Making The Difficult Choice Between Marketing Agencies and Consultants

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Many brands lean on external resources to scale up their marketing efforts. If you’re starting from square one and trying to decide what kind of marketing partner to choose, the options can be endless and complicated. With the constantly advancing world of marketing technology, platforms, and channels it’s essential to have a partner that can guide you through the changes and help you seize opportunities. When making this decision, most brands will consider one of two options: a marketing agency or a marketing consultancy.

41% of marketers consider ‘Improving Trust between Agencies and Marketers’ as a top concern of 2016 according to Ad Age and choosing the best partner for your marketing needs is an essential first step to developing this crucial level of trust. Ultimately, you need a partner with capabilities that intimately fit your needs.

So, which will it be–a marketing agency or a marketing consultant? Keep reading to find the differences between the two that will have the most impact on your business.

What is a marketing agency?

A marketing agency can be defined as:

“A full-service marketing agency, also known as an integrated marketing agency, is an agency that has the capabilities of handling all aspects of the advertising process. This usually includes strategic planning, creative, production and—in today’s Internet-savvy market— a full-service marketing agency will also typically handle interactive marketing services.” Anderson Direct & Digital

Pros and cons of working with an agency: 

Pros:

  • Implementation of recommendations
  • Reporting and accountability
  • ‘Jack of all trades’ perspective due to a team of expert specialists
  • Ability to teach execution to a brand’s internal team
  • Access to premium marketing technology
  • Act as an extension of a brand’s marketing team

Cons:

  • Possibility of strained relationship with internal team if there is fear of replacement
  • More time spent ‘in the weeds’ than looking at the big picture

What is a marketing consultant?

A consultant can be defined as:

“Consultants are paid to share their expertise and knowledge to help businesses attain goals and solve problems. Consulting is a wide-ranging field with positions in innumerable industries.”  Study.com

More specifically, a marketing consultant can be defined as:

“A marketing consultant looks at the existing business model and then, using analytical tools, considers the market potential and develops a strategy to achieve larger goals.” Brent Purves.

Pros and cons of working with a consultant:

Pros:

  • More access to senior level strategists, rather than specialists
  • Payment model based on creation of ideas rather than billable hours, which can restrict progress
  • Individual services and strategies catered to your industry and business model
  • Strong industry expertise

Cons:

  • Not fully aligned with a brand’s internal marketing team
  • No implementation of strategic recommendations
  • Limited accountability when it comes to results of recommendations

While there are certainly some similarities between marketing agencies and marketing consultancies, the biggest differences highlighted in the definitions above are strategy–which is traditionally attributed to consultants–and implementation–which is traditionally attributed to agencies.

This strict division between consultancies and agencies is becoming increasingly irrelevant, though. As marketing silos merge and the full funnel experience becomes the most important focus of marketing, so too are consultancies and agencies starting to merge.

Meeting in the Middle

The line between agencies and consultants is becoming more and more blurred. Consultancies are pushing into agency space, and agencies are reacting by offering more consultant services.

This change didn’t come about at random—as digital became a top priority for marketers, agencies found themselves with access to data that has allowed them to become more strategic and think like consultants. In other words, agencies have become more than just tactical executors. On top of this, marketing is becoming more accountable as marketers and agencies alike are better able to understand the performance of each individual effort.

Indeed, it makes more sense for marketing agencies to be reporting on data, making actionable next steps, and giving strategic advice. Not only is it more efficient, but agencies have a more in-depth, first-hand view of marketing efforts. Plus, agencies can work with a brand’s internal marketing team to immediately implement their findings.

The Collision of Marketing and Business Operations

Another reason for this shift of marketing agencies away from pure tactical execution is the fact that marketing is moving away from its respective silo in business operations and business strategy as a whole. For example, successful nurture marketing requires cooperation across marketing silos and integration between marketing strategy and overall business strategy. So, the advent of nurture marketing has pulled marketing efforts and operational structure together, creating the need for more comprehensive strategies.

Nurture marketing is not the only marketing approach that might require this kind of strategic insight into the intersection of marketing and business strategy. Content marketing is another. While the traditional business model doesn’t rely on content for revenue, those brands taking content marketing seriously can position their content as a strategic advantage and even consider the possibility of incorporating content as an additional stream of revenue. Just look at brands like Lego or Red Bull, both of which have implemented marketing efforts that have eclipsed their original product offerings. Advisors, whether that be agencies or consultancies, that know marketing as well as they do business operations will excel in this area.

Conclusion

As marketing agencies reposition themselves as strategic advisors as well as tactical executors, they are encroaching on the territory of consultancies. Of course, consultants are reacting by hiring marketing specialists and creative talent. This movement is positive for marketers, as it is allowing clients to both have strategic, high-level advice as well as tactical implementation from the same partner. Competition of this sort will only leave brands with a plethora of better options that are unique to their needs.

What does all of this mean for choosing a marketing agency and a marketing consultant? It means that the divide between the two is much less clear, so choosing the best partner requires looking beyond the standard black and white definitions of each. Instead, look for a partner that is merging the spaces of strategy and implementation.

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Did you like this post? Let us know why (or why not) in the comments. In the meantime, check out our blog Trust Issues in the Marketing Industry: A Road Map to Rebuilding Relationships to ensure that the relationship with your marketing partner is as strong as possible.

 

Victoria Grieshammer

About Victoria Grieshammer

Victoria Grieshammer is the Marketing Coordinator of Content Development at Fathom. Formerly, she was the Head of Marketing on the Fathom Manufacturing team. Victoria joined Fathom as an Associate Copywriter after graduating from Allegheny College with degrees in English and Psychology. Her previous experience includes e-commerce copywriting at Little Tikes and coordinating social media campaigns for small businesses, giving her a varied background in digital marketing. When she’s not at Fathom writing and learning, you can find her jogging around Cleveland or reading a book. You can also find her on Twitter at @Vgrieshammer1.

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