The Difference Between an Advertising Agency and a Branding Firm

Advertising agency. Marketing and communications firm. Branding company. The lines by which this industry was defined decades ago are anything but clear these days. Truth be told, as the industry has evolved over time, it’s gotten increasingly difficult to respond with confidence when people ask about where I work. Advertising agency all too often brings to mind images of Mad Men-like environments where people wear suits and smoke and spend more time talking than doing. Respond with “marketing and communications firm” and most people immediately glaze over as if you were speaking another language. Mention branding firm, and it’s often received with a gut reaction list of iconic brands and taglines.

So let’s take a moment to set the record straight:

Advertising vs. Branding vs. Marketing and Communications

By simple definition, a branding firm is an organization that focuses on your business strategy. They see the bigger picture and work to develop the story of who you are, what you stand for, and why you matter in your industry. Alternatively, an advertising agency focuses more on the tactical side. These experts take your core messages or offers and develop a plan for communicating them. Brand is your story and advertising includes the tangible pieces that help tell it. Marketing and communications companies often do both and include public relations. These organizations often refer to themselves as full-service.

Depending on where you are with your brand or overall marketing efforts, you might engage one or a combination of these firms. Knowing the differences between them will help you set realistic expectations about what they can deliver and how far they can propel your business forward.

Always Start with Your Brand

It’s human nature to get caught up in lists and tactics and tangible items that can be crossed off a list. So it’s not surprising that more often than not, tactics are spoken about more than bigger picture goals when Daake interviews leaders and employees of a company as part of the rebranding process. The reality is, brand is king. It’s what your customers, and would-be customers, are thinking and saying about your company. And today, what they say has more impact on your bottom line than ever.

If it feels like your audience isn’t saying anything, or is feeling negatively about who you are as a company, it’s time to beeline it to a branding firm. Or, if there is a major shift on the horizon, like new leadership or an acquisition, hiring a branding firm is a must. This is where you’ll find people who specialize in discovering and telling a company’s story in a way that is meaningful and has the power to engage and connect with people, including internal teams. Branding firms understand and consciously include the importance of employees at all levels of an organization.

Rather than focus on tactics, branding firms take a deep dive into companies to help leaders align, agree on a singular vision, determine their path to success, and implement core strategies to help them get—and stay—there. Branding firms aren’t concerned with the next promotion; they’re concerned about a company’s identity and purpose. These become the foundation to every decision made regarding the business as a whole, from process and operational needs to marketing and advertising.

Take the time to ask the branding firm(s) what they stand for and get to know their brand story. Look at their processes, experience, and understanding of what is triggering you to reach out. Daake has a clearly defined process that brings together a company’s past and future, the needs of its customers, and engagement tools for all levels of a company, from leaders to managers to new hires.

There’s a Time and Place for Engaging Advertising and Marketing/Communications Firms

The right time to engage an advertising agency or marketing and communications firm is when you’re comfortable and confident in the strategy behind your brand. From there, firms who specialize in delivering your message through a myriad of tactics can provide the expertise needed to craft an effective communications plan. This is when brand messaging and promotions and new product launches can all live in harmony, working together to strengthen your presence in the industry, and your brand awareness among your customers and prospective customers.

It’s not uncommon for branding firms and advertising agencies to work together. This allows the brand experts to offer guidance in how to maintain the integrity of the new brand. It also helps those creating the print or digital ads, radio or television, press release or event, or any other tactic to fully understand the brand and explore ways to express and leverage a company’s identity. Think of it as shifting from the bigger picture to the finer details. Each component carries weight; but the brand needs to remain the hero at the end of the day.

Marketing and communications firms often house the widest range of services, from advertising to digital marketing to media buying to public relations. If a company refers to itself as an advertising agency, chances are that means it offers a shorter list of capabilities. Teaming with this type of firm may mean additional partnerships are needed to best express your message. This could include motion studios or public relations firms. What companies need to consider is how well each specialist, or generalist, can collaborate while keeping them, and their brand, the priority.

When in Doubt, Consider the Current State of Your Brand

Choosing the right partner for branding or marketing and advertising can be confusing. Here are a few considerations or scenarios that could point your company in the right direction:

  1. Take a look at Daake’s list of triggers for a rebrand. If any of these are followed by a head nod or resounding “yes” then the best place to start is a branding firm.
  2. Can you confidently say there are brand ambassadors behind the scenes in your company? Would your internal teams go to bat for you when they’re off the clock? When it comes to internal culture, branding firms have the knowledge and tools to help companies create and sustain a positive environment.
  3. If you feel your company has reached its full potential with a specific audience or geographic location, consider connecting with a rebranding firm to explore just how strong your brand is, and what other audiences or areas might make sense.
  4. If market share is strong and your brand message is generating positive response among the right audience, it could make sense to pursue a partnership with an advertising agency or marketing and communications firm to strengthen tactical executions.
  5. If your brand is in great hands with an internal marketing team but they could use additional support or fresh ideas, an advertising agency or marketing and communications firm could serve as the perfect partner.

As technology plays an even larger role in how we communicate our brand’s story, the lines that used to define the various types of agencies and firms will continue to fade or change shape. When in doubt of where to turn, begin with your brand. The rest will fall into place if a company’s brand is clearly defined and fully supported.

About Daake

We are brand design experts who deliver transformative ideas to the nation’s marketing professionals and CEOs as they seek guidance, clarity and excitement for their brand.

We would love to hear more about what you have in mind for your next project. Call Greg Daake at 402.933.1094.

Sign up

Related Posts