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Digital marketing agency vs digital marketing consultancy: What's the difference?

Chances are your business is intent on taking advantage of the 4 billion users available on the internet today. You are probably looking for a marketing partner that best helps you carve out a niche for yourself and your business - and who will be just that: a partner.

Digital marketing agencies and consultancies are very much alike in some ways, and might have even offered you similar packages, pertaining to your digital marketing needs.

Still, there are some crucial differences between an agency and a consultancy. You can't afford to leave your digital marketing to chance or, even worse, choose a provider that is not best suited to your industry or vertical.

As such, this article breaks down the differences between digital marketing agencies and digital marketing consultancies. We’ll help you become aware of their fundamental differences and how each can help you in building an online customer base - there's absolutely a place for each.

What is a digital marketing agency?

A digital marketing agency offers a range of services meant to help a business create and implement deliverables that will help you achieve your set business goals. This will often translate into a team of professionals that work on different campaigns and initiatives.

If you have a clear idea of what you want, what works and who your audience is, an agency can take on the extra work you simply can't get to in your internal team, becoming an extension of your marketing department. They'll follow briefs and lighten the load when you're feeling stretched. 

What is a digital marketing consultancy?

A digital marketing consultancy, like ESM Inbound, focuses on building concrete, vertical-specific, scalable marketing strategies. The consultancy will help you develop a detailed marketing plan, the brand message you should be using, and the multiple channels to help you communicate this message.

These experts will work with you collaboratively across a wide range of design, development, marketing, content and CRM projects, taking the lead wherever there might be gaps in your internal team's expertise.

The key differences between digital marketing consultancies and agencies

Approach and structure 

A critical difference between marketing consultancies and agencies lies in the approach adopted by each. Specifically, a digital consultancy focuses on the marketing programme with the aim of producing a strategic marketing plan containing detailed actionable tactics that will benefit the wider business. Often, they will start with a SWOT analysis. Before any implementation and "doing" can happen, they'll want to perform a diagnostic engagement to assess where you've been, where you are, and where you want to go.

Director of Marketing at ESM Inbound, Anna Kaine says:

"A marketing consultancy might not give you exactly what you want, but they will give you what you need. Consultancies like ESM Inbound aren't order takers; we scrutinise your requirements and ask the questions, "Why do you want this? Why do you need this?"

Ultimately, we want to save you from wasting money, and want to help you get the most out of your marketing investment. That means that if you've asked us for a blog post or webpage and it doesn't fit into to your wider goals and strategy - we'll tell you that, and advise you about how to better use your time with us. Choosing not to be "yes people" makes for a lasting and trusting client-consultancy relationship in the long run." 

An agency, on the other hand will typically focus on optimising or testing the strategy that is already present from your own team. They will identify any problems therein and use the expertise they have to solve and execute each problem. This means they might only work on one part of a wider strategy, without the overarching context or input of the whole campaign.

With both a marketing agency and consultancy, you’ll typically have a sole point of contact, a project manager, who will liaise internally to delegate tasks and actions to the wider team. 

Additionally, a marketing consultancy will have a team working towards the different facets of the strategy. Alongside a main point of contact, you will likely hear from and work with other expert consultants on the various aspects of your campaign. Plus, a consultancy will usually have a range of experts in place to foresee and prevent issues that might arise, rather than firefighting them once they emerge.

Experience and specialisation 

The most significant difference between a marketing agency and a consultancy is that an agency brings with it the collective, albeit more generalist, experience of the professionals within the agency. From PPC and SEO to design and development, a marketing agency will cover a broad range of practices. 

A marketing agency will also typically have resource availability to undertake the more menial implementation work. Agencies are particularly adept at supporting businesses as they scale their marketing efforts, allowing you to hand over work as if they are an extension of your team so your employees can focus on other, value-add tasks.

A consultancy will advise you through strategic recommendations, using the wider knowledge of the experts they have on their team. With research and training at the centre of consultancies, you can depend on the diagnostic, strategic groundwork that happens before the implementation to act as a roadmap for the rest of the engagement. 

The strength of a consultancy lies in its ability to consider the wider business impact of any marketing efforts, working with sales teams, CFOs, CEOs and beyond. Long-term business and brand health are the priorities of a consultancy: they will provide guidance and expertise to clients and help them make informed business decisions that look beyond the marketing team.

Moreover, digital marketing consultancies will have marketing expertise in your specific field, be that legal, B2B, technology, ecommerce or beyond. 

Which is right for your business?

Consultancies are typically employed by enterprise businesses; agencies will largely work with SME marketing departments. When deciding whether to enlist the services of a marketing consultancy or agency, consider the above factors alongside your own budget, goals, and timelines. You will need a marketing partner that understands your business and your voice.

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