Branding Agency Vs. Creative Agency What’s The Difference?

Christopher London
9 min readMay 4, 2022

Looking to hire an agency to grow your business? What’s the difference between a branding agency vs. creative agency?

I run a creative agency and even I get confused with crossover services provided by different agencies. Branding agencies and creative agencies have a lot in common, but their services and goals may be very different.

Many agencies present themselves “differently” than the services they actually provide. This post is going to try to shed some light on the key differences between a branding agency vs. creative agency. The truth is there are many different types of agencies that provide a service or multiple services on the spectrum of ‘brand services’.

A Quick Overview:

  • Design agency: Offers design services for a variety of visual mediums, including print and digital.
  • Web Design Agency: Offers user experience mapping, design implementation, integrations, eCommerce functionality and more.
  • Digital agency: Focuses on digital marketing strategy, particularly SEO and lead generation.
  • Advertising agency: Focuses specifically on advertising (digital, TV, radio, print, etc.). It may or may not provide marketing services.
  • PR agency: Offers promotional and content distribution services to maximize brand awareness.
  • SEO agency: Focuses on various on-site and search marketing strategies and tactics to increase traffic and lead gen.
  • Social media agency: Specializes in social strategies and, oftentimes, the management of social media accounts.

A good illustration of this type of cross-over in services is my company, Pixel Productions. We’re a creative agency, but we focus on research based design for audience engagement on web and print. We also do certain inbound marketing strategies like PPC and content writing. We don’t do social, PR or other marketing aspects. We do however partner with other industry experts to round out those services when building brands.

When people think ‘creative agency’ they typically think aesthetics.

Aesthetics can generally be categorized as different kinds of graphic design. We interact with visual elements, react to them; they affect our mood, help us come to understand the meaning of something, — it’s safe to say that the graphic design process is key to the effectiveness of our communication.

Can a creative agency handle a brand build… sure — but most don’t. A creative agency can be best described as handling a specialized portion of the overall branding.

When people think ‘branding agency’ they think BIG like; Coke and Apple.

Coke and Apple are actually brands, but it makes understanding a branding agency easier — just think BIG.

I like to think of a branding agency as a company that has a strategy to take your business from point A to point B. A branding agency provides or should provide a solution to build and shape your business. This is a pretty ‘all-inclusive’ type of service which includes; advertising, marketing, design, messaging, delivery ie: the whole kit-n-kaboodle.

*It’s important to note: a brand consultant will typically coordinate multiple agencies while overseeing the bigger picture to build the brand.

I like the way that Marcus Osborne says it;

In the past, branding and advertising used to be elements of marketing. Today, marketing and advertising are part of branding and it is the brand consultant you should look to if you want to build a brand.

WHAT IS A BRANDING AGENCIES’ STRATEGY?

A branding agency always has the BIG picture in mind.

Building a Brand is building a business backed by customer loyalty and understanding how to use design to engage an audience and marketing to create an active community.

Because many agencies have departments that can handle a variety of services, ultimately advertising, marketing, design and branding terms have been so mis-used that it may seem all these agencies are capable of providing the same services.

Brand Design Strategy powers sales, increases visibility, and differentiates your company from competitors.

Can you have a company without having a brand? Absolutely. I think the best way to summarize the difference between a brand and a business is;

“A brand has a loyal following and a value proposition, a business is just another competitor selling products or services.”

Similarly, when thinking of a branding agency vs. creative agency it helps to think of a branding agency as the one that will position your business in the market and the creative agency will provide different services to help achieve this position.

A branding agency will help a business create values, stories and relationships to bond with customers, and this can be a far more powerful form of marketing your business than traditional marketing itself.

Branding Agency vs. Creative Agency:

It makes more sense to find out what the agencies you work with do best. The following 5 points are top level:

1. Market Research and Competition Analysis

A brand agency will analyze your target market to get important data on your audience as well as your competitors. A brand agency will also observe the market and industry trends to create sound strategies that are both highly relevant in the now and sustainable in the long-run.

* A marketing agency can also do this.
* Some creative agencies can do this.

2. Purpose & Value for Your Business

A branding agency will help you define your brand’s purpose, mission, vision and values that effectively communicate your brand story. A brand is more than a business — a brand has an ethos, personality, and a connection with an audience.

Successful brands understand that creative graphic design is crucial, but building a real brand means taking that messaging beyond a simple product or service and establishing a unique personality. Brands have a relatable personality that’s all their own. At a basic level, a brand personality comprises the emotions and ideas associated with a brand. A personality is important because it helps define how customers interact with and feel about a brand on any given day.

* A marketing agency can also do this.
* Many design agencies can do this.

* Some creative agencies can do this.

3. Visual and Text Messaging Personalized to Your Audience

Both branding agencies and creative agencies can help you develop a holistic brand identity (such as creating a name, voice and logo) in tune with your business, target market and industry.

Building a brand design strategy means creating the power to communicate your personal message, your voice and your values to your audience, your potential customers, or potential clients.

Brand Design Strategy is made up of your message and is the culmination of who you are as an individual and organization; your funny little quarks, your amazing back story of how you got to where you are or why you’re doing what you do. Consumers are human and they are seeking a personal connection or something meaningful attached to the products they are buying.

Successful brand design comes from within. Knowing who you are as a business, a unique personality relating to like minded individuals. The best branding agencies will work to bring out this corporate culture that resonates with both your employees and your customers.

4. Brand Positioning

Branding agency vs. creative agency — many agencies have the expertise to differentiate your brand from the rest on the market while maximizing its relevance and authenticity.

Whether you’re branding a product or a company, you need to have a good understanding of not only who your target market is, but who you are in order for people to relate to your business on a more personal level. This is a critical phase of the brand design strategy, because it entails doing the right discovery and market research.

A surface overview of this type of introspective research may look something like;

* Who is my ideal customer?
* How is my product going to ad value to their daily life?
* Does my business name, message, content resonate with them?
* Am I communicating one cohesive message to a specific audience in order to create customer loyalty?

5. An Actionable Marketing Plan

Again the main difference between a branding agency vs. creative agency is the ability to have cross-team collaboration in order to develop strategies to drive traffic, engage your audience and build a loyal following. They inspect the different stages of the sales funnel to create tailored branding campaigns to push your leads from awareness to brand loyalty.

* A marketing agency can also do this.
* Some creative agencies can do this.

Branding Agency vs. Creative Agency What to Look for?

Ultimately, whether you want to hire a branding agency vs. creative agency boils down to what you really need. If you’re looking to build a trusted brand then you’re going to want to hire a brand agency or consultant. If you’re running a successful business already and are looking to improve your image, or marketing assets — a creative agency is probably the way to go. If you’re looking to improve specific things like organic rankings or PPC, find an agency that specializes in that.

Finding the Right Branding Agency

As we kind of talked about already, the growth of this industry has given rise to many agencies making misleading claims of services to take advantage of many brands and organizations all over the world.

They often tend to create unrealistic and misleading expectations in the minds of their potential clients without any intention to fulfill the same.

Before hiring any agency, make sure to take look at the best branding agencies, their portfolios and their reviews.

Take a look at this post on the most common mistakes companies make when hiring a branding agency:

Here are some other key points to keep in mind:

Branding agency vs. creative agency — the size of your business and budget may impact the type of agency you hire to help build your business. The truth is, it’s very hard to be really good at everything. Often times it pays to know what you want to achieve and then use multiple agencies to achieve those goals. If you want to build a brand keep these points in mind when vetting agencies.

1. LIKABILITY: A HUMAN APPROACH

Building a strong brand is more about “like-ability” than your product. When we talk about like-ability in the brand design strategy, what we’re really talking about is how your company and product are perceived by your targeted community. How people view your business in terms of personality directly impact the growth of “unaided awareness” of your brand as well as market perception and product differentiation.

2. BRAND BUILDING GOALS

The Best Brand design agencies understand that successful brands are built on clearly defined goals, not just a napkin sketch and design software. Successful brand building is the result of research, collaboration, creative design and execution. Brand building means looking toward the end game and focusing on all the elements that need to fall in to place to market successfully.

3. BRAND EQUITY

Defining your brand purpose will give your target audience insight into your vision so they can become a part of your purpose. Your brand purpose is just like a mission, it should be a concise, easy to understand message about the business with cohesive images that are simple to interpret for the potential customer. Without a purpose, you’re just another business set adrift with no clear path.

4. A CAPTIVE AUDIENCE

Knowing your target audience allows you to share your identity with the right people. When it comes to branding, one must immediately be able to identify who the ideal customer is for the brand. The goal with successful branding is to make a connection with that key demographic the product is designed.

When it comes to building a brand for a small business, you need to think holistically about your look, your voice, and the position you’re going for. It’s easy to want to emulate other brands, but it’s vital that you find your own voice and your own style — one that resonates with a very specific audience.

5. BRAND CONSISTENCY

Brand Consistency throughout your brand design strategy will create coherence from one ad or media form to the next, while repetition is key to long-term memory retention.

Brand consistency isn’t just repetition — It is important to adapt and evolve. While it is important that moving forward, your visual brand design and messaging remain consistent, consistency in branding starts from within the organization. Your brand is your ethos, your design and communication must change as your audience does over time.

In Review

When it comes to understanding the difference between a branding agency vs. creative agency, hopefully this post hasn’t muddied the waters any more than they already were.

Memorable, emotional and impactful connections are the keys to genuine brand loyalty. To form sustainable relationships, great brands seduce customers through real connections — connections that make people feel excited, sad, hopeful, even angry.

You don’t have to have a brand to be successful, but understanding the services of any agency you hire could mean the difference in achieving success.

Originally published at https://www.pixelproductionsinc.com on May 4, 2022.

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Christopher London

Chris London, Owner/Marketing Director for Pixel Productions Inc, is an expert in brand building, Ecommerce Development, and online marketing.