When you think of the best and most popular marketing agencies, which come to mind? Your answer is likely Ogilvy, BBDO, Leo Burnett, or Edelman. These agencies aren’t just well known for being large, but because they’re responsible for some of the most remarkable and widespread recognizable marketing campaigns. These agencies also managed to secure widespread, memorable brands that will remain popular for the next few generations.
A strong brand is essential for agencies to attract new clients, retain existing ones, and fuel sustainable growth. As an agency, thoughtful branding allows you to clearly convey your mission, differentiate from competitors, and form lasting connections with your customers.
Ultimately, branding sets the foundation for scaling your agency.
Defining Your Agency's Brand
What is a brand? The most obvious thing that comes to mind is your visual identity (logo, typography, colors). But it’s more than that. It’s how your agency is positioned, your messaging, and your values. For smaller agencies, the brand is the extension of the owner. As such, the values and brand positioning are built based on the founder’s characteristics and skillset. Once the agency outgrows the owner, the brand matures and alters based on customer feedback and needs, as well as the experiences of those leading the business.
Measuring Brand Success
As marketers, we favor metrics and numbers, making decisions based on data. When it comes to branding, unfortunately, success can’t be measured precisely. Sure, there are key leading indicators that suggest how successful your brand is (which I’ve listed below), but it’s really about your general sense of whether your brand is known in the market.
Here are the Key Leading Indicators we use at Comrade Digital Marketing to measure the success (or, more accurately, recognition) of our brand:
Direct visits and branded keyword searches (measured in Google Analytics and Google Search Console)
Higher brand visibility in Search Console and awareness metrics
Increase in followers, engagement rates, and mentions of our brand on social platforms
Increase in media mentions
Increase in solicitation emails that start with “We love your website…” (however much we dislike spam, it does tell us we’re doing something right!)
Branding is a long-term investment, so set realistic expectations when tracking leading indicators like those above.
Here at Comrade Digital Marketing, we’re always investing in the growth of our brand. It wasn’t about overnight success but rather extensive and consistent work we put in over a long period of time. And now, we’re seeing the benefits of all the work we’ve put in. Specifically, we’ve been
invited to participate in more podcasts, webinars, and events and collaborate on other thought leadership pieces,
getting more RFPs from known companies that are very picky in their vendor selection,
getting more talent applying for work and saying that they would love to be a part of our winning team, and
receiving more warm referrals from partners, past clients, and colleagues.
We’ve built a solid foundation, but we’re far from done. Our success as a brand will continue as we build our client roster and as we’re able to charge higher fees than our competitors.
Building a Brand from Scratch
Whether you’re launching a new agency or seeking to redefine your brand’s identity, the journey of brand building will be a labor-intensive and exciting process.
Defining Your Brand Identity
You need to decide how your agency will be portrayed in the market. Start by clearly defining what your agency is all about. If you have a small agency and you’re leading the effort, what do you stand for? What’s important to you when you work with your clients? Is it results? Great customer service? Your highly specialized expertise in a specific area (like Programmatic ads)?
Study your competitors. What is their brand story? What do they stand out for? Do you have an edge over them that you can clearly demonstrate?
Brainstorm with your core team and pinpoint what your agency will be known for. Start with just one thing. Don’t try to be the best at everything because you won’t be able to. This ONE THING will become the foundation of your brand identity. It will drive forward your company culture, decisions, and interactions with internal and external stakeholders.
Once you have a distinct idea of what that is, you need to develop creative assets that will support your true identity. Start with the agency name, then the logo, the color scheme, typography, and finally, how you will clearly articulate your brand and USP (Unique Selling Proposition).
Next, test it! Interview a few existing or potential clients or partners in the industry. Show them your new identity, share your USP, and see if they get it.
If you already have a brand, does it align with what your agency TRULY stands for? If your answer is “Ehhh, it’s ok…” don’t be afraid to start over. You won’t be able to grow a sustainable and profitable agency with a mediocre brand.
Crafting Your Brand Story
To quote the eCommerce platform Shopify, “The best brand stories are authentic, relevant, and memorable. They tell a clear and concise story about the brand’s values, missions, and purpose.”
While storytelling has become somewhat of a marketing buzzword, it’s best understood as a powerful tool to connect with clients on an emotional level. Your brand story should highlight your agency’s origin, challenges, and evolution. It should connect your differentiating point with your customer needs.
According to our brand story: “The backbone of the US economy, small and mid-sized businesses deserve every opportunity to grow and continue their immeasurable contributions to our society. Yet most marketing agencies focus on serving only large corporations that can afford their services. The end result? Big corporations continue to grow and maximize profits, while smaller businesses struggle to retain and grow their market share. We’re not like that. Our passion and expertise lie in providing world-class marketing solutions specially designed for smaller organizations. That’s what gets us up every morning — knowing that our solutions positively impact the lives of thousands.”
From Marketing to HR: Infusing Your Agency's Brand Story Every Step of the Way
Your brand story has to be at the forefront of every aspect of your agency. It’s equally important to promote your brand externally and internally.
Just like you want to share your brand story with prospective clients, you need to present it to your prospective team members in the recruiting process. They have to get your brand positioning and values, and they have to agree with them and embrace them. Because if they don’t, your brand will not be consistent. Your team is there to promote, defend, and drive the brand forward.
Scaling Your Brand: Strategies to Grow and Improve Your Agency's Reputation
Once your brand has been established, you need to promote it. Depending on your expertise, team depth, resources, and budget availability, you may choose some or all of these methods to promote your brand.
But let me warn you: You have to commit to each channel. You will only see results if you invest in them consistently over a long period of time. That’s just the nature of our market. There are hundreds and thousands of agencies that are trying to do the same, and they’ve been on the market longer, and they have larger teams.
So, how do you stand out? Be very intentional, and write expert content on subjects where you’re better than everyone else.
Start With Your Website
Your website is your best salesperson and works for you 24/7. Like a great salesperson, it must be very presentable and present like an expert. Start with your main differentiating factor; be straightforward that this is what you’re all about. Drive this point again and again.
Then, follow the “They Ask, You Answer” model, introduced by Marcus Sheridan in his book of the same name. The concept is simple: collect the main questions your prospects ask during the sales process and list them and the answers on your website. That way, your potential customers will feel like you’re already giving them the information they need and you’re ahead of the game.
Side note: if you take a look at the Comrade Digital Marketing website, you will notice that our home page and our major landing pages are strategically built based on this concept.
Establishing Your Agency as an Industry Thought Leader: Expert Content and Thought Leadership
Begin developing content that focuses on your area of expertise or your main USP. I recommend writing it in the blog section of your website so that you can build your website authority over time, and the website will become a central place for your content.
The same content should be repurposed and uploaded on your YouTube channel, social media platforms, and guest blogging sites (like Medium). Remember to post consistently.
Utilizing SEO to Promote Your Content
It goes without saying, but invest in SEO so that all the great content you produce will not be wasted. If SEO is not your core expertise, hire SEO specialists to do it for you.
SEO is a fairly expensive and complicated channel to get results from, but once you get traction, it may become your most sustainable channel to promote your brand.
Sponsoring your Content with Paid Advertising
Advertising through social media channels like Facebook and LinkedIn is a great way to increase your audience reach and get more followers, subscribers, and readers. This will allow your content to be exposed to a larger audience that otherwise might take years to reach.
Participating and Sponsoring Conferences to Boost Your Brand
As an agency, ensuring you’re getting the word out about who you are, what you do, and why you’re the right choice for anyone seeking marketing services is essential. Participating in a conference is a great way to do just that, and it also allows your team to speak on a more personal level with attendees about what they can expect from partnering with your company.
Sponsoring a conference is another way to get even more visibility for your business. As an event sponsor, you’ll have your own booth to showcase your service offerings.
Leveraging Podcasts as a Place to Share Your Thought Leadership
Starting your own podcast is a great way to connect with other industry leaders in the space. However, it may be a challenging undertaking for a small agency as it requires a lot of resources to get guests, lead interviews, prepare content, post, and promote it.
The strategy that worked well for us was being interviewed on more established podcasts and then promoting this content on our own platforms.
Using Email Marketing
As you gather more followers, prospects, and readers in your database, a good strategy is to send out a weekly newsletter with the main highlights of the content you’ve created.
Partnering with Organizations for Mutual Brand Exposure
As an agency looking to expand, leveraging the audiences of partner organizations is another strategy to increase your reach, visibility, and impact.
Your agency can use the following tactics to create mutual brand exposure:
Partner with other agencies to co-host events and workshops
Create deals and promotions together. Work with companies in related industries that cater to the same target market and design promotions and deals for your customers.
Engage in joint marketing campaigns. Joint marketing campaigns are a great way to cross-promote each organization and gain visibility
When you think outside the box about potential partners, you can make connections that help your agency grow.
Overall, many tools exist to promote your brand but focus on ones like these for a while. Try to master at least one or two of them. Focus on the quality of your content versus quantity, diving deep into your subjects. Put yourself in the shoes of your target audience. Would they want to read your content? Would your content provide value? Would you want to come back for more?
The US Small Business Administration recommends spending 7-8% of your gross revenue on marketing and advertising if you’re doing less than $5 million a year in sales and your net profit margin after expenses is at least 10%.
But can you invest more? My mentor once said, “If you’re looking to 10X your agency, you must invest significantly more in growth.” That goes not only for the money you invest in ads, conferences, and events but also for your internal effort to produce content, record videos, put up infographics, and answer questions and comments.
At the same time, be cautious about the investments that you make. Regularly review and adjust your budget to maintain a sustainable brand-building strategy.
Comrade’s Brand Promotion Strategy: Lessons Learned
During Comrade’s early days, we heavily underinvested in our own growth, and as a result, the growth in our first eight years was very slow. Then, following the suggestion of our mentor, we increased our investment to 10%+ in brand growth and marketing. The result? We were able to grow by over 200% in three years.
Most of this growth I can attribute to our expert website, expert content that we put up on our blog, and various channels and SEO. In fact, we’ve grown our internal marketing team to seven people who just focus on this.
Another contributor to our success was referrals and strategic partners who believed in our brand and sent business our way. Sponsoring conferences and events also helped us generate more clients. We’re currently exploring more ways to promote our brand this way, as we believe we can gain exposure to a huge targeted audience at once.
What didn’t work for us was social media and paid search. No matter how much we invested in these channels, we just couldn’t get a consistent ROI from them. The quality of leads was too low, or the cost per lead was too high. But maybe you’ll see different results, so don’t be scared to try it out.
Improving Your Brand Over Time
Your brand isn’t static. It evolves as your agency grows, the market changes and client preferences shift. Brand evolution is important. What made you different or unique might not be relevant to your customers anymore. There may be a technological shift that makes your USP irrelevant.
Staying up-to-date with the latest industry trends and technology will keep you ahead of the competition because if they’re evolving and you’re not, you risk falling behind.
Here at Comrade, we had to strategically adapt our brand and USP as we defined and redefined a niche and core client profile that we decided to go after. On top of that, we realized that our true, unique expertise is in Search Marketing and a very meticulous data-driven approach for our clients. This was a necessary change since we felt like we wouldn’t be able to scale if we were to stay a generalist agency.
Don’t stop evaluating and reevaluating your brand and adjusting as needed.
Leveraging Trust: Collecting Reviews and Building Credibility for Your Agency’s Brand
Reviews are a crucial part of brand development. They’re an invaluable resource for potential clients considering your agency because they build near-instant trust. Showcasing reviews on your website and providing customers with an easy way to submit reviews or ratings is a great way to show appreciation and account for success.
Regularly requesting customer feedback and surveying prior work allows your agency to stay in the know about customer satisfaction and offers you a chance to adjust services or processes accordingly.
Having a review solicitation strategy is key to furthering business growth. After all, 97% of customers read reviews when searching for local businesses.
At Comrade, we pay close attention to collecting reviews from our customers. Through hard work and constant communication with our successful clients, we’ve collected over 170+ reviews on platforms like Google, Clutch, Yelp, Facebook, Trustpilot, and more. The goal was, and still is, to be the #1 reviewed agency in our key market: Chicago.
Protecting the Brand: Strategies to Safeguard and Protect Your Agency's Reputation
It is in your best interest to exercise strategic tactics to protect your image and safeguard your reputation.
Monitor Online Reviews and Respond
Managing online reviews and responding when necessary is one of the most important steps you can take to protect your agency’s reputation. Make sure all possible customer feedback is monitored and address any issues promptly. Most importantly, responding to negative feedback and resolving online complaints demonstrates credibility.
Address Issues Promptly and Provide Good Customer Service
Another way to protect your reputation is by offering good customer service. Maintaining good relationships with clients, treating them respectfully, and addressing any issues promptly are also important to protect your reputation.
At Comrade, we do this by collecting monthly client satisfaction surveys that offer our clients a chance to measure our performance on a scale from 1 to 10 for the following criteria:
Satisfaction with the results of our campaigns
Satisfaction with our communication
Satisfaction with content produced for our clients
Satisfaction with our innovation and new strategic initiatives
Constant monitoring of these surveys allows us to see if any issues are brewing with our clients quickly. This furthers our goal of having each successful client refer us to their friends and network.
How We Protect Our Brand at Comrade
At Comrade, we understand that preserving and protecting our agency brand is very important if we want to scale our agency. To do that, we:
Communicate our brand positioning, core values, vision, and mission consistently and clearly with our team
Ensure our content is consistent through various channels
Foster a culture of transparency when it comes to client expectations
Actively monitor social media and reviews. We take feedback seriously and use it to improve our services.
Interview prospective clients who chose to go with another agency to learn their reasons for choosing our competitors over us.
Key Takeaways to Build and Sustain a Strong Agency Brand
Building and sustaining a strong agency brand is not an easy task, but it is essential for success.
Choose your true differentiating factor, test it out with your customers, and build your brand story and messaging around it.
Next, invest more than your competitors in the promotion of your brand and marketing to scale quickly. Constantly measure results and analyze what works and what doesn’t. Be consistent with the information you produce and ensure high quality (over quantity).
Deliver great work. Constantly measure results and collect feedback from your customers. Make sure your customers are raving fans who are promoting your brand.
Don’t be afraid to get started! Building an agency brand is like parenting a child: challenging but rewarding!