brand strategy consulting isn't for everyone. Creating a brand is only a part of a long-term marketing strategy. In order for branding to be effective, teams must incorporate initiatives such as content marketing, social media, search marketing, email marketing, and more. This requires more knowledge and expertise than many brand strategy consultants can offer.

To develop and deploy a robust brand strategy at scale, ongoing training and education for your team might be a better investment. As an alternative, Digital Marketer offers a variety of courses to certify and strengthen your team's expertise. how_to_become_a_digital_marketer_fast

Written by Melissa Elise Randall / May 18, 2018

As an Inbound Writer for Lean Labs, Melissa enjoys writing and curating real content for real people. When she's not producing inbound content, she's an avid traveler and blogger for her site, Driftyland. She currently resides in Wilmington, North Carolina with her oversized panda/Ewok hybrid, Morrie.

Articles by Melissa Elise Randall