What does a marketing agency do?

“Marketing” is a surprisingly nebulous term! Is marketing the same thing as advertising? Is marketing a different name for sales? And why does one “marketing agency” offer completely different services from another?

These are all excellent – and incredibly common – questions! By the time you've finished reading this article, you'll have a better understanding regarding what marketing agencies typically do as well as how Illuminare Solutions operates within the marketing agency framework.


What is “marketing”?

The American Marketing Association describes marketing as “the activity, set of institutions, and processes for creating, communicating, delivering, and exchanging offerings that have value for customers, clients, partners, and society at large.”

With a vague definition like that, it's no wonder new clients are frequently surprised to discover exactly what we do! Despite the ambiguity, most marketing professionals do consider marketing to be more of a science than art.

More simply stated, marketing is the collection of activities that takes a product or service from an idea to something a customer can buy and recommend to their peers.

What's the difference between marketing and advertising?

Many people assume marketing and advertising are the same. While similar, advertising is not marketing as advertising focuses on making consumers aware of and encouraging them to buy a product. Marketing begins before a product is even developed and continues past the point of purchase.

Advertising agencies will frequently focus on visual aspects of marketing:

  • Logos and branding including product packaging
  • Print, outdoor (buses, billboards, etc), TV, and online ad creative
  • Copy, image, animation, and video production

Marketing agencies should at least be knowledgeable about advertising as it will be part of an overall marketing strategy. Illuminare Solutions is fortunate to have team members with experience working for large advertising firms working on accounts such as Intel, Coca Cola, and Apple.

Is marketing sales?

Salespeople are typically the critical front-line brand ambassador for many businesses. They learn about customer wants and needs, overcome objections, and close sales – the revenue life blood of any company.

While incredibly important to most businesses, sales is not marketing. In a well-run organization, sales and marketing will work closely together:

  • Sales has more opportunities to learn directly from existing clients, allowing a company to discover new products and services to offer.
  • Sales hears all of the client objections and can pass them along to marketing to create a strategy to assist sales in overcoming or avoiding those objections.
  • Sales receives feedback from their client which marketing can use to refine a product or service.

Marketing creates opportunities for sales in the form of new product development and strategies supporting those new products, sales turns those opportunities into customers and provides feedback to marketing for the next new product.

How does customer service fit in with marketing?

Customer service answers customer questions, receives customer feedback, and resolves customer issues.

If you think that's not related to marketing, keep in mind that these are the people who can make a Yelp or Google review one or five stars – and it's typically the marketing department that has to deal with the one star reviews!

Customer service will serve themselves by working closely with the marketing department:

  • Customer service will compile customer questions for marketing to turn into an FAQ, saving customer service staff time.
  • Customer service will pass along customer complaints, allowing marketing to refine the product roadmap to reduce issues in the future.
  • A customer service department humanizes a company better even than sales and should be highlighted in marketing materials.
  • Marketing can enable customer service to deal with certain issues on their own using pro-customer techniques, leading to more positive reviews and referrals.

While customer service rarely exists inside traditional marketing departments, customer service and marketing teams should work closely together.

Marketing strategy vs tactics

A marketing strategy is the overall plan for developing and promoting a product or service. A marketing tactic is an individual activity that fits within a marketing strategy.

Here's an oversimplified example of what a strategy may look like:

In order to increase market share 25% over the next 12 months, we will launch and promote a new widget based on existing customer feedback targeting the 18-35 outdoor enthusiast demographic.

Tactics that support this strategy may include:

  • Conducting focus groups with existing customers to develop ideas for the new widget.
  • Sending surveys to leads who did not buy the current widget to figure out why they didn't buy it.
  • Developing a specialized website or landing page to showcase the new widget.
  • Running search and social ads to promote the new widget.
  • Inviting influencers to an event to debut the new widget.

A marketing strategy is the overall plan whereas tactics are the specific steps to execute that plan.

Common services of a marketing agency

Part of our motivation to publish this piece is because the term “marketing agency” is frequently attached to businesses who focus on tactics instead of strategy.

At Illuminare Solutions, we know how all of the tactics fit together to form a strategy. If you hire a “marketing agency” that's actually a web development agency, video production studio, or SEO expert, you may be getting help with a part of your marketing, but you may not have a comprehensive strategy in place to guide them.

When you work with a full stack marketing agency, we're your marketing project manager: we manage all aspects of your strategy through a single point of contact. That's why Illuminare is frequently referred to as a “personal CMO” and a “one-person marketing department” – despite having a whole team at our disposal.

Here are some core competencies to look for when considering hiring a marketing agency:

Marketing strategy development

Creating a strategy should always be the first step before conducting any marketing-related activities. Without a cohesive strategy, your tactics will not be as effective in producing the results you desire.

When you contact us for assistance with your marketing, we begin by learning about you, your business, and both your short- and long-term goals. This allows us to develop a customized marketing plan for you that will be easy to understand and follow.

Your customized strategy is the overall roadmap to success while each of the following components fit together to enable the tactics that make up your overall plan.

Website development

Every modern business needs an optimized website. Your website is where potential customers will be sent to learn about your business and eventually convert into paying customers.

A modern website should load quickly and work equally well on phones, tablets, and computers. You also want to have some kind of conversion point: a contact form, option to buy, or even a newsletter subscription can count!

If you contact us looking for help with any aspect of your marketing, we will take a look at your website first. If your site is not optimized, we can send customers to you all day, but they're unlikely to convert.

Email Marketing

Don't believe the rumors that email marketing is out of favor! Email marketing is still one of the best channels for driving sales with a 3,800% return on investment (ROI). Even if you don't know what to send yet, you need to be collecting email addresses.

We help with all aspects of email marketing, including selecting a email marketing service that facilitates functions such as click tracking and government-compliant subscriber management, developing email templates that complement your overall brand, developing content for your newsletters, and analysis of sent campaigns.

Content Marketing & Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

If the fable of the tortoise and the hare were translated to marketing, content marketing and search engine optimization (SEO) would play the role of the tortoise. It requires consistent effort over an extended period of time, but will drive business long after your piece of content is published.

If you stop paying for ads, you stop getting clicks. If you stop posting to social media, you stop getting clicks. But if you publish targeted content based on thorough keyword research, you will see more clicks over time.

Your own research may have led to some confusion regarding terms like search engine optimization (SEO), search engine marketing (SEM), paid search, and pay per click (PPC). These terms have been redefined over the years and it's hard to reach a consensus regarding the definition of each.

At one time, many considered search engine marketing to be an umbrella term for anything related to being seen in search engine results pages (SERPs). We currently see SEM including paid ads and reputation management.

Paid ads allow us to rapidly test both targeting and messaging to see what resonates with your potential customers. They can also work to inform organic content marketing efforts for long term success without the ad budget.

Reputation management is the activity of making sure searchers see predominantly positive information regarding your business. It's virtually impossible to remove negative publicity from the internet, therefore reputation management tends to focus on generating new links that push any negative links off the first page (or more) of SERPs.

Organic Social Media Marketing

Organic social media marketing is simply posting to social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, or Pinterest with the intent to reach and convert new customers into purchasers. While this sounds attractive because it's “free”, it's actually a tool we frequently deemphasize.

It's not free. You need someone to develop a posting schedule, create the written and visual content for those posts, and conduct constant research and testing in order to have the greatest chances of success due to frequent algorithm changes designed to push businesses to paid options.

Organic social media is also a bit more difficult to outsource as it tends to skew towards showing off the personality of a business, sharing timely moments, and customer service related activities. Most of our customers prefer to have a strategy that requires less organic posting in favor of paid ads that can start generating trackable ROI almost immediately and can easily be outsourced.

Search ads and social media ads work beautifully together! Google and Bing ads are amazingly powerful, but when we add in the demographic data available on platforms such as Facebook, we have an incredibly powerful combination.

A paid social media marketing strategy typically includes several layers that complement the traditional sales funnel.

At the top of the funnel, we're working toward brand awareness. Ads tend to direct toward growing the audiences on each of your social media channels.

Next, we drive those people to your website for additional information. These landing pages are designed to guide potential customers toward making a purchase.

Finally, we use an amazing tool known as retargeting. With retargeting, we serve ads specifically to the people from the last step in the funnel who visited your site. Since they've shown interest before, they have a higher likelihood of converting if exposed to your offer again.

This is only a simplified overview of some of the ways we utilize social media ads to promote your business. There are a variety of other tools at our disposal depending on the details of your marketing strategy.

Influencer Marketing

We consider affiliates, “influencers”, actual influencers, and sponsorships to all be part of influencer marketing. Yes, those are sarcastic quotation marks around the word “influencers.”

Most “influencers” these days are people who built large social media followings, duped some company into paying them or giving them product, which they then use to convince other businesses to do the same. Most of these individuals don't actually influence buying behavior. Some do, and we have a variety of techniques to help you identify and test potential influencers before you give away the farm.

Depending on your business, affiliates can be an incredibly powerful sales force paid purely on commission. The success of any affiliate program is attributable to efforts made in recruitment and management of affiliates. We have over a decade of working with affiliates driving five- to six-figure revenue numbers for clients – per month.

Actual influencers can also be known as brand ambassadors, brand advocates, or simply word of mouth referrals. We identify these individuals or groups of people and work with them personally to increase their rate of referrals.

Sponsoring organizations and events that align with your brand is a great way to influence potential like-minded customers to explore your business. People buy from those they like, and if you show some love to the local animal shelter (for example), pet lovers are going to take another look at what you offer. Furthermore, sponsorships can frequently be leveraged to help with search engine optimization.

Event Marketing

Most of our marketing tools can be managed from your computer, but some times you just need to get in front of your customers. This may take the form of displaying at a trade show or hosting your own event.

Our experience allows us to help with all phases of event marketing: conceptually designing the event, promoting the event, running event operations, and following up with attendees.


Now you know what marketing agencies typically do, as well as how Illuminare Solutions operates within the marketing agency framework!

Your marketing strategy provides you with an overall plan for marketing success. That strategy will include some, if not all, of the various activities described above. A “marketing agency” that can only facilitate one of those activities is not actually a marketing agency, but a specialist in that one area.

At Illuminare Solutions, we know how all the pieces work together and can build them all into a long-term revenue generating machine for your business. Contact us today for your first strategy session!