How to choose a creative agency

How to choose a creative agency


Searching for a tech marketing agency? Here’s how we do what we do.

Here’s a little background on how the gang at Toolbox came to specialize in building brands for innovative technology companies and a peek into our process.

An organic process

Toolbox began in 2003 as two designers who wanted their own business, not necessarily as business people who chose design. We evolved like many design shops do — creating anything and everything: direct mail for radio stations, library logos, award-winning children’s bibles, restaurant bus shelter ads, theatre posters and beautiful book covers for some truly awful books.

It was all about taking care of our clients, focusing on beautiful design and growing through referrals. Through that process of organic growth, we came to identify things that were working well and things that were not. The projects that worked well worked really well. The work that was most fulfilling was also the work that bore most fruit, for our clients and for us.

Specialty sauce

What we love most about Toolbox is that we’re always creating and learning something new. It might be 3D printed crop sensors, working with a composer to score a corporate video or trying to figure out how to make a shark swim through a wheat field. That kind of curiosity is a job requirement at Toolbox.

Variety is the spice of life. Repetition builds expertise. At Toolbox, marrying the two gives us a reason to come to the studio each day.

Specializing in the kind of work we do best — working with and being inspired by the rebels, innovators and inventors — that’s the kind of work we most enjoy doing.

What we do best looks simple

Our work is all about listening, distilling, editing and alchemy. It’s turning complex technology that takes two hours to explain into brand positioning and marketing assets that take two seconds to fall in love with. Simple is beautiful. Simple is powerful. Simple is really, really hard.

We do our best work for innovators

The engineer, the technologist, the scientist — those who are endlessly passionate about how their technology will make the world a better place for their customers. They work for companies that are revenue-positive, and have a proven product and happy customers who love them.

While our clients are doing a lot of things right, they’re typically also at a precipice. They might need to grow. They might need to take on the big player in their industry. They might be seeking one of the big players to acquire their technology. They know where they want to go but are not quite sure how to get there.

We do the work because it works

Beautiful design works. It sways public opinion, moves product, wins hearts and minds. But sometimes, no matter how great the design, the initiative ultimately fails.

As a boutique agency, we can’t afford for our clients not to succeed. Our Brand Assessment phase was designed specifically to address the branding challenges that lead to success, or failure. Before we begin any creative work, we dive deep to understand where our clients are now and where they want to go — then we map out how we’ll get there. We find out why those who love them love them, and we start to identify ways we can build on that brand love. This initial diagnostic phase provides the client and Toolbox the opportunity to make sure there’s a good fit before moving into creative.
A successful creative partnership is a relationship built on mutual trust and respect. It’s a two-way street. It’s equally important that the agency find the right client as it is for the client to find the right agency.

Bring the goods

Good + good + good = great.

At Toolbox, we believe there are three fundamental goods required to build a great brand. We work with good people who have good products and good budgets. Having the three goods in place does not ensure success. Rather, it lays the foundation upon which a strong brand identity can be built. When one is missing, the entire process can go off the rails.

Good people: We’ve had a firm no a-hole policy at Toolbox for years. A few have slipped through our detectors — making designers cry (which is not easy to do) and spectacularly derailing the process. Our process is designed to be fun, open and engaging. While we love working with nice people, it runs deeper. We work best with people who want to see their work do good in the world.

Good products: Tech companies need to have a good product on two levels. First, the company’s overall value proposition has to be solid. Does the brand have a strong moral compass, a clear focus, a compelling story and a reason for people to care? Second, the actual product or service offered needs to be truly good. Is there a market? Do customers love it? Is it making their lives easier, their jobs more fruitful and their own brands stronger?

You can’t build a great brand before you have a good product. If you have a subpar product and a $100,0000 marketing budget, spend that money on making your product better instead.

Our sweet spot is making your company look and sound as good as it already is. We’re not in the turd polishing business.

Good budgets: One of the first questions we ask a potential client is: have funds been allocated for marketing? A huge budget isn’t always a good budget. Likewise, a good budget isn’t always a huge budget. Rather, a good budget is all about determining where you want your branding initiative to take you and what it will take to get there. A good budget sees branding as an investment that will work and dedicates the resources needed to pull it off. A logo can cost a $35 or a $100,000, so you can’t budget for branding as you would a commodity. It’s not about getting the lowest price; it’s about making a managed-risk investment with clearly defined ROI in mind.

Finding the right marketing agency is much easier when you talk money early. We’re happy to chat about your marketing strategy and budget, whether or not you have a number in mind.

The engineer whisperers

One of our favorite clients describes us as Engineer Whisperers. Given that in some cases engineers hate marketers, that was a big compliment indeed. That insight was the seed of what became our Brand Engineering process.

Though the deliverables list differs from client to client, we discovered that our approach to building brands is not unlike how engineers build things. We’re incessantly curious, ask lots of questions, love to figure stuff out, believe passionately in our work, continually prototype, test and measure, crave accountability and constantly improve.

Based on our approach, we’ve identified four industries where our work can have the most impact. While disparate on the surface, these innovative industries often intersect — and they all are driven by how they improve the lives of their customers.

Toolbox specializes in branding for the following industries:

Input. Output. It’s a simple equation, but it’s also the most pressing technological issue of our time. How can farmers make the best use of their resources, maximize output and feed a rapidly growing world with increasingly less farmland?

There is no lack of innovation in agricultural technology. Broad adoption is a harder nut to crack. Ag innovators need to craft brands that tell compelling stories, make emotional connections and build brand love. AgTech brands will change the world in the next 10 years, and they’ll do it more efficiently with strong brand identities.

The dream of a 3D printer in every garage was a perfect case of marketing hype outpacing technological need. While the correction in the consumer 3D printer market was inevitable, the overall 3D printer market has pivoted to hyper-specialized, industrial B2B applications.

Additive manufacturing is at the forefront of the new industrial revolution. 3D printing is not only benefiting traditionally technology-forward industries like medical and aerospace, but it’s also revolutionizing industries that have remained largely unchanged for centuries, like jewelry and investment casting. In a crowded marketplace, it’s critical that 3D printing companies build believable, respectable brands that are hyper-focused on solving specific business challenges.

One of the most pressing business challenges today is how to make a bigger impact while leaving a smaller footprint. B2B customers see the forest along with the trees and demand partners that deliver not only short-term value, but also see the long game. The CleanTech industry has proven that doing good business and doing good for the world are not mutually exclusive — just the opposite.

Some of the most exciting innovation is happening in the CleanTech space, down the block and around the world. CleanTech companies know full well that innovative technology does not always win out over the big guys, especially if that technology is well-established. A strong brand can often make the difference between adoption and failure to launch.

Great tech deserves great technology marketing

Tesla (the inventor, not the car), the metric system in America (and Burma & Liberia), Betamax — history is replete with examples of superior technology losing out to an inferior rival. It’s true that there are many reasons why technology fails. It’s also true that a clear, compelling brand identity can give innovative technology companies a competitive edge.

Our future depends on how we utilize innovative technology to revolutionize the way we produce food, build our environment, power the world, improve our workflow and take care of each other. Here at Toolbox, we’ve made it our vocation to use the power of branding to help those innovative technology companies make the world a better place.

About Tom Campbell:

Tom is Toolbox’s co-founder and creative director. When he’s not keeping the ‘Box rocking, Tom can be found backstopping his beer league hockey team or playing drums for local bar bands. He’s also a founder and fairy godfather of Art Lab Fort Collins and keeper of, a quirky repository of stories and stats on Liberty Bell replicas around the world.

About Toolbox Creative:

Toolbox Creative is a B2B Brand Engineering firm, helping mission-driven organizations assess their brand equity, clarify their positioning and amplify their voices — creating lasting impact and building brand love.