What’s the Difference Between an Advertising Agency and a Marketing Consultant?

The simplest way to explain it is this: Advertising Agencies create ads. Marketing consultants help you determine what and how to advertise in the first place.

They also help you with other marketing issues such as pricing strategy, sales training, customer retention, referral programs, joint ventures, product development, database strategy and everything else involved in selling products to customers.

Many people instinctively believe that advertising agencies are adequately prepared to provide strategic marketing guidance in addition to making the actual “stuff”.” In some cases this is true but in our experience it is the exception, not the rule. And to be clear, this is not a slam on advertising agencies. They play a critical role in the marketing process and can be wonderful strategic partners. But you have to understand that most advertising agencies are built around art directors, graphic designers, copywriters and other creative types. Analytics, research, testing and tracking results just isn’t their thing.

For marketing consultants, advertising is just one of many tools used to execute a business-building strategy. A good marketing consultant will not just develop advertising campaigns, they will help you track them and optimize them for maximum effectiveness. They are more concerned with generating a positive return on investment than they are with winning advertising industry awards for the creative work. Marketing consultants  spend lots of time monitoring the key metrics of your business (daily foot traffic, average sale, incoming calls/leads, conversion ratios, web traffic, customer acquisition costs, profit margins etc.)  and looking for ways to improve them.

So how do you decide between hiring a marketing consultant and an advertising agency?

The first thing you need to do is to honestly assess the needs of your business. Are you attracting enough leads? Are you effectively converting leads to sales? Are you building and nurturing your customer database? Are you able to accurately track the results of your advertising campaigns? Are your profit margins where you need them to be? These are the types of issues that a competent marketing consultant can help you with.

On the other hand, if you have a good handle on the fundamentals, an advertising agency may be just the thing you need to polish up your image, enhance your brand and differentiate your business through exceptional ads and marketing materials. Advertising agencies are also good at coming up with clever positioning strategies for certain types of businesses – usually in highly commoditized industries – where unique advertisements are the primary differentiating element between brands. Examples include soda, alcohol, fashion etc.

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