The most important difference between a marketing consultant and a marketing agency is the way in which they work. If you are torn between choosing a marketing consultant or marketing agency, understanding the nature of working with a marketing consultant can inform your decision.
This chapter will give you an understanding of the way marketing consultants and marketing consultancies work, how they interact with clients, and what to expect from your working relationship with them.
The Cambridge Dictionary defines “outsourcing” as follows:
If a company outsources, it pays to have part of its work done by another company.
This is not how a marketing consultant or marketing consultancy should function.
Rather than work for you as an outsourced service, a marketing consultant should be working alongside you. This means you should be more involved in key decisions and should have a better understanding of why they are being made.
With marketing consultancies and agencies, you should expect different levels of engagement.
Instead of taking on board a marketing function that you are currently performing in-house, as an agency would, marketing consultants should provide specialist support that goes above and beyond the typical remit of marketing.
A good marketing consultant should therefore be able to advise at a business level.
A good marketing consultant should also be able to appreciate lots of different variables, meaning they are likely to recommend different ideas or strategies as the data appears.
This is partly why marketing consultancies are better for smaller SME businesses. They don’t have entire departments dedicated to marketing, which means they need their marketing to have a wider business context.
We find that agencies are great for businesses with proven business models, e.g. we want to sell more of our via Google Ads as the framework and context are set.
Marketing consultancies are better for businesses who are working out what their sales model might be or what a better strategy to sell their product / service might be.
This means that when you enlist the support of a marketing consultant, you are entering into a partnership that requires dedication and time on your part.
Earlier in this guide, we used the analogy of a personal trainer and dietician to explain the role of a marketing consultant; just as you cannot outsource your health and fitness to a personal trainer and dietician, you cannot outsource your marketing to a marketing consultant.
A personal trainer and dietician may help you establish a routine and implement new habits, but they can’t take full responsibility for your success. Similarly, a marketing consultant can help you finetune your business’ identity and develop a robust strategy built for success, but they do so in collaboration with business owners.
If you are considering working with a marketing consultant or marketing consultancy, we encourage you to think of your working relationship as a partnership towards your strategy and the implementation of your strategy. The more you give to this partnership, the more you will get from it and the better the strategy and implementation will be.
Partnership is a bit of an ambiguous word, because different circumstances apply a different meaning to it. In marketing consultancy terms, we think of partnership as a relationship of trust and respect for one another’s unique insights. For example, we believe that no one will know your business better than you do, and we will lean on you to help us understand exactly who you are and what your goals are.
But to make the most of a partnership with a marketing consultant, you must also recognise their expertise and approach the working relationship with open-mindedness and flexibility.
Businesses that succeed are businesses that are open to change. We won’t lie to you—if you do choose to work with a marketing consultant, they may well advise you to rip up your current marketing strategy and start from scratch. Although it can be hard to let go of plans, especially those we’ve invested so much time in, doing so can be instrumental to your business’ success.
If you are set on seeing your own plan out until the very end, and are unwilling to modify it to reflect a marketing consultant’s insights, then we suggest working with a marketing agency instead. They will do exactly what you tell them to, even if they think there is a better solution available.
But if you want a candid, specialist, expert view on your plan—and if you are willing to upheave it to create something better—then a marketing consultant will be very well suited to you.
There’s a lot of trust involved with working with a marketing consultant, and this can feel really daunting. What if they scrap your whole marketing plan and the one they create for you doesn’t work? What if you invest all that time and effort into them, and they fail to deliver?
These anxieties often sway many business owners into working with marketing agencies instead of marketing consultancies; they feel that though they may not have much control or input in a marketing agency’s approach, at least they know exactly what they’re getting—whether that’s five blogs a week or an optimised website design.
What business owners get from marketing consultants is much less clear cut. Marketing consultants want your business to be adaptive and agile, which is why they don’t offer packaged, off-the-shelf solutions. They will hone your strategy over time, making it responsive to market conditions and competitor activity.
Though this approach promises higher results, it requires trust, investment, and a long-term view of your business’ growth.
Marketing agencies promise clear deliverables, but with less control and less flexibility.
Marketing consultants promise an agile solution designed to thrive in a marketplace that is constantly changing—a solution that is results-driven, grounded in expertise, and tailored to your business’ unique goals and circumstances. This is why we think marketing consultants are better for SMEs.
As with any industry, some providers are better than others. Nurturing collaboration and partnership doesn’t come easy, and you will no doubt discover that some marketing consultants will fail in this regard.
If partnership is important to you, and you want a true consultancy relationship with your marketing support provider, then it is crucial that you make the effort to understand how a marketing consultant works before hiring them.
We will explore how you can achieve this in greater detail in the following chapters.