June 4, 2021

Do You Need a Marketing or Branding Agency? Here’s the Difference.

How to Select the Best Branding or Marketing Agency
chandler robertson digital strategist

Chandler Robertson


Articles & Insights

Your marketing department needs something done, so you Google “best marketing agencies near me.” 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?

How to choose a branding or marketing agency

“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 packaging design 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 your project?

Comparing the best marketing and branding agencies

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. Below is a breakdown of what you can expect from each kind. 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 marketing 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. They do 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

What does An Advertising agency do?

Ad agencies also tend to be more specialized firms, focusing on creating and deploying ad campaigns that use existing brand identities. 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)

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

Importance of Brand Strategy shown on Branded Marketing Collateral

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. Your brand is the platform that all of your marketing success is built upon. You wouldn’t build your house on a shoddy foundation, would you?

This warrants repeating: your brand is not your logo. 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.


Get familiar with the principles of branding and brand strategy.

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