One of the big areas companies regularly need help with is in their marketing. And for those who are looking to trigger some growth via marketing, some outside help is often necessary. But when faced with the challenge of finding outside marketing help, a common stumbling block is the question of if you need a marketing consultant or a marketing strategist.
At first glance, the two may seem to be very much the same thing, but they definitely are not. And as you look to build out your internal marketing team or external marketing agency strategy, it’s important to understand the difference between the two so you can decide which is right for you.
Work vs. Guidance
One of the simplest ways to describe the difference between a marketing consultant and marketing strategist is to look at what it is you’re hoping to get. If your goal is to have someone manage your paid search, write content for you, run analytics or anything else where there are specific daily tasks with deliverables, then a marketing consultant is probably what you are looking for.
On the other hand, if your marketing needs are a bit more nebulous – i.e. you are looking for a person to be able to look at what you’re doing and help you figure out what kind of structural shifts are necessary to help build your business, then a marketing strategist is what you want.
For example, if you’ve made the decision to advertise via Facebook and have a good idea of what kind of ROAS (return on ad spend) you’re looking to achieve, then hiring a consultant to put together the ads and manage the targeting and ad buys within the network would make the most sense.
But let’s say you’re looking at a bigger question of if Facebook ads are right for you, and if so how should they tie into the overall experience and marketing mix, then you would want to work with a marketing strategist. Similarly, if you know you want to advertise on Facebook, but aren’t quite sure of what approach to take and how it ties into your brand strategy, then you’d want to work with a marketing strategist.
As you can see, the two can definitely be quite different – but they also can work very closely hand-in-hand.
So Why Not Just Hire a Marketing Strategist?
This is a mistake I can often see people make. They hire a marketing strategist to run their marketing – from planning through execution. The problem with this is that when you do this you’re honestly paying too much.
The cost for a marketing consultant will generally run between $30-$50 an hour, depending on experience and channel specialty. A good marketing strategist, on the other hand, will run you more in the $200-$300 an hour range.
Obviously it’s more expensive to be paying for a strategist than to pay for a consultant. But what’s not immediately evident is that many times when you’re working at the campaign level, you’ll often see better results from a consultant than a strategist. This is because consultants tend to be much more specialized in their channel, and are usually working with multiple clients on similar projects – which means that the little tips and tricks they learn from one client can be easily applied to another.
A marketing strategist, on the other hand, is looking at things from a much more macro level. Their expertise isn’t so much in the minute details of how to best maximize a channel, so much as it is in understanding how brand messaging and customer experiences can be best optimized by a customized approach to channel mix and interaction.
What About an Agency?
For many companies, the best solution for their marketing is to hire an agency. This is particularly useful if the company doesn’t have the internal budget to allocate to hiring full-time staff to handle their marketing. Yes, sometimes major companies work with agencies as well – but this is often at the expense of strong brand identity and messaging in favor of speed to market.
If your company isn’t ready to hire a marketing team, however, an agency can be a great solution. Especially if you have someone within your company to work closely with a main point of contact there who will act as your strategist. Even better, hire a marketing director or a Chief Marketing Officer within your company who will work with your agency (or agencies) who can build out your marketing strategy, but use the agency in a consulting role.
Some of the best agencies I’ve worked with have been extraordinarily proficient at understanding overall goals of the company, and building out strategies and execution of a project. But they are also only as good as the information they’re receiving. So if you don’t have someone on staff for that strategist role, you should at the very least have a strong strategist you’re working with who can have constant communication with key stakeholders in your organization.
When Would I Need a Consultant?
A marketing consultant is great for individual projects, or for building out your team where you don’t have the resources (or need) for additional full-time hires. Many of the people you’ll hire for these consulting roles will be experts at what they do, and they will get you best-of-breed results, for a reasonable price.
A marketing consultant can also be useful when you need a third party to do an audit or look over some of your channels – but be sure that they specialize in the areas that you have them looking at. If you need a deep dive into your Facebook ads, for example, a consultant may be a great solution.
How To Choose Between a Marketing Consultant and Marketing Strategist
Ask yourself the question: Do I already know how I want to communicate with my customers (and potential customers)?
If the answer is no, you need a marketing strategist.
If the answer is yes, then ask yourself another question: Do I think my current strategy could be improved?
If that one is yes, then you need a marketing strategist.
But if the answer is still no, and what you’re looking for is someone to help you get your day-to-day projects done and to maximize the returns on your current strategy, then you should look for a marketing consultant.
Of course I’ll always argue the best situation would be to have a strong internal marketing team in place already – then use strategists and consultants as adjustments or outside perspectives are needed. But if an internal marketing team is out of scope for now, this should help get you on the path to finding a solution that works for your current marketing needs.