Pittsburgh Branding, Website Design & Development Company
"we are awesome"
We’re aware of how the modern-day agency is run. That’s why we’re hell-bent to conducting ourselves differently.
Top Hat is boutique by design. We’re dedicated to the client experience, the process and consistent communication through every step.
We’ve never been interested in taking on as many projects as possible. It’s our mission to embrace the right projects so that we can focus on every detail and provide a great experience.
When we hit capacity, we’re at capacity. We don’t overload ourselves just to chase after the almighty dollar. We won’t sacrifice the client experience and the quality of our work to bring in more clients. It’s ultimately not what’s best for you or for us.
The difference of working with Top Hat? Well, you can say it’s black and white.
Ben Butler, APR
Founder & Client Services Director
We work with a wide
variety of industries,
from each to take
your project to
We don’t focus on one industry vertical.
Agencies who hone in on limited verticals quickly become boxed in by their approach and work. Over time, they become stale and their results make you look like everyone else in your industry. Our process, however, gives us the ability to fully understand you with a fresh perspective. We break the mold every time and solve problems on an individual — and not templated — level.
By being exposed to an array of businesses, people and challenges, we are constantly garnering transferrable disruptive techniques and keeping our axe razor sharp. Abraham Lincoln would be proud.
Lord Hobo Brewing Named Fastest Growing Regional Brewery in the US
National Flag Foundation is Flying High in the 'Burgh
Pittsburgh International Auto Show Raises $405,500 for Autism Charities
Cycletique Set to Open November 2016
Pushing ourselves to
oblivion and our work
to eleven since 2013.
Our work isn’t “safe,” mindlessly done or made to score a quick paycheck. We look for ambitious, cutting-edge solutions that solve problems in unexpected ways. Every decision is strategic and each result is intentionally crafted.
We’ll push ourselves to oblivion for your deadline, your challenges and for world-class quality of work.
These Guts Get Glory
We're not here to win awards. They're just a symptom of our outrageous client success.
Hermes Creative Awards — Platinum
Hermes Creative Awards — Gold
CSS Nectar Site of the Day
Awwwards User's Choice
PRSA Pittsburgh Renaissance Award
Hermes Creative Awards — Gold
Hermes Creative Awards — Gold
Hermes Creative Awards — Gold
Hermes Creative Awards — Gold
Top 100 Branding Blogs on the Planet
Top 20 Ad Agencies in Pittsburgh
There are a lot of agencies out there—what makes your’s different?
We’re boutique by design. This allows us to build tight-knit and highly communicative partnerships with our clients. Our goal is not to take on as many projects as possible in a chase after the almighty dollar. Our goal is to take on the right projects and to focus on those projects with a meticulous attention to detail and experience.
With us, what makes us special is our focus on relationships with our clients and our meticulous attention to the details. So much so that the founder of our agency, Ben Butler, personally scopes and manages every single client relationship from first call to final fulfillment.
What’s it like to work with your agency?
Working with us is a partnership and collaboration. It’s not about us telling you what to do, expecting you to follow our advice blindly. It’s about us truly listening to your needs and doing the due diligence to identify the best way to achieve your goals. It’s about cohesiveness, consistency and trust through constant, fearlessly honest communication.
Here’s the journey you’ll go on with us and what you can expect at each stage:
The beginning—evaluating the project. This is arguably the most important part—understanding what you need us to help with. Every relationship starts with a connect call/meeting with our head of client success where you tell us what you’re looking for. We take note, ask tons of questions and answer your questions as well.
The proposal—what’s involved. Assuming the project is right for our skill set, and you’d like to hear more, a proposal will be prepared and shared through another phone call/meeting. Here you can ask us the hard-hitting questions and dig in deeper on the work we’ll pursue together.
Housekeeping—expectations and documentation. If you say, “I do” to our proposal then we’ll roll quickly into action. We’ll prepare a contract for your review and signature and outline what’s next, notably, our kick off. We also send over our Project Risk Management guide to overview the common risks associated with the nature of our work together and how we can overcome them. It’s all about setting expectations and being up front with one another. By doing so, our work will be accomplished more effectively and enjoyably.
Kickoff—let’s do this! This is our first official project meeting. Regardless of the project we’re approaching together, the purpose of this is very much the same: to outline the adventure ahead and ask the necessary questions to get us moving in the right direction.
The work—responsiveness and of world-class quality. Our partnerships are built on highly communicative relationships. As our client, you will hear from us frequently and will never have to guess what we’re up to (or drinking at that moment). When you email, we respond. When you call, we answer. In terms of quality, our standard is world-class and we never sink below that standard.
What types of businesses do you work with?
All types. We don’t specialize in any industry vertical—we specialize in the solutions we provide.
The brands we’ve worked with span across industries and represent all shapes, sizes and locations. We’ve worked with race complexes, auto shows, auto associations, car dealers, international non-profits, not-for-profits, fellow marketing agencies, candy companies, real estate agencies, real estate agents, commercial real estate brokerages, travel blogs, magicians, jewelers, natural food companies, luxury cashmere lines, venture capitalist funds, startups, tech products, theatres, dry cleaners, fitness gurus, fitness products, paving companies and construction companies—just to name a few.
Our diverse experience makes us even more valuable to our clients. The tendency for agencies who specialize in one industry is to get complacent or into a rut of stagnant, cookie-cutter ideas. By being exposed to a wide world of businesses, people and challenges, we are constantly learning and refining our craft.
How responsive are you to email/phone?
How many projects do you usually have going on at one time?
It’s difficult to cite an exact number of projects we have on the stove at any given time. The reason is because every project has a different requirement. Some are gigantic, while others are smaller in sizing, while others fall somewhere in the middle.
Really, the answer is as many as we can handle without jeopardizing the client experience of quality of work.
We never take on more work than we can handle. When we hit capacity, we’re at capacity. It’s part of what makes us different as an agency. By taking on more projects than we can properly serve, which many agencies do purely for the money, we aren’t doing you justice. That approach also isn’t fair to our team, who would be miserable because their quality of life is poor.
What is your longest client relationship, and how long do client relationships generally last?
Our very first client—the Pittsburgh International Auto Show—is still a client, making it our longest active client relationship.
Overall, our client relationships are longer in nature. It’s worth mentioning, however, that just because one relationship is longer or shorter than another doesn’t make it better or worse. The “length of time” associated with an engagement is determined by several factors. Assuming someone is a client asserts that we’re still providing ongoing work on a semi-regular basis. Sometimes we complete our work and the client is good to go. So it really depends on what the individual needs of the client are.
For example: some clients come in for branding and website design, but then need a full marketing communication strategy. That means the actual working relationship will continue on for a longer period of time. Others though might come in for strategy and then they handle the execution in-house, which is when the working relationship will conclude.
I think I know my audience fairly well. How do I know if I need this?
We’ll answer your question with another question: “Can you tell us the three-to-four ideal customers for your business breaking each down by specific psychographics, demographics and buyer’s journey?”
It’s one thing to know your audience, but it’s another to know your audience. The best way to think of your audience is by identifying three-to-four ideal customers. These ideal customers are fictional representations of a grouping of individuals sharing similar ages, beliefs and buying habits.
You need to know each ideal customer grouping like you know your family or close friends. For family or close friends, you could easily cite what they believe and what influences them to do something. If you know your ideal customers that well, you’re good to go.
If you don’t, however, then your strategy to reach them is going to be inaccurate and ineffective.
How do you guys research our ideal customers?
It's a secret sauce, but here's a high-level nutshell.
Our process for researching your ideal customers is three-pronged:
Interviewing your team. First and foremost, we interview your team. Sales and customer service team members often have incredible insight about your ideal customers.
Interviewing happy customers. Next, we interview actual customers to hear the story in their own words.
Market research techniques. Last, but not least, we employ our own special (and secret) formula of market research techniques to fully balance our understanding.
How do you define branding?
Branding is the multi-focused discipline of differentiating a product, service or concept that from other products, services, concepts in its industry so that it can easily be marketed.
This is accomplished by developing the overall identity of the organization—both written and visual—and influencing the six senses with it—what’s seen, heard, tasted, touched, smelled and thought/felt—through intentional techniques.
What is a full brand composed of?
A complete, full brand has the following elements:
A consistent personality, aspirations and a clear understanding of its target audiences and competitors. This is the first and most important element of a brand. The personality and brand aspirations drive everything from name to copy to visual identity. If this isn’t identified and used as a compass, everything is at risk to be inconsistent as it gets built. Also part of this is understanding the brand’s audiences and competitors. You have to understand the audience to align yourselves best with them. For example, if your target audiences are affluent then you’d miss the mark by approaching them with a overly informal brand. Since branding is the great differentiator, a brand must understand its competition in order to outplay them on all levels.
A name. Next is the name. What is this brand called? This will influence everything else created.
Brand copy. The temptation to skip to the visual identity straight from the personality and name is tempting, but can result poorly. Before you flesh out the physical manifestation of the brand, you have to solidify the story of the brand and the brand voice. This occurs through copy.
Visual identity. Now, the long-awaited element—the way it looks. A visual identity is the colors, fonts, logo and other visual considerations that root the brand. These elements will influence all materials and assets used to communicate the brand.
Materials and assets. Materials—corporate identity, brochures, fliers, posters, etc. Assets—website, social media, storefront, etc.
What types of branding design services do you offer?
There are a lot of sub-sets of the branding design service-set.
Visual Identity Design. This is more standalone when it comes to branding design. In this case, you would already have your personality, name and brand copy. What we’d help with is designing the visual identity (fonts, colors, logos and other visual standards).
Full Brand Development. A business with an idea and purpose, but no name. We work with organizations to develop their personality, name, copy, visual identity and materials and assets.
Rebranding. If it’s broke then fix it. These are brands failing for one reason or another. We identify what’s going wrong and implement an integrated effort to rethink them from the bottom up.
Rejuvenation. Brands that aren’t broken, but are a bit tired. Rejuvenation is the process of revitalizing these tired brands with a bit of brand caffeine. Brand caffeine could be slightly tweaking the logo, adding a new color to the palette or rethinking the copy. At the end of the day, however, the brand is still recognizable as the same—just more crisp and fresh.
Material and asset design. In this case, the brand has everything except its materials. Here, we design and cultivate any assets needed. Common examples: brochures, corporate identities, posters, fliers, hand-outs, banners and signage.
How long does it typically take to build a brand from the ground up and what’s involved?
The branding design process is a collaboration between our team and your organization. Being collaboration in nature, time is determined on our mutual availability to exchange ideas, feedback and approvals.
With anything creative, there are rounds of ideas exchanged. We do everything in this proposal rounds. For instance, we’ll send over four brand names for review. If nothing strikes your fancy, we’ll hit another round of four. We’ll continue until we find the perfect brand name. If we go one round, it will obviously take less time than if we go to six rounds. Rounds are a natural and important part of the process. The same goes for visual identity design. It might take one round or five. Time is dependent on that.
Here’s the process we follow: Vision Setting and Brand Strategy , Naming & Brand Copy, Visual Identity Design and Material/Asset Creation.
Some of the biggest delays we see in branding projects are: the organization not being available to meet to kickoff the project, the organization’s point of contact not getting back to us in a timely manner and/or business delays (securing storefronts, validating products, etc.). We’re not condemning any of these things, just putting them out in the open for your consideration.
On average, however, a full brand development takes months, rather than weeks or years.
What makes your branding design services special?
First and foremost, we have a proven process driving every branding design service we offer.
This presents a predictable roadmap to success for you, our partner, to follow. This means you know exactly how we’re going to achieve our goal and the adventure is easy to follow. For us, this is a proven process we’ve utilized again and again to generate outrageous success for our partners. This means we have a guaranteed method for doing the same for you.
Also, our team’s talent set is uniquely positioned to best guide the branding process. We are creatives, communications strategists, graphic designers, developers and copywriters. Also at the end of the day we are business experts, who understand the full marketing communications situation and how successful businesses are managed.
How long does it take to design and develop a website?
Much like any creative work, the website design and development process is a collaboration between our team and your organization.
We have a process for systematically engaging the website design—discovery, mock ups, development, launch—to lead you through. Some of the varying factors that influence time come down to our pace at exchanging ideas and feedback. Mock ups are designs of each website template (home page for example is a template). We’ll share these and if we need to make revisions, that will increase the overall length of time.
The biggest hold up we see in website design, however, is content. We’re not condemning or talking badly about anyone—just stating the truth of the website conversation. Often times, we’re completely finished with design and development and wait extended periods of time for the final content.
You’re welcome to hire us to do your content, but we recommend that your organization develops it through your authentic voice. The review process here, however, may still hold up the overall length from kickoff to launch.
When design gets approved in the first round of mock ups, and when content is readily available, we’re able to launch a website at ludicrous speed. An example of this is our very own website redesign. From kickoff to final launch with a built-from-scratch website (and our website needed a ton of content re-implemented), it took us right around a week.
What is your role after the website is launched?
Let’s first set the record straight on something—we intentionally develop websites to be incredibly easy to manage. You shouldn’t have to call/email us to change a photo or line of text anywhere on the website. It’s our goal that your marketing team has Content Independence when it comes to those types of things.
There are, however, things you might want us to stick around for. Let's call this Hosting & Caretaking. This is us keeping an eye on your website, updating the website versions and Plugins (if any exist) and maintaining high-level security. If something goes wrong for any reason, we're there swooping in to save the day.
When it comes to designing or tweaking the design and code of the website, we’re also happy to be involved. Our clients typically retain us after a website launch to provide ongoing maintenance, tweaks and support. They also bring us on to design and develop additional functions, features and templates.
What website platforms can you develop on?
We build everything from scratch, so we can build on relatively any platform available. Some of the most common ones include WordPress, HubSpot COS, and even in some cases, raw HTML/CSS/JS living right on servers without a content management system (CMS).
Do you offer website hosting?
We offer a variety of Hosting & Caretaking packages for WordPress websites. With that, you get enterprise-level speed, security and ongoing maintenance from our team.
What website platform do you recommend?
In most cases, we recommend WordPress. WordPress is the absolute MacGyver tool of website design and development. Meaning, you can do literally anything you put your mind to. As we say, with WordPress, “Your imagination is the only limitation.”
If you’re utilizing an inbound marketing automation software actively then we’d have to recommend the HubSpot COS. This fully centralizes your website with your inbound and gathers advanced metrics. You’re also able to enable Smart Content and other integrated techniques that are powerful.
What are common website design pitfalls and how do you overcome them?
There are so many common website design pitfalls. Really, all website designers and developers are not created equal like you may (or may not) think. We’ve boiled them down to the top:
Picking someone posing as a “developer.” Too often we see fake developers lure in clients, charge them ridiculous amounts of money and then turn around to buy a pre-fabbed theme on the internet. In this case, they simply plug and play. At the end of the day this is bad for so many reasons. Most notably, however, is that the website wasn’t designed specifically for your organization. Often, it’s sharing a look and feel with thousands of other customers who purchased that pre-fab theme. You also can’t go much further with a developer like this. They’ll often meet your requests with “that’s not possible” because they have no actual development expertise.
We overcome this obstacle by developing everything from scratch. We don’t purchase pre-fabbed themes and pass them off as our work. Our solutions are customized to you and your business.
Picking a bad website host. Quick lesson—website URLS (the www.whatever) are managed by a domain provider. Where the files that make that website look and operate live on a host. We’ve been spoiled by the era of “bargain hosting.” There’s a bad lie that’s been spread that many people subscribe to: "there is such a thing as cheap, high-quality hosting." Truth: like all things in life, you get what you pay for. A cheap host yields low security, reliability, support and speed. All of these things are vital to long-term website performance and health.
We guide our clients to purchase high-quality hosts, helping them figure out which are best for their budget and long-term needs.
Designing a website like every competitor in the market. Our goal is to differentiate you from the competition. In many cases, organizations hire “specialty” designers who only address certain industries. Yes, specialty might be good for marketing efforts, but for design it often yields cookie cutter designs. Seek a well-traveled team that has seen a variety of industries and challenges. This will mean a more groundbreaking website for you in the end.
We’ve seen many industries, and so, we bring a diverse perspective to the table. It’s our mission to make you rise above the competition utilizing the latest innovations.
Not budgeting enough for a website design. Websites are the most important members of your marketing communications team. They are your 24/7 communicators that the world can access at any time without your permission. If your website is poor, more than likely your prospects will move on to the next most informative and good looking competitor. A website is central regardless of your end-actions in marketing communications. Billboards point to websites. Media relations placements link to your website. Digital ads point back to your website. The website is the long-term investment, so make sure you invest in it like such. You can’t expect to have an amazing website on a shoe-string budget.
Well, there’s not much we can do to help you overcome this one except inform you about it and encourage you to budget enough for a website.
Not being diligent and thorough. There are so many nuances of website design. It’s not just design and development. It’s generating sitemaps for search engines. It’s setting up redirects if URLs are changed. It’s setting up analytics. It’s setting up preferred domains.
We study these nitty gritty nuances and pay meticulous attention to handling them properly for our clients. These behind-the-scenes efforts are the true heroes of outrageously successful websites.
Website design can often be a trendy thing—how do you design and develop something specific to our unique needs as a business?
We treat every project as its own unique masterpiece, developing everything from scratch.
We spend a great deal of time digging into your needs as a business. By doing this, we are developing the website for you and you only.
What makes this strategy different than a marketing plan?
An integrated marketing communications strategy is all-encompassing and not biased to marketing, advertising or public relations. Being biased can often yield a partial-visioned plan that isn’t running to its full potential.
An integrated marketing communications is created to do one thing and one thing only—identify the ways to reach your ideal customers and design a strategy for effectively doing so. This might include marketing, advertising or public relations. Whatever is the appropriate means of accomplishing our goal.
What types of tactics are included in a typical strategy?
It’s tempting to get entrenched in tactics like social media, PPC, media relations and other stand alone techniques. Without an overarching strategy, tactics are orphaned and can often be ineffective.
Our goal is to identify how to reach your ideal customers and develop strategies to do so. This might include marketing, advertising or public relations and the appropriate tactics that go along with those disciplines.
Do I need to also invest in an Ideal Customer Research, Branding and Website Design to do this?
Our success is dependent on knowing your ideal customers. If you don’t know them, we can’t hope to be successful.
You also need a brand identity and website if you hope to be successful with further communications campaigns. Without a brand, we don't know the look, feel or messaging. Without a website, we don't have the ability to leverage one of the most powerful sales tools in today's business landscape in the campaign.