A "brand coach" is not necessarily an all-knowing marketing guru (though we all like to think we are). Really, a brand coach is just someone who's been around the bend, knows what questions to ask about your business, and brings a clean eye and customer-centric point of view to the discussion. He is the guy you bounce your latest marketing campaign off, or the woman you ask to critique your web design standards. Your brand coach is your conscience when it comes to issues of "brand" (which means we have the right to ignore him or her from time to time as well ... whatever the end may be).
There are a few things to watch out for and a few specific questions you should ask when looking for a new brand coach. I won't take time to go into all of the dimensions that make up a good coach, but here are at least three things to keep in mind.
First of all, watch his demeanor:
Focus on the 90-10 rule of business. In any new engagement or interview, the consultant should be doing 90% of the listening and only 10% of the talking. He's trying to learn about your business - both its current state and your ultimate end-goal. If he's talking more often than this, chances are good that he'll miss the mark with his advice. I'm sure we've all heard about the doctor who prescribed antihistamines to a patient with a broken leg all because he never stopped talking long enough to examine the situation. Avoid this experience with your brand coach at all costs!
Next, you want to gauge the way she approaches giving advice:
If she just comes out and tells you what to do, run away! A good brand coach figures out where you are and where you want to be - then she tells you what kind of path you could walk down to get there. Remember, there's no single answer, so a cut-and-dried "do this, then that" solution is sure to miss other (potentially cheaper) alternatives. A good brand coach will come armed with a multitude of weapons in her arsenal. If she only has one or two tools at her disposal you should keep shopping.
Then, ask about outsourcing:
A good brand coach won't offer to do everything for you. I'd be worried if one did! A brand coach should have the strategic picture in mind, and will be able to readily recommend additional partners when it comes time for the tactical execution. If a potential coach offers to develop your overall strategy, build the website, and monitor the advertising campaign then you've either found a god ... or someone struggling to find their niche. Don't waste your time and marketing dollars to help someone else figure out what they want to be when they grow up: hire an adult who knows their strengths and is comfortable outsourcing their weaknesses.