How do you know if you need a marketing agency or marketing consultant?

Many businesses often fail at the first step when it comes marketing.  This usually comes down to whether they need a marketing consultancy or a marketing agency. It’s important you’re able to distinguish between the 2 as it can have a huge impact on the success of your marketing.

A marketing consultancy and marketing agency each serve their own purpose, unfortunately, it’s only when campaigns have been completed and time and money has been invested without any real return do businesses realise that they went wrong somewhere along the line.

In order to ensure you get it right from the start, we’ve outlined a few things you should ask yourself before deciding whether you need a marketing consultancy or a marketing agency.

Do you have a clear strategy in place of where you are going?

Just as with most other things, marketing activity shouldn’t really be conducted on a whim. In order to be effective then you’ll certainly need a strategy in place. If you don’t already have a strategy, then we’d strongly recommend approaching a marketing consultancy to have one created. However, if you do then a marketing agency can help you implement it.

While many marketing agencies will claim to provide strategic services, they often lack the impartiality of a consultancy. The problem with marketing agencies is that you aren’t ever sure if the activity they recommend is what your business needs, or if they’re merely suggesting things to feed other departments within the agency itself.  Alternative they may simply be offering a service because that’s what they specialise in e.g. web development, social media or SEO.

The benefit of a marketing consultancy, however, is that they rarely have a vested interest in suggesting certain activities.  This is because the majority of what they do is centred around developing a plan of action.  They are unlikely to directly benefit from suggesting specific marketing activities. This allows for a more impartial approach and means you can rest assured that what they suggest is geared around getting you the results you need.

Deciding factors: If you don’t have strategy then opt for a consultancy, if you do (and you know it’s well planned out) choose a marketing agency.

Do you understand who your target markets are and their buying behaviours?

If you don’t completely understand your target audience then it makes it virtually impossible to market to them effectively. Understanding their buying behaviours, pain points and what basically makes them tick when it comes to making their purchasing decisions can help you position your product/service in a manner that appeals to them.

While an agency can help to create and deliver the material needed, a consultant will be required first and foremost to establish the above. A consultancy can help to clear up WHO your target market is and WHY they’ll want your product. This insight can then be used when liaising with agencies to position yourself in a way that’ll make the most of the marketing activity itself.

Deciding factors: If you don’t fully understand your audience opt for a consultancy, choose an agency if you know your audience and can clearly communicate this.

Do you know what you are trying to say but don’t know how to present it or what to say?

Your messaging is crucial as it’s one of the main things that’ll define your brand in the eye of the customer. Therefore it’s important that you have a clear idea of what you want to say and how you want to come across.  This is something that should be consistent in all of your marketing. One of the fundamental elements that will be addressed by a consultant putting together a strategy will help you to clear this up. They’ll take time to understand your brand and help you to establish your messaging along with the best way to communicate it with your customers.

Marketing agencies, on the other hand, are better suited at taking your idea and bringing it to life. However if you don’t have what you’re wanting to say clearly outlined, the creative nature of many agencies could see them veer away from the manner in which you want to actually position yourself. A clearly outlined strategy will help to reduce the likelihood of this occurring as they’ll have a better understanding of your business.

Deciding factors: If you know your messaging then an agency can help you deliver this, if you feel it needs to be clarified you should opt for a consultancy.

Are you looking for someone to just help you with generating enquiries, or how to deal with them as well to conversion?

You also need to establish whether or not you’re looking to generate enquiries or if you’re actually concerned with converting them too. For the most part, marketing agencies can provide solutions that are great for generating enquiries, however converting them is often left up to you. A consultancy on the other hand will help to outline the best means of generating enquiries along with establishing how your conversion rate needs to be improved to reach the targets you’ve set.

You might be thinking that if you can generate more enquiries then the chances are that you’ll convert more too. Yes this MIGHT be the case but there’s no guarantee of it.  Even still, without focusing on your conversion rate there’s a good chance many potential sales will be lost meaning you’ll never be working as efficiently as you could. A small upturn in your conversion rate can have a big impact on your bottom line. So you should look at both the rate of enquiries coming in and improving your conversion rate in order to make the most of your marketing activity.

Deciding factors: If you simply want more enquiries and are confident with converting them then choose a marketing agency, if you want to understand how you can improve your conversion rate then go with a consultancy.

How important is it that activity generates a return on investment?

We often say that your marketing should always generate a return on investment.   There aren’t many businesses who’d be happy to blow money on marketing (or anything else for that matter) without any sign of a return. For many SMEs with tight budgets this is even more important, however your approach to your marketing can greatly impact this.

A consultant who creates a strategy will often do so with the intention of generating a return. This isn’t just reflected in the type of activities suggested, but also the level of investment outlined for each activity. Conducting your marketing with such a strategy will help you remain on top of your marketing expenditure.  Whats more, it will allow you to monitor how it stands against your predicted returns, thus helping to ensure you don’t overspend.

This can also prove beneficial when approaching agencies as you’ll have a clearer idea of how much you should be spending on the implementation of activities. The only downside is that in some cases, tighter budgets could hamper the aesthetic side of the campaign. However if a positive return is generated then it’s a small sacrifice to pay.

Deciding factors: If ROI is the main driving factor behind your marketing then opt for a consultant, if however it’s lower down your list of priorities then go ahead with a agency.

Are you looking for a short-term campaign (marketing agency) or more long term sustainable activity?

The longevity of your plans can also help to determine whether you should opt for a marketing agency or marketing consultancy to get your work done. Agencies really excel at short term campaigns which can be handy to temporarily boost things such as sales during peak periods of trade (such as Christmas). However, if you’re after something which is a little more sustainable over a longer period of time then a consultant can create a strategy to cater for this.

Deciding factors: Short term campaigns are (usually) better catered for by an agency, while a marketing consultant is often the better option to create a longer term plan.

Is it more important to look good (marketing agency) or get results (marketing consultancy)?

This sounds like a strange one as you’ll probably be thinking “why can’t I have both?”. Well you can.  However, traditionally consultancies and agencies tend to approach things in a different manner. Much of what marketing consultants offer is usually centred around getting results, and this on some occasions can mean putting the aesthetics of a campaign second in order to ensure a return on investment is generated.

Marketing agencies, on the other hand, are traditionally full of creatives, which often leads to the production of things that look great, and can help develop a positive perception of your brand.  However it might not be centred around getting the results you need. For example, a website can look amazing.  But if it hasn’t been planned right from a user’s perspective, there’s a good chance it won’t generate the required leads to deliver any potential return (which is why we maintain the need to build a website off the back of a marketing strategy).

Deciding factors: If looking good is of paramount importance then you’ll most likely want an agency, however if you’re more concerned with getting results then opt for a consultant.

Do you want to know what to do, or merely how to do it?

Depending on your current position, you might have already decided on the marketing activity that you want to do. If this is the case and you’re simply wanting to establish how to put it into practice then a marketing agency is the right choice for you. Just be sure that the plan of action you have outlined has been thoroughly thought through. Many business owners can fall into the common trap of conducting marketing activity that makes the business look better but might not necessarily be beneficial to their bottom line.

If on the other hand you’re wanting to establish which marketing activities you need to do then you’ll want a consultant to give you a hand. If you aren’t well versed in marketing yourself, or lack the expertise in house then we certainly recommend taking this approach. The depth of knowledge a consultant could offer will ensure the marketing activities outlined are those that will yield you the best return.

Deciding factors: If you need a hand establishing which marketing activities need doing then opt for a consultancy, if however you just need your plans implementing then go for an agency.

Marketing Agency or Marketing Consultancy….Moving forward

To put it simply, if you haven’t got a sound marketing plan devised then we strongly recommend approaching a marketing consultant. It’s crucial that the foundations that you put in place (your marketing strategy) are based on sound judgement as the success of the resulting activity will largely be dependent on this.

If, on the other hand, you have a firm grasp of your business, along with what you want to do in terms of your marketing and you’re more concerned about how to put your ideas into practice, then you’ll most likely want to go with a marketing agency.

We’ve made the decision making process rather black and white above to help guide you in the right direction.  However, in reality you’re likely to experience any number of variable factors which might still not make it crystal clear in regards to what you need. If you are still uncertain of which to go with then feel free to get in touch and we can help advise you given your current position.

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Ian is the founder of Opportunity Marketing marketing, with over 18 years of experience in successfully setting up marketing departments, creating marketing strategies and implementing these strategies across a wide number of SME companies in both the B2B and B2C sectors through a variety of channels.
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