Last week KnowledgeTree not only announced a solution to help sales and marketing teams manage their collateral. We also unveiled a new website – and a new corporate logo (which we’re quite proud of!). We worked with an outside vendor for the design. And to choose the vendor we went through a thorough vendor evaluation process.

Like us, many of our Global 2000 and fast-growing clients have their own design agencies — in-house, on contract, or on retainer. But no matter the size of your organization, you may choose to work with a new external agency. When doing so, you’ll want to evaluate agencies on their merits. I thought it would be interesting to share our experience with selecting an agency to partner with.

Getting Started with Choosing an Agency

We started the vendor evaluation process with some reflection and Googling. What were other marketing teams’ experiences and how did they evaluate vendors? There were few online resources from the buyer’s perspective. Here is a modest attempt to fill in part of that picture with our collection of tips for starting the process and narrowing the field of design agencies:

Why Are You Changing Your Logo?

Choosing the right agency actually starts by looking internally. First, ask yourself why you want to change the logo in the first place. If you can’t point to a compelling reason to change, then there may not be a great story to be told in the re-design. It may be that your logo has simply drifted away from your focus or was never a good match in the first place. But change for change’s sake should be carefully thought through.

What Are You Looking for in a New Logo?

Next, ask yourself what you’re looking for. Logo redesign is generally part of a much larger conversation. After all, a logo is one element of how you message your offering. So, are you looking for a new logo, or are you after a design book, a complete look and feel re-design, new messaging, and a new website? Narrowing the focus to just the deliverables you need is important. In this article, I’ll focus on the logo image itself.

Your Logo is Your Story

Logo designers can’t simply throw imagery at you and hope to hit the target. They need to start somewhere. And that place needs to be your company’s story. The logo is a reflection of the story you want to tell, so go over that story. If you’re an energy company, is your story about conservation, green approaches, power, or dependability? Make sure that you can tell your story succinctly and impactfully.

Then get ready to tell that story to your design agency. If they are worth their salt, they’ll hear your story and start imaging it as a visual element. Look for an agency that spends a lot of effort in this stage. They should be asking questions about your story, what resonates, what your customers hear from your story and more. Good listening at this stage is important.

Look Online for Logo Galleries

There are also many design galleries online. These websites provide a snapshot of the work of large and boutique design agencies, and can help you get a sense for characteristics of a logo that you want. If you’ve ever bought a bottle of wine, you know the challenge of asking for what you want. If you don’t know the terms to apply, it is a challenge to ask for what you want. But by looking at these design portfolios, you can get a better sense for the language you need to use to describe (or point to) the elements you want.

Obviously they are also a great source of candidate firms. You can take a look at many vendors at once, and see which vendors offer the right tone, variety, and instant eye-catch that you are looking for.

Suggestions from Peers and Searching

A great source of candidates will be who your peers have used. They will have gone through the process already, from selection to completion. Who did they like and how did they navigate the selection? Don’t have anyone in mind that could help? Try posting to your LinkedIn activity feed or LinkedIn groups, see which candidates you get back. Speak to your own marketing agency. Many Global 2000s have a range of firms they work with depending on the need. Your direct marketing firm may have suggestions for brand building specialists.

Narrowing the Field

Does proximity matter to you? Much of telling a great story depends on the emotion that is conveyed. That can be difficult to do if you’re working across time zones. But you may not be in a location filled with agencies or designers that meet you other qualifications. So, ask yourself whether having an agency nearby who you can speak to in-person matters.

Review their past work and speak to past customers. Yes, it is obvious, but the most vital step. Look at their previous work with a critical eye towards:

  • Variety: Do you see the same style repeated in a number of ways as they reuse what worked in the past in different ways?
  • Style: Agencies often have a distinct language or set of imagery building blocks. For instance, some may have a sleek modern feel while others aim for a nostalgic look. Does the look match your story?
  • Vertical: If you are a packaged goods manufacturer, there will be a different design language than if you are a technology company. Do they have the right experience to speak your language?
  • Story: Do you understand the story that the visual is trying to communicate? Is it design for design’s sake, or a communication vehicle?

Review their own logo. A design firm’s own logo ought to say a lot about their own firm. Is it over-styled, or do you immediately understand the ethos they are trying to project?

Interviewing Candidates

Once you’ve selected a few vendors to meet, the next step is to have the face to face. You’ve got a lot of ground to cover in your sessions. Where to start and what to ask? Look at their past work and have them tell you each story. Why was a color chosen? Why was a specific image selected? Why did they cast out the previous logo? What is the final story being told? If the agency cannot retell you the story, how can they be expected to retell yours?

Watch for aesthetics over story telling. The logo is meant to tell the story of your business. But if the agency makes design choices that prioritize design choices because of how a line ‘looks’ as opposed to how well it tells a story, then you’re an art project.

Ask about the discovery process. Getting from your story to a deliverable is not easy. But the magic that the design agency does is not built on nothing. It comes from insight into your story. So, how do they extract the core of your story and convert it into something visual? They must have a process. This could be a questionnaire, role-playing, interviews, and more. What process do they have to get from A to B?

Learn about the collaboration process. Once the agency has started, they need to be steered throughout the creative process to make sure that they are delivering what you need. So, does the process involve frequent check-in points where drafts and concepts are shown to you for feedback? How often are the checkpoints and what kind of feedback do they expect?

Money Where Your Logo Is

I’ll put price in the middle here. Price is always at the back of your mind. You can pay from $300 to $3 million, depending on the scale of what you’re looking for and whether logo design is part of a broader re-branding initiative. You want to stay in budget, but remember that this image will one of the most visible elements of your company for a long time to come. Spend wisely.

Comfort Level with the Team

How comfortable do you feel with the team? You need to provide the agency with candid feedback and speak in terms that may not be standard for you. So, it is important that you have a good rapport with the team. Expect that there will be frequent back-and-forths.

Inspiration

Sometimes a great logo is about a bit of magic. An inspired visual that captures your company’s story. You can’t bottle inspiration, but in your interview you can sometimes catch glimpses of it in the creative team. Inspired moments are beautiful things, watch for the sparks that show your agency can do something radically original.

Conclusion

Building a new logo is an exciting and potentially very impactful process. Make sure that the partner you take along for the ride has a shared vision for what you need and what will help you present the right visual story to your market.