February 18, 2022

Does Your AEC Firm Need a Marketing Agency or a Branding Agency?

How to Select the Best Branding or Marketing Agency

Your marketing department needs something done, so you Google “best marketing agencies for construction firms.” Surely you can’t go wrong with any of the top results, right? Not so fast.

Depending on what that “something” your marketing department needs help with, you may be searching for the wrong thing entirely. There are differences between branding, marketing, and advertising agencies. Big ones. For the best chance of success, you need to know which type of creative agency to look for. Let’s start with some basics.

What’s the Difference Between Branding, Marketing, and Advertising?

 “Marketing” is the umbrella term used to describe any activity an organization does to promote the buying or selling of a product or service. That can include a lot of things, from market research to designing business cards to building a website. Both “branding” and “advertising” are more specialized subsets of marketing.

A brand describes how the outside world perceives your company or organization. So, “branding” is the process of positioning the things that affect this perception, including your tagline, mission statement, vision, values, story, voice, tone, and logo mark (and in case this wasn’t clear enough, a brand is not just a logo).

Advertising is the practice of getting your brand in front of the people you want to win over. That could look like executing billboards, bus wraps, TV commercials, or even online banner ads.


Which type of agency is right for an architecture, construction or engineering firm?

When you engage with any type of agency, you’re engaging in an important relationship that takes trust and communication. But equally important is choosing the right type of agency for the job. It’s exactly like how you work with your own clients. A project that’s right for an engineering firm might not be a great fit for architects, and vice versa. Some agencies might offer a full set of services, but have a specialty. It’s all about communicating your expectations and needs and knowing what to look for. 

Below is a breakdown of what you can expect from each type of agency. Of course, we’re generalizing here. But this will give you a better idea of what your first Google search query should really be.

What does a marketing agency do?

Marketing agencies tend to be generalists. They may offer branding or advertising services, but generally offer expertise that is wider than it is deep. Digital marketing agencies are a step more specialized and tend to narrow their focus to online marketing tactics, like Google Ads and website optimization.

Typical services of a marketing agency include:

  • Social media management and advertising
  • Email marketing
  • Content marketing
  • Search Engine Marketing (SEM) and Pay-per-click (PPC) management
  • Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

What does a branding agency do?

Branding agencies are far more specialized than marketing agencies, and play a particularly important role for industries like architecture, construction and engineering, where building trust is a key to success. 

Branding agencies create brands, and they do brands exceptionally well (which is arguably a requirement for having serious marketing success overall). They start at the ground floor, understand current market perceptions and opportunities, then craft a complete brand positioning and identity to help your organization succeed in the short and long-term.

Typical services of a branding agency include:

  • Market research and analysis
  • Brand positioning and definition (brand platform, story, tagline, mission, vision, values, etc.)
  • Logo design
  • Brand style guide creation
  • Brand rollout campaign planning
a well defined brand informs every marketing activity

We reimagined the Hankin Group’s brand, including a new set of messaging guidelines. This type of well researched and strategic brand work can take a huge amount of guess work out of marketing.

For architecture, construction and engineering firms, having a strong brand is fundamental to being able to market well. The space is crowded with company’s who look and sound the same, and offer similar services. Having a unique position, a highly-considered brand style, and a strategic approach to expressing your brand all go a long way in validating that your company is worth partnering with. 

And it bears repeating: your brand is not your logo. It’s a full identity, composed of visual elements, values, communication styles, statements of purpose and more. And, like with a building project, the deliverables can add up to more than the sum of their parts when done well. Those pieces of the brand come to create something instantly recognizable and impactful. Doing smart research to determine what makes your company stand out will give you a jumping-off point for all your other marketing activities. 

What does an advertising agency do?

Ad agencies also tend to be pretty specialized firms, focusing on creating and deploying ad campaigns that use existing brand identities and often existing creative assets. They may or may not include media buying expertise in-house.

Typical services of an advertising agency include:

  • Market research and analysis
  • Creative campaign ideation
  • Media planning and buying
  • Campaign asset creative (copy and design)

Advertising agencies are very good at getting people’s eyes on things. They’re experts in maximizing exposure, and as the world of digital advertising advances, they’re becoming experts on targeting that exposure. For a brand with a specific audience of decision makers, this can be beneficial.

But that level of targeting means that you have to be ready to speak directly to your audience when you work with an advertising agency. Having a clear and well-researched plan for how to communicate with your target audience will make your advertising efforts far more fruitful.

A pro tip for success: Always start with your brand.

What if you don’t know where to start? Your goal is defined only as “let’s improve our marketing”? Or, your marketing efforts just have never been as successful as you’d hoped for in the past? Then, you should always—always—start by examining your brand first and working with a brand strategy agency. 

A strong brand is the best way to stand out and to validate yourself in a crowded industry. To use a pretty on-the-nose comparison, your brand acts as a blueprint for marketing and advertising efforts. It sets the foundation for all the other tactics that follow, and without a good one that’s been thoroughly considered, you risk running into major issues down the line. 

Before researching the best branding agency to help you, make sure you understand all of the elements that go into making a brand a successful one. You’ll be grateful you did, especially when you start to see the impact it makes on your marketing efforts.