What is the difference between a marketing agency and a marketing consultancy?

Marketing Strategy Table

“So, you’re a marketing agency, right?”

We’re asked this all the time and the answer is usually longer than the questioner expected. Underpin Marketing sees itself as a marketing consultancy, not an agency.

But what is the difference between a marketing consultancy and a marketing agency? And why do we believe that consultancy is better for our customers than using an agency, in the majority of cases?

Marketing Consultancy vs Marketing Agency

The first thing to say is that this isn’t a blog about how consultancies are better than agencies. As with all things in life, it’s about circumstances and your goals. However, as a consultancy you might expect – we’re a little bit biased.

The easiest way to differentiate between a consultancy and an agency is to look at our Five Step Marketing Plan.

The five steps are focus, strategy, tactics, implementation and evaluation. An agency will most likely provide you with all five of these in one package. They will set a fixed price to deliver a marketing plan on your behalf and they will provide only the expertise that they are good at. 

A consultancy will usually provide the first three and the last one, and help you find someone to help you implement it. The reason a consultancy will work this way is because they wish to remain independent.

An Independent Marketing Consultant.

I describe myself as an Independent Marketing Consultant. This is because I am not selling any marketing packages up front.

An agency will most likely recommend their own services and so may want to push you in a direction they excel at, rather than one that will benefit your business most. A consultant is free from the task of implementing – or doing – your marketing, so they can recommend what you need.

What’s your marketing agency’s motivation?

Every marketing company’s goal is to make money. Well, every company on earth’s goal is to make money. The key comes from what a company’s priorities are and what their motivation is. A consultancy’s priority is to build the best plan for your company, and because we don’t specialise in one area, we can recommend the specific marketing tactics that are right for you.

If you go to a marketing agency that specialises in social media or websites, it’s their priority to get their customers to use those services – that’s their motivation. This means that even if you don’t need social media, a social media agency might suggest it. 

Consultancies specialise in plans and strategies, so their motivation is to get you a great plan.

No such thing as a perfect marketing company?

We freely admit that we don’t specialise in the day-to-day running of your marketing. We can do it for you if you like, but it would be like getting an architect to tile your kitchen.

The great thing about being a consultant is that once our plan is complete, our motivation is to ensure it’s a success. Because our reputation relies on the proper delivery of the plan. We have a wide network of specialists in the specific marketing you need, whether that be social media, video, websites or brochures.

Generic or specific

One of the big benefits of using a marketing agency is that they will take the whole thing out of your hands and deliver you something that’s great, without too much input from you. It removes the hassle and allows you to get back to running your team, department or company. 

A consultant will want to spend time with you to understand your business, your customers and your priorities. This is slower and more time intensive, but you end up with a specific plan that fits your company.

Agency or consultancy?

Ultimately, choosing between an agency or consultancy is all about your motivation for marketing. If you already have a plan, or don’t want too much to do in terms of planning, then an agency might be right for you.

If you want a hand in your company’s marketing or a more independent, tailored plan, then a consultancy might be right for you. And if you are lucky, you might find an agency with an in-house consultant – they do exist.

Lewis English is an independent marketing consultant and the founder of Underpin Marketing. He has written a book, The Five Step Marketing Plan, which you can buy here.

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