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What’s the Difference? Strategic Marketing Consultants and Agencies vs. Fractional CMOs

What’s the Difference? Strategic Marketing Consultants and Agencies vs. Fractional CMOs

Marketing can feel like the world’s biggest experiment. The corner store doesn’t have the same marketing needs as a mid-sized business, and isn’t even playing the same game as enterprise-level companies. What does this mean for your marketing?

It means that there’s no one-size-fits-all approach, magic pill, or easy button. To succeed you need a custom plan tailored to your business with an expert guide to back it. But, finding the right marketing expertise is often the first challenge.

What to Consider When Searching for Marketing Expertise

Should you hire an in-house marketing leader? Or should you tap the expertise of an outside consultant or agency? (And are there any other options you should consider?)

Hiring a full-time employee to lead your marketing strategy is a great option, if you can afford the investment (salary, bonus, and benefits), can recruit the right talent, and also have a budget to activate the strategies this leader will develop. For many growing businesses, the need for marketing leadership emerges well before the justification for the full-time role. Companies at this stage need to find expertise on a more flexible basis.

Most marketing consultants and agencies offer some level of strategic planning. But most have a niche of some sort – whether that be digital, public relations, branding, or advertising – and their strategic plan is likely to lean heavily on the marketing channels and strategies they know best.

There is a third category of marketing leadership that is proving to be a strong fit for growing businesses. Fractional CMOs provide internal leadership on a part-time, flexible basis and help organizations bridge the gap between the need for marketing leadership to the justification for the full-time role.

How, specifically, are Fractional CMOs different than agencies or strategic marketing consultants?

Differences in Approach

The biggest difference between a strategic marketing consultant, marketing agency, and fractional CMO is the scope of work they’re willing to take on and the level of involvement they have over the course of the engagement.

Marketing consultants and agencies typically have a hands-off approach. They work outside of your team to help develop marketing strategies, plans, and review/assess current programs. Then they deliver the results and recommendations to a key contact on your team. They may also provide some project-level support, based on their unique strengths (research, content, digital, brand, etc.).

In contrast, A fractional CMO works from inside your team using a hands-on approach. From within your team, they work to integrate strategy and tactical execution and hold accountability as the marketing leader for your organization. This means two things:

  1. They hold an official role at your company and provide leadership, optimize your marketing strategy, establish a growth plan, manage all facets of execution, and are accountable for budget and ROI.
  2. A fractional CMO is in it for longer than a marketing consultant and is invested in the success of the overall marketing program, not just a single aspect of it.

The Overlap

Whether you prefer a hands-on or hands-off approach, both can help you develop an effective marketing strategy.

These experts can focus on your marketing while you concentrate on other parts of your business. They’ll also leverage the expertise they’ve gained from helping successful businesses like yours create and implement marketing plans and position their companies in the market.

A marketing consultant or fractional CMO can also help you in three key areas:

  1. Analyze your marketing goals, business plan, and current company direction to help you understand if your efforts will help you reach your targets.
  2. Correctly position your company’s messaging to leave a deeper impact in the minds of your prospects.
  3. Develop a marketing strategy to reach your business goals and provide complete direction for implementing this strategy.

If your marketing feels like it’s losing steam or you’re ready to embark on a new stage of growth, then hiring a marketing expert isn’t just smart, it’s essential.

Fractional CMOs Only

We’ve discussed the difference in approaches and the overlapping skill sets that marketing consultants, marketing agencies, and fractional CMOs share. But, what’s the true difference between the groups?

Only a fractional CMO can provide high-level leadership for and collaboration with your team. Since fractional CMOs assume a title and role at your company, they are a visible and accountable leader that your team can look to for direction.

An outside marketing consultant or agency can’t fix internal issues that prevent their strategy from being effective, nor should they. Whereas a fractional CMO is part of your team, they have an inside view of your sales, marketing, financial, and executive teams empowering them to help fix issues that could get in the way of your goals. They’ll also be there to guide you through the implementation and integration of your strategy, instead of moving on once your check clears.

If you choose to work with an Authentic Fractional CMO, you get another key advantage: A CMO trained in our proven Authentic Growth Methodology, which brings focus, alignment, and business rigor (not just creative thinking) to your marketing efforts to power revenue results.

Which Is Right for You?

Choosing the right type of marketing help is key to achieving next-level growth. Now that you understand your options, how will you decide what is best for your business?

Analyze the current state of your business with the following questions:

  1. Do you have marketing leadership? Or is your current marketing led by your CEO, Founder, President, or Head of Sales? Perhaps you have a rising star on your team that would benefit from strategic mentorship and development.
  2. What are the reasons you are considering marketing help? Is your current marketing program ineffective? Is it difficult for you to understand the ROI of your efforts, or how marketing is influencing revenue results?
  3. Is your business experiencing “random acts of marketing” rather than strategic, thoughtful, integrated, and consistent marketing execution?
  4. Do you need hands-on direction and guidance for implementing the various components of your marketing strategy?

These questions can help you analyze your business and understand exactly how much help you need to keep growing and reach your goals.

Don’t Trust Generic Marketing Solutions

When it comes to marketing, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution. But there’s one thing that’s true for all businesses. Your marketing strategy will have a direct impact on the sustainability of your growth over time.

Don’t leave your company’s future up to chance. Schedule a consultation, and we’ll walk you through the best next step for your company’s marketing.



  • Authentic®

    Authentic® is a national fractional CMO firm, serving clients across the United States and beyond. We were early pioneers in our industry, and continue to set the standard for fractional CMO excellence. Our unique approach combines Marketers + Methodology + Mindshare to help growing businesses Overcome Random Acts of Marketing® and increase maturity, growth, and transferrable value. We are Authentic Fractional CMOs™ Tested. Trusted. True Executives.

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