Big Decisions: Branding Agency vs Advertising Agency

You are about to launch a new business, product or service.

Enthusiasm, excitement and optimism are at all-time highs. 

The dream is about to become reality.

There’s just one problem…

You’re not entirely sure how to effectively build your brand, engage your audience and position yourself for success.

So, as mentioned above, the dream is about to become reality. Well, here’s the reality for businesses that don’t properly plan or prepare:


There are countless reasons for those startup failures. Here are the top three:

Avoiding Failure to Launch

As the numbers suggest — failure is easy, success is not. The odds are against you. So, how do you prevent your business from becoming just another statistic?

The smartest and surest way is to seek the guidance and support of a third-party agency that has been there and done that (time and time again). One that provides a team of experienced and innovative professionals who understand what it takes to build a brand; devise a bold, yet sound, strategy equipped with both contingencies and scalability; and who understand how to position your business, product or service to ensure it reaches and connects with the target audience. 

There are plenty of options out there, but how do you know who you can trust and who can effectively execute everything they promise?

For 10 years, we have partnered with hundreds of businesses across countless industries and market sectors. And we have met with hundreds of others who ultimately chose to go in a different direction. This is a major decision and it has to be the right fit for all sides; we absolutely respect that.

Throughout this process, we have witnessed so many individuals and companies who placed their trust and futures in the hands of the wrong partners. The deeper we get into the conversation, the more we recognize that the biggest problem for prospects is often not knowing the right questions to ask during the vetting phase.

More often than not, the primary pain point is found in the marketing efforts. Why? Because it’s easy to fall in love with captivating creative and both sides fail to make the distinction between pretty pictures and real results!

The first step toward selecting the right partner for your business is understanding the drastic differences between an advertising agency and a branding agency.

Choosing a Branding Agency vs Advertising Agency

A branding agency typically performs “deep dives” into all aspects of a company’s infrastructure, whereas an advertising agency immediately focuses on how to generate awareness. Advertising is only one part of a company’s marketing and communication efforts. It is an incredibly important part, yes, but for true and lasting success, there must first be a brand strategy upon which advertising campaigns and tactics are built.

In other words, advertising is a piece of the pie; it is not the pie.

If you have any experience speaking or working with advertising agencies, you’ll find that they are often composed of individuals with specialized skills in illustration, creative writing and ad production. In the past, advertising agencies made their fortunes by taking 15% commissions from clients’ monthly advertising budgets that they earned for placing the media. Such agencies typically have elaborate offices and overhead, meaning they are usually pretty pricey. 

Today’s agencies, however, must offer a much wider and more diverse menu of services such as digital marketing, social media marketing, web design, virtual-reality concepts, public relations, email marketing, SEO and video production, to name a few.

Many advertising agencies claim to offer branding services as well, but often lack the experience, skill, expertise, processes and resources necessary to complete a thorough brand system and make strategic recommendations that can alter the way their clients do business. Another common problem is that advertising agencies simply don’t want to deal with the hassle (brain surgery) of marketing, since it tends to be painstaking and time-consuming. 

Please don’t misinterpret the message here. There is still a need for experienced and talented advertising agencies that create imaginative work, but the process has changed and advertising agencies (for the most part) are not equipped to effectively build impactful brands. 

What does a true branding agency offer, and how does it differ?

For branding agencies, the very beginning of the brand-development process includes a series of soul-searching questions that must be answered if a business owner wants their new product or service to be around for the long term.

Some of the more fundamental questions (and there are many more) include:


We find that many prospects struggle answering even these most basic of questions. Perhaps they have never conducted such self-analysis or, perhaps, it is common knowledge to them but they have never prepared themselves to communicate it to others. This is precisely why brand strategists inquire about these questions in initial prospect meetings. Getting inside the mind of a prospect or client is everything

For starters, how can a partner be a true extension of your business if they don’t understand it from top to bottom? Also, how can that relationship be effective or grow if the vision is not conveyed or shared? Lastly, this is a vital exercise for the prospect or client as well, as it ensures they are able to explain who they are, what they do and why they matter. These questions are mutually beneficial and, ultimately, benefit the end consumer as well.

And, yes, it is a crucial step in establishing a strategy and scope, which affect the cost. Remember, finances are a primary reason for business failures, so all involved must be mindful of what is needed, what the cost would be for such efforts, and if it is feasible — from both a monetary and time standpoint.

A branding (or brand-strategy) agency must ask these questions and address prospects’ responses in order to accurately define the ultimate question… 

What is a brand?

Answer: A brand is not strictly what a business owner or product/service provider thinks about their offering(s) in their own mind; it’s how the end-user(s) interpret it. In fact, this is the only definition that matters!

Above are some of the first questions that should be asked when you start meeting with different agencies and potential partners. So, keep those in mind. But you should also be mindful of warning signs.

For example, if an advertising or media representative asks, “How much of a budget do you have for advertising?” prior to doing a needs analysis, you are most likely speaking with the wrong advisor. This is the equivalent of a doctor offering or prescribing a patient medication without conducting an examination.

How can a brand strategist help you take off?

A good brand strategist will offer to spend a great deal of time (as much as necessary or desired) with you during the early stages of a new business, product rollout, or service rollout, and will always make him or herself available to you and your team. Remember, you are not merely a client, you are a partner. It should feel that way!

A brand strategist will develop a plan, both internal and external, that begins at the very foundation of a client’s business. This plan defines the language, strategy and culture of a brand that establishes an identity and dictates how the brand and all its offerings will be conveyed to the public.

This is where your brand’s soul is born. Consumers want more than just products they like, they want an emotional connection with the businesses they support. In today’s climate, who you are is as important as what you do.

Once the branding is in place and it is universally understood as to what your business is and why it exists, it is time to engage your audience. This is the fun part!

Everything up to this point was necessary to build the foundation. Now, together, you can design and decorate! This is where the “pretty pictures” come in. But pretty pictures alone, without a strategy, are ineffective. It’s no different than building a beautiful house on a faulty or porous slab of concrete. It’s only a matter of time before the whole thing crumbles to the ground. 

Every business has a different approach and a different path toward success. In today’s increasingly competitive landscape, partnering with professionals who are deeply passionate about growing your business is a great way to gain a competitive edge and leverage decades of experience from a team of creative and analytical minds. 

Whether you decide to partner with a branding agency or advertising agency is ultimately up to you and your team, but should be carefully determined by where your team needs the most assistance and direction. This guide should allow you to get started in fostering the right partnership that will help you “prepare for liftoff” and drive your business forward!

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