Your brand defines you. More than a logo and color scheme, your brand is the image that materializes in a customer’s mind. It’s the set of values you follow at every twist and turn.
It’s the story you tell.
In short, your brand is everything—so it’s natural to want the team shaping and refining it to be composed of raw talent. And when it comes to developing your brand—no matter where you are in your trajectory—you typically have two options: Either you hire an external branding agency, or you build an in-house team of creatives.
In general, there’s no right or wrong answer. Each choice comes with its advantages and drawbacks. But there’s likely a right answer for your specific situation. Today, we’re here to help guide your decision by spotlighting the differences between working with a branding agency or bringing it all internally.
In-house team vs. branding agency: How do they stack up?
Having an in-house team—a group of employees hired specifically to support your branding infrastructure—can be an astute business decision. But bringing an external team of experts on board can be equally rewarding.
So, when it comes to deciding between the two, it’s paramount that you weigh the benefits and drawbacks within categories like:
- Brand knowledge
- Industry knowledge
When you task someone with the development of your brand, you want them to understand your company’s identity intuitively. And it’s not enough for them to know what products you offer, or which awards you’ve earned—you want a team that can cut to the heart of your operation and highlight its uniqueness.
So, who’s a better fit for this intimate understanding, an in-house team, or a branding agency?
Of course, from the outset, your internal team already knows everything about your organization—the history, the culture, the time your product launch went viral. Your employees have the inside scoop; they can leverage their product knowledge and internal connections to start work immediately.
For a branding agency, the road to brand knowledge takes a different shape (and the process is slightly longer). Initially, a branding agency only understands your “public personality.” But with their onboarding and discovery methodologies, they’ll work outside in to uncover the core ethos and value propositions.
From a 30,000-foot vantage point, a branding agency can explore every facet of your business.
In-house creatives don’t always have this bird’s eye view, and suddenly, the benefits of an internal team become a drawback. Employees have biases and preconceptions about your brand; an outside perspective can shine a spotlight on your brand architecture, identifying advantages or blind spots that your internal team never recognized.
The bottom line? If you want a quick turnaround, an in-house team can be a massive asset—when you want a comprehensive, all-angles approach, a branding agency will likely outperform your internal team in the long run.
Beyond knowledge of your brand, creative teams need an in-depth understanding of branding in general.
With in-house personnel, your level of internal industry experience is only as strong as your recruiting team. What we mean is, if you haven’t managed to hire the best of the best—because of the available talent pool, salary limitations, or inefficient hiring practices—you can’t possibly summon the type of top talent you’re seeking.
A branding agency is already fully equipped with seasoned professionals, each of whom comes with a wealth of industry connections. The best branding agencies have a never-ending list of success stories to validate their process and vision.
What’s more, branding agencies can also offer far more services (many of them specialized) than a small in-house team. An expert branding agency can cover the following and beyond:
- Strategy and management
- Visual identity
- Internal branding
- Brand positioning
- Research and analytics
- Brand experience development
To adequately handle all these items in-house, you’ll need a sizable team. In this category, the advantage goes to the branding agency.
As they say, communication is key. But how and when do you want to communicate with your creative team about branding?
Your in-house team members are a Slack message away—or, if you’re back in the office, a trip down the hall. As such, you can take a decisively hands-on approach to your campaign.
Agencies tend to involve you a bit more passively. After the initial flurry of slide decks and meet-and-greets, many branding agencies will move to a weekly or biweekly update schedule—although if you prefer a different timeline, you can request it (after all, you’re in charge).
Depending on your preferences, this slower cadence can be positive or negative. For those that like daily updates and the ability to check in at a moment’s notice, an in-house team can fulfill those needs. But if you prefer high-level, only-the-essentials reports, a branding agency might be best.
What’s your ultimate goal as a business? Is it growth? If it is, you’ll need a creative team that can grow with you.
An internal team is scalable, but there’s a caveat. Essentially, if you want to scale up your branding efforts while staying in-house, you need to hire more people. And, as you know, onboarding new employees burns resources and bandwidth.
With a branding agency, if you want to double your efforts in one arena or target additional areas of opportunity, all you have to do is ask. Most agencies have a pool of professionals to draw from. As such, you can “grow your team” by the end of the day.
We’d be remiss not to talk about finances in the discussion between an internal branding team and a dedicated brand agency team. At the end of the day, staffing internally is a long-term investment in your business. But it’s a big one.
Even a small in-house team of three branding specialists could run you upwards of $200,000 per year.1 And then there are the related costs:
- Software subscriptions
- Office space
It all adds up rather quickly.
As for working with a branding agency? The cost is a little more obscured, as projects vary so widely that it’s impossible to publish a list of rates. That’s why most agencies don’t list their prices; you need to make a serious inquiry—complete with project scope and objectives—to receive an accurate quote.
Once you do, you might be surprised. The upfront cost of a branding agency may appear steeper than that of an in-house team, but in the long run, you’ll generally pay less overall.
This is due to project timelines and execution. Once your project is complete, the bills stop coming.
Yes, your brand is always evolving, and there’s something to be said about having an internal team ready to address these changes. But retaining employees can be costly, and unlike marketing—which is an ongoing endeavor—branding (or rebranding) is often a “one-and-done.”
Ultimately, a branding agency provides more flexibility, more transparency, and more bang for your buck.
Should you bring it internal, or source the experts?
All said and done, choosing between an internal team or a branding agency is dependent on your specific circumstances. If you envision having perpetual branding needs and want to take a disciplined, hands-on approach, staffing internally—so long as you’re meticulous about recruiting—is likely the better decision.
If you’re looking to fulfill a certain branding initiative and want to ensure it’s championed by individuals with elevated expertise and experience, then a branding agency is better aligned. This becomes evermore apparent when the project—a rebrand, for instance—is integral to your success as a business.
Both avenues offer their own unique benefits, and what you choose will ultimately hinge upon your specific need profile.
1 ZipRecruiter. Brand Manager Salary. https://www.ziprecruiter.com/Salaries/Brand-Manager-Salary