What is a digital agency?

by | Sep 17, 2019 | Information Technology

If you are looking for a company that can help you with your website, online strategy, digital marketing or for building an application then you are the shack. Because a short search will immediately confront you with many different terms. From digital marketing agency to web agency. From web design agency to advertising agency. Many concepts. Often also accompanied by adjectives. But what is a digital agency? And how does a digital agency differ from a creative agency?

You can find the most diverse names for companies that ‘do something with digital’. That can be service providers working in the field of digital marketing, IT infrastructure, website development or website design or the development of customized software. And the great thing is: there is no clear definition for many of those terms.

The term ‘digital agency’ is thus widely used. In the United State too. Even internationally there is a big difference in use. So it’s time for a clear outline. For once and for all.

Digital fields
To arrive at a clear definition, we first examine the services of similar companies. These agencies (or company or studios or consultants, or whatever they call themselves) have one thing in common; they work in one or more of the following (professional) areas:

  • Strategy (for example advice, research, planning)
  • Design (UX design, visual design, concept)
  • Technology (development, infrastructure, data)
  • Advertising (promotion, PR, marketing services)

Specialism and accents
But with a list of services you are not there yet. Because the differences in name are precisely the relationship between these areas, the specialty, or accents that an agency places within the service to customers. The DDA, the digital agency industry association, uses the following definition:

“Digital agencies are not consultancy clubs (who advise on the digital domain), nor are they advertising agencies (who partly broadcast their communications via the digital channel). We are makers. Builders. Inventors.”

Not a really clear definition yet. Although inventors sound cool. We can already describe two types of agency that are certainly not covered by the definition:

Consulting agency
Consultancy firms are not digital agencies. The focus within these companies is primarily on research and strategy. And although the service sometimes goes far beyond advice, it is the core of the service.

Advertising agency
Advertising agencies have of course also increasingly focused on digital channels in recent years. Nevertheless, the focus within these types of companies is usually more on marketing, marketing communication, PR and often also graphic design. Both off and online channels are used for this. Often the services that a digital agency offers are also offered. Although an advertising agency will also collaborate with partners in this field to realize these projects.

Reasoning further this way, quite a number of agencies and types of companies occur that offer the services of a digital agency but are not. By also looking at the type of clients and looking at the business model you could come to the following classification.

Design agency (Design Agency, Branding Agency)
Design agencies are active in the field of concept and design. This can be both digital and printed matter. Branding is often a part of the services, just like advice and strategy within the field. We work with partners for technical implementation or advertising. Design is the core business of a design agency.

Interactive agency (Interactive Agency, Crossmedia Agency)
An interactive agency is working on digital experiences at the interface of innovative technology, design and multimedia. Clients are often advertising agencies. Sometimes complete sites are delivered. Often the emphasis is on a certain element within a site or campaign. Video and motion design are regularly part of the work.

Engineering Agency (Web development, Software Agency, technical web agency)
Development, technology and code. These agencies focus purely on the underlying technology of digital solutions. Think of the more technically complex projects. Various code languages, tools, systems, techniques and platforms are used for this. Strategic advice is also sometimes provided. This is then limited to issues in the field of technology.

Design Innovation
Agencies that focus on design innovation use design and knowledge to develop innovative products and ideas. These can also be digital solutions. In many cases, all areas are used to develop prototypes and ideas, but the main emphasis is on strategy and design.

Creative Agency (Creative Agency)
A creative agency is a fairly generic name. You will find the name in totally different branches and within a variety of fields. This blog naturally refers to an agency that focuses exclusively on digital (end) products. The work is similar to that of an advertising agency: copy, concept, strategy, marketing and production. But only on digital (usually internet) channels. Usually a creative agency focuses more on the visual and creative aspects. Technology and strategy are secondary.

Digital Marketing Agency
Digital Marketing Agencies work on online marketing campaigns, Search Engine Optimization (SEO), Search Engine Advertising (SEA), conversion optimization, e-mail marketing and lead generation. Strategy and Advertising are the most important spearheads. On a technical level, a lot of use is made of existing solutions. Projects always have a marketing objective and are often campaign-based.

Of course the above list of companies and names is not complete. But it does provide a good picture of where the differences lie between companies that work in the online, web or digital field.

What is a Digital Agency?
With the above segmentation, we at least know what a digital agency is not. According to Ravi Mann, President of the Austin digital marketing agencyCreative Peppers Inc“, the definition of a digital agency is:

“A company that offers creative, strategic and technical development of screen-based products and services.”

That might be a bit short through the bend. And from 2008. Certainly in view of the developments in recent years and more and more specialist approach of agencies.

In addition to the above definition and in comparison with the other types of agencies, a digital agency focuses on more complex digital projects where different disciplines come together.

The focus is on the construction of platforms or products. A digital agency often plays a role in setting up and implementing a digital strategy for their customers. Given the nature of the projects, customer relationships are often long-term.

Projects can have a marketing or business objective. Due to differences in emphasis in services or expertise, you can also distinguish between ‘normal’ digital agencies, full service digital agencies and digital product agencies.

Full Service Digital Agency
A full service digital agency distinguishes itself first and foremost by the size of a ‘normal’ digital agency. It is often the larger companies within the industry.

Within these companies, the focus is more on marketing objectives and large campaigns. Despite the fact that all disciplines are covered and all disciplines are in-house, a large part of the turnover comes in most cases from advertising.

Digital Product Agency
A digital product agency has the same competences as a ‘normal’ digital agency. What distinguishes these companies is that they focus more on the development of digital products for customers or themselves. Think of plugins, chatbots, Software as a Service (SAAS), etc.

Many types of companies are engaged in the development of digital products or services. And there will be more and more. Due to the rapid development of the discipline and market, a concrete definition is sometimes difficult. Also because there are more and more specializations and applications of ‘digital’.

This overview is therefore not exhaustive, but mainly aims to provide insight into the differences and similarities between companies that are active at the intersection of IT, business, data, internet, digital marketing and software.

And are you looking for a digital agency? You are welcome at Creative Peppers Inc! With a friendly team of developers, designers and strategists, we work on added value for our customers every day.