People often blur marketing, advertising, and branding. Some folks think of them all as marketing tools, others think branding is marketing, and then there are those who think adverting is branding. I've even heard "branding experts" refer to a brand as a function of marketing. If you don't deal with the three pillars on a regular basis, I can see how one can be confused.
The truth is all three of them work closely together, but they are very separate ideas. The brand is the foundation to your marketing, which is the foundation to your advertising.
Business people for the most part understand what marketing is. The two that are often confused is advertising and branding. So which type of agency do should you hire? Well it depends on where you are at in your business and what you are trying to accomplish. Is you goal to promote a product and increase your sales volume? Is you goal to build consumer loyalty and attract top talent or investors.
Business owners may think they are in need of branding when what they are asking for is solutions that are more inline with advertising and vice versa.
So what is the difference between a branding and advertising agency?
The way I think about it is branding is strategic and advertising is tactical (so is marketing). The goal of advertising is to create campaigns that leverage a wow factor with the message of saying buy me because I am cool, support me because we are great, work here because we are awesome. The goal of branding is to convince people to become emotionally invested in your company, loyal, and differentiate your business in the marketplace.
The Advertising Agency
An advertising agency focuses on creating content that sells a product, service, or idea direct to the consumer. They focus a lot more on leveraging creative work, persuasive copy, and media buys to get a message across. If a campaign falls short to glory, well you as a business have to either take the loss, go back to that agency to come up with new ideas, or go find you another advertising agency and hope they can deliver your business message.
This in no way belittling the advertising agency and what they do. An advertising agency's job is to get you attention and usually by any medium necessary (radio, TV, Billboard, Websites and so on). Their work and expertise is certainly needed, but it is a different function compared to a branding agency.
The Branding Agency
A branding agency will approach your needs from a more holistic vantage point. By implementing a strategic plan, the branding agency's job is to impact all facets of the business both internally and externally. Typically a branding agency will want to work with the C-Level executives because what they recommend will impact the entire business culture.
Branding, when done right, will address the messages in your advertising. It will impact how your company hires and retains employees and product development. Proper branding will ensure that your sales people understand what your company stands for and can easily convey that to a customer.
A branding agency will audit your business, processes, systems in place, and recommend the best way to move forward.
The content that branding agency's produce is created to convey the unique aspects of the business brand and why people should care. It is not the intent to directly promote an offering, which is what advertising does.
The difference between the two seems subtle, but the ideas are worlds a part. People today are less impressionable by ads and although they might think an ad is cool, they no longer make people spend their money on the advertised product.
In todays hyperemotional and transparent society, people buy into a brand. People buy into an emotion. People buy into people and that is only delivered through a strong brand-as-business mindset.