What Are The Major Differences Between a Digital Agency and a Creative Agency?

What Are The Major Differences between a Digital Agency and a Creative Agency?

I recently talked with a friend looking to grow their business. He has a Marketing Director, but their background was in PR, and he knew they needed some more marketing help to get to the next level. He thought he should work with an agency.

But his approach to hiring an agency made me cringe.

His biggest need was lead generation.

“I’ve been talking to this agency who says they can help me with business cards, create signage around the office, and they mentioned they may be able to run some Facebook Ads to drive leads,” he explained.

This was his problem.

Don’t get me wrong, business cards and signage are great. But these weren’t his biggest needs. He needed his marketing to perform better and generate more business.

good luck with that gif

Yet he was looking to a creative agency to make it happen.

What he needed was a digital agency.

So what’s the difference? And what kind of an agency do you need? We’ll tackle these questions along with:

  • The 2 key differences between creative and digital agencies
  • The distinct services each agency provides
  • The 3 questions to ask yourself when hiring an agency

What is a Digital Agency?

A digital agency is a business who specializes in digital marketing strategies, channels, and tactics. Most digital agencies are focused on performance marketing and generating ROI for their clients.

Most digital agencies will work with you to understand your pain points, uncover your biggest needs, and develop a strategy to address them. 

A digital marketing agency might recommend a single channel (like Search Engine Optimization), and other times they will recommend a multi-channel approach (like Facebook Ads, Google Ads, and Email Marketing). 

digital marketing funnel

Single Grain

The majority of digital marketing agencies are:

  • Performance Focused. They aren’t interested in launching a campaign just because. They’re dedicated to meeting business objectives.
  • Data Driven. Not to say they aren’t creative thinkers, but they rely on data to optimize campaigns and drive business.

That said, every agency is unique. Some digital agencies specialize in design and creative, too. 

What is the Goal of a Digital Agency?

The goal of a digital marketing agency is to help you meet your business goals and to achieve a positive ROI.

digital marketing kpis


Most digital agencies will seek to understand your biggest needs, create a strategy to meet those needs, and then set KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) or OKRs (Objectives & Key Results) to gauge success. If you want to get started in digital marketing, understanding how to set goals and objectives is key.

For example, you might approach a digital agency needing to grow your business in a new region. They will typically hear your situation, gain an understanding of your goals, and get familiar with your audience. 

Then, they might recommend you invest in an SEO campaign to capture those looking for solutions, Facebook Ads to build brand awareness, and email marketing to nurture contacts into leads and sales.

They might identify a few KPIs like:

  • Increase website traffic by 50%
  • Improve new sales by 25%

The digital agency will launch the campaigns and walk through the results with you weekly, monthly, or quarterly. They may even recommend shifting your funds to different channels throughout the engagement to ensure you’re getting the most out of your campaign.

What Services Do Digital Agencies Offer?

Some digital agencies specialize in a specific field or industry, but most offer a range of digital marketing services. If you’re looking to learn digital marketing, picking a field is a great place to start:

  • SEO. Search Engine Optimization improves your search engine rankings to capture traffic and convert leads who are searching for what you offer.
  • PPC. Pay-per-Click advertising can be done on a range of platforms including Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, and more. The goal is typically to generate leads.
  • Display or Programmatic Advertising. These advertising methods are generally used to build brand awareness around the web through display ads.
  • Email Marketing. Email marketing can be used to accomplish a number of goals, but is typically used to nurture leads through the sales funnel.
  • Marketing Automation. Marketing automation can help you market more efficiently, nurture leads, and drive more sales.
  • CRM Implementation. A properly used CRM (Customer Relationship Management platform) can help you improve sales processes and close more deals.
  • Social Media Marketing. Social media marketing is the strategy behind building a brand and growing an audience on social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or LinkedIn.
  • Content Marketing. Content marketing focuses on creating blog posts, videos, white papers, and more to build brand awareness, capture leads, and nurture prospects.
  • Web Design and Development. This is the creation or redesign of a website used to convert visitors into leads and sales.

What is a Creative Agency?

A creative agency specializes in the creation of a brand’s visual assets. Most creative agencies design all of the assets needed for a business and their marketing campaigns.

creative agency

Creative agencies get to know your business, what makes you unique, and your audience in order to create a brand and visuals that resonate with your target market. 

The majority of creative agencies are:

  • Design-Driven. They may rely on data, but most of their work is hyper-focused on design and resonating with your audience. The data they look at is more qualitative than quantitative.
  • Visually Focused. Creative agencies want their work to result in a positive return on investment, but success will typically depend on your satisfaction with the final product.

visual brand identity

Studio 1

What is the Goal of a Creative Agency?

The goal of most creative agencies is to create visually appealing designs that reflect your brand and resonate with your audience.

Creative agencies aren’t just artists looking to create something pretty – many are focused on results and driven by data – but the data tends to be more qualitative.

For example, let’s say you engage a creative agency to redesign your logo, design a brand identity, and create business cards. 

graphic design

They might interview some of your customers to learn more about your target audience. Then, once they’ve delivered the final products, they may interview some members of your target audience to learn what emotions your brand stirs in them, what they think about the logo, and whether they would work with a brand like this.

What Services Do Creative Agencies Offer?

Creative agencies tend to offer a range of different creative services including:

  • Logo Design
  • Typography
  • Color Palettes
  • UI Design
  • Business Cards
  • Brand Identity & Messaging
  • Infographics
  • Video Creation
  • Graphic Design
  • Banners and Print Ads
  • Web Design and Development

What are the Major Differences Between a Digital Agency and Creative Agency?

A digital agency is focused on performance marketing strategy and execution, while a creative agency is more focused on branding and design. Most digital agencies are data-driven and ROI oriented, while creative agencies are design-driven and visually oriented.

That’s not to say a digital agency can’t have design chops or that a creative agency can’t be hyper-focused on data and ROI. There’s plenty of overlap. 

Many agencies focus primarily on web design and UI / UX – these agencies tend to lie somewhere in-between your typical digital and creative agency.

branding agency website

Other agencies might refer to themselves as advertising agencies, focusing on print ads, TV ads, and multimedia advertising. They also might live somewhere between creative and digital.

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ogilvy advertising website

There are also more and more full-service agencies emerging. These agencies cover both digital marketing and creative services.

Every agency is unique. 

So what should you look for when choosing an agency?

How to Choose the Right Agency for Your Business

Here are some helpful questions to ask yourself when engaging an agency:

1. Do I have a brand identity that resonates with my audience? 

This is a good starting point. Because if you have a poor brand and messaging that doesn’t speak to your target market, it doesn’t matter how much you spend on Facebook ads – you likely won’t see great results. If this is where you need to start, engage a creative agency. If you feel you have a solid brand foundation, consider a digital agency.

2. What is my biggest sales & marketing pain point?

Is no one aware of your brand? Do you have some brand awareness, but you’re struggling to generate leads? Are you generating leads, but never closing? If you aren’t sure where your biggest problem lies, a digital agency can typically help you uncover it.

3. Does this agency have proven experience?

Once you start engaging agencies – whether creative or digital – dig into their work experience. If a creative agency: is their past work up to par with your design standards? If a digital agency: have they gotten positive results for businesses like mine in the past? How much do they charge for digital marketing services?

And at the end of the day, know that there’s no rule against working with both. Plenty of successful businesses use a creative agency for design assets and a digital agency for digital marketing campaigns.

If you’re tight on cash, consider engaging a creative agency for brand work. Once you’re satisfied with your brand identity and design, hire a digital agency to help you grow.Choose an agency you trust and start the journey of growing your business. If you’re not sure where to start, our team at Brew Interactive would love to help, or you can check out some other top agencies in Singapore.

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