What's the difference between a digital product studio and a digital agency?

We explore the main differences between these two, often confused, types of company.
Written by
James Bloor
Published on
August 3, 2022
What's the difference between a digital product studio and a digital agency?

Businesses are overwhelmed by choice when it comes to finding organisations claiming to be able to help them develop and promote their products online.

Two popular options are digital product studios and digital agencies, but there are key differences between the two that are important to understand. In this post, we'll explore the main differences between a digital product studio and a digital agency or digital marketing agency.

What is a digital product studio?

A digital product studio is a specialised organisation that helps entrepreneurs and companies bring their product ideas to life.

Their focus is on the design and development of digital products, and they work closely with clients to help them navigate the complex process of bringing a product to market.

Teams at digital product studios typically include strategists, experience designers, product designers, software engineers, testers, and product managers.

What is a digital agency or digital marketing agency?

A digital agency or digital marketing agency is a more generalist organisation that provides a wider range of digital services, including design, development, and marketing.

They may offer product design and development services, but their focus is often on promoting products that have already been created. Teams at digital agencies or digital marketing agencies may include designers and web designers, web developers, and digital marketers providing SEO, PPC, and social media marketing.

So, what are the main differences?

Focus

The main difference between a digital product studio and a digital agency is their focus.

Digital product studios are focused solely on designing and developing digital products, while digital agencies and digital marketing agencies have a broader focus.

To use a medical analogy, digital product studios are the ‘surgeons’ whereas digital agencies are the ‘general practitioners'. Both are skilled in their own right, but the level of specialism and focus is vastly different.

Services offered

As a result of their different focuses, digital product studios and digital agencies offer different services.

Digital product studios typically offer a narrow range of services dedicated to launching and optimising digital products – such as research, experience design, product design, software development, user testing, sophisticated product management, and 24/7 support. Services such as enterprise hosting are normally provided through partners like AWS and Azure.

Digital agencies and digital marketing agencies, on the other hand, often provide a wider range of services spanning the digital marketing mix - including design, development, SEO, PPC, digital PR, social media management, web support, basic hosting, and so on.

Because their services are somewhat complementary, digital product studios often refer work to digital agencies and vice versa.

Approach

The approach of digital product studios and digital agencies also differs. Digital product studios take a partnership approach, working closely with clients to bring their product ideas to life. They typically work in ‘product release cycles’, and use processes that require lots of expertise and experience, such as Design Thinking and Agile software development.

Their teams are often small and nimble, and assembled to meet the bespoke needs of the partnership.

Digital agencies and digital marketing agencies provide services to clients on a retainer or project-by-project basis. Whilst the good ones work closely with clients to build out longer-term strategies, many do not. Work is typically delivered in a ‘big bang launch’ followed by ongoing support and optimisation. Their teams are generally larger, and because the work follows similar patterns for each client, it can be shared amongst the team.

Expertise

Another key difference between digital product studios and digital agencies is expertise.

Digital product studios have a very deep understanding of the product design and development process, because that’s where their expertise has focused. They have entrepreneurial cultures, driven by innovation. Teams are generally formed of specialists who’ve gained experience in other fields.

There are no educational or experience barriers to starting work in a digital agency or digital marketing agency. It’s known as being a fun, energetic and ‘work hard, play hard’ culture. Teams are passionate about doing good work.

Wrapping up

When choosing between a digital product studio and a digital agency, it's important to consider the focus, services offered, approach, and expertise of each option. The right choice will depend on the specific needs of your business and the product you are trying to bring to market.

Photograph of team working together
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