[COMPARISON] How to pick a design or marketing agency

Here’s how to decide between a design or marketing agency


Crane picking up a car in a junkyard

This old car

The first straw was that mysterious thumping sound when I turned the steering wheel. The next straw was when Frankie, my mechanic of 22 years, asked me how long I planned to keep our dying 16 year-old Subaru. The final straw was the sound our worn-out muffler made – it scared off even hardened livery cab drivers.

I’m relieved to report we are done shopping, and finally bought a car. Our quest for a new car ended well (unless you count paying off the loan!) because we asked the most important question first – what type of car were we looking for?

That’s similar to the question clients ask when they start looking for help with branding or marketing.They ask what type of agency are they looking for – marketing or design? Marketing and design agencies offer overlapping services. They tend to look and sound pretty similar.

So what’s the difference?

The DNA difference

Marketing and design agencies have different DNA – their cultures are different. And I would know — LevinsonBlock started out back in the day as a design firm, and evolved into a marketing agency.

Design DNA

Graphic design is fundamentally a visual discipline. So a design firm will solve your marketing problem in a visual way. And a visual approach can result in mind-blowing work that transforms your brand.

But because of this visual DNA, they often pay less attention to non-visual services, like content and strategy. For example, in website development, a design agency can be so focused on the front-end look and feel that content is an afterthought.

Marketing DNA

Marketing agencies are multidisciplinary, so design is an equal partner with content, strategy and other services. For example, a marketing agency is likely to fully integrate content development into a website project. They can also manage a broad range of services, such as video or media planning.

But marketing agencies have disadvantages too. Sometimes they oversell strategy, producing pages of useless branding jargon. And because they are service integrators, they may not have the flexibility to meet a smaller budget.

Your best fit

You should check out design agencies, if:

  • You are in a style-driven or visual business
  • You can project-manage your own team of small firms and freelancers
  • You have a specific need and/or tight budget, and don’t need a big strategy process
  • You write your own content

You should check out marketing agencies if:

  • Your business is content-driven or super-niched
  • Your marketing goal is expert positioning
  • You need a one-stop shop for services, but don’t always need design
  • You have a budget and need a broad strategy


Most boat owners name their boats. What is the most popular boat name? “Obsession”

About us

LevinsonBlock is a Brooklyn-based healthcare marketing agency that specializes in mid-sized organizations. Our clients include healthcare providers such as FQHCs, disease foundations, and healthcare technology firms.
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