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Digital Marketing Consultants Vs Agencies: which is the right option for your business?

With the rise of digital marketing in the last decade, both consulting firms & creative agencies had to step up their game in order to support their clients’ digital transformation. With new expertise & business models, they also had to reinvent themselves to stay relevant. Before, their scopes were clearly defined and they rarely were direct competitors.

However, with the emergence of new actors on the market such as consulting firms specialized in digital services and digital marketing agencies, the dynamic has changed. Consultants vs agencies: the battle is on.

But how do you determine which one your business needs? Let’s dig deeper.

Consultants vs Agencies: what sets both of these types of business apart?

1.Purpose & level of influence

The first key difference between digital marketing consulting firms & agencies is their purpose. Consultants are hired to identify issues & find solutions, while an agency is typically hired to implement an already defined plan. In a word: the difference is the strategy.

Digital marketing consultants’ prime focus is to define the strategy and the recommendations that stem from it. Agencies are in charge of executing briefs.

While this may seem rather straightforward, there is a catch: both agencies & consultants are starting to encroach on the other’s territory, adding similar services to their offer.

What is most seen however in large corporations, is making the most of the core business of both: strategic consulting & action plan from consultants, and execution from agencies, managed by consultants. They can help you with analyzing agencies’ reports and define action plans.

In addition, both type of professionals are not perceived in the same manner by businesses and so don’t have the same influence.

  • Trusted advisors: consultants usually have senior level experience across different expertise and sometimes cross-industries. Thanks to that, they have a broader view of a client’s business and strategic challenges.
  • Specific field experts: an agency will have expertise in a specific field, and be known for it (for instance, YouAnd is an agency specialized in UX-UI). Even so, they will seldom be asked to provide guidance outside of their immediate area of expertise.

2. Internal organization & scope

The second key difference is the way they are organized and work. That includes several aspects:

  • Framework: A digital marketing consultant works within its client’s organization processes and with its contracted employees (immersion): the consultant will adapt to the client’s requirements. An agency works on behalf on its client, but following its own organization & processes. The client has to adhere to them: the bureaucracy and inflexibility can be quite frustrating and time-consuming.
  • Scope: A consultant usually works only for 1 to 3 clients at the same time (usually one only – and you can choose if you need a full time or part time resource). The contract is flexible that way. This is completely transparent and the client has total control over their scope (it can be changed at any time). In an agency, the client doesn’t have that visibility or choice. Employees often work on up to 8-10 projects simultaneously.
  • Team work: Both digital marketing consultant & agency can work in teams. Nonetheless, consultants will work together to achieve a defined goal while creatives in an agency only take on a portion of the project, without necessarily being aware of the common objective.

3. Workforce & relationship

With a consulting firms specialized in digital services, your primary point of contact is the consultant themselves. Since they comply with their client’s organization, there is usually little structure between them. All the work is centered on the business need, so speed and efficiency is rarely a concern. With an agency, you will have a dedicated point of contact who will liaise with all involved teams before getting back to you.

In addition, consultants often work from their client’s premises in order to better understand issues and really fit the internal organization. It may seem inconsequential, but it really helps to optimize communication. Agencies always work from their premises.

Furthermore, with agencies, since you refer to a project manager, you may not know which of their employees are working on the project (and even less their seniority level). With digital marketing consultants, the client can handpick consultants based on their seniority level and former experience. Digital consultants are often experienced employees with a solid track record – in a word, very stable. Meanwhile, creatives tend to be very competitive with low loyalty to the agency: the turnover can get quite high.

Overall, with a consultant, you’ll always know who you’re dealing with and who handles what. You can build a proper relationship with each of them (if your project necessitates several consultants).

5 benefits of using consultants infographic - Synapsys Digital

Consultants vs Agencies, Source: Synapsys Digital

4. Billing

To put it simply, consultants are billed based on their time spent: either monthly fee per consultant depending on experience, or package fee every month, depending on the workload needed. On the other hand, agencies bill per action to execute on their side.

While it may seem pretty similar, the key difference is if case you decide to review the strategy or actions needed. For consultants, that won’t impact your bill as you buy their time. With an agency, you will most probably be charged extra for every additional element you require.

This being said, digital marketing consultancy services are more expensive (per hour) than agency services. Though as mentioned earlier, they are more flexible: you can deviate from your brief very easily without extra cost. This stems from the structure and average team experience level of each type of business. Consulting firms usually have more senior people, as opposed to the mixed experience levels of agencies. Also, the contract is specific to the seniority and time of the consultant whose services you require, not his/her actual missions.

From all these elements, you can see both options have their merits, depending on your needs and goals. It comes down to your budget, time frame, bandwidth, but also how advanced is your strategy (and how stable), and how much control you require.

Using an agency may or may not be a good match for your needs, or maybe it should be used only for part of your plan.

Here is a summary table “Consultants vs Agencies” with the key elements we mentioned:

Consultants Agency
Strategy Purpose Execution
Advisors Level of influence Field experts
Adapt to client’s requirements Framework Follow its own organization
Usually dedicated to 1 client Scope Up to 8-10 projects simultaneously
Consultants themselves Main point of contact Project manager
On premise / On cloud from own office Workplace In their own office
Client fully involves Profile selection Client rarely involved
Based on time spent (monthly fee) Billing Per action

If you decide to call on consulting services, please contact us and share details about your project. You can learn more about Synapsys Digital and its team here. In any case, we hope you appreciated this article “digital marketing consultants vs agencies”, don’t hesitate to comment or share.

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