Medium size is never mediocre: Four tips for brand positioning in consulting

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Medium size is never mediocre: Four tips for brand positioning in consulting

November 3, 2022

Whining does not help!

Of course, the MBBs – i.e. McKinsey, BCG and Bain – are as visible in the market as if they accounted for 100%, despite an industry revenue share of just 10%.

Yes, mid-sized consulting players sometimes look like the small trading schooner next to the 20-deck-high AIDA cruise ship in the public and leading media between MBBs and consulting boutiques.

But the fact is: Medium size doesn’t mean mediocrity!

Mid-sized consulting firms have so much to offer: Lots of high-quality expertise and experts. Years of loyal client relationships. Highly effective strategies and tools. And, as a rule, they also have a more individual corporate culture than their large, U.S.-based competitors.

Nevertheless, many often hide their light under a bushel, according to the motto:
We can’t compete with the big guys and the specialists anyway!

“Veto, Your Honor” – I interject here!

It is worthwhile to combine the assets mentioned above into a strong brand and to position it consistently in a pointed manner. Because a strong brand not only brings new clients and up to 20% more sales.

Eva Manger-Wiemann (Cardea AG) and Susane Mathony (Mathony Brand Strategists)
Eva Manger-Wiemann (Cardea AG) and Susane Mathony (Mathony Brand Strategists)

It is also one of the most powerful levers in the war for talent.

For all those who have so far shied away from the effort involved in brand work, here are my insights on successful brand positioning from my two decades in consulting.

Also – or precisely because of the recession – I would like to encourage you

If a Professional Services player already has so much expertise, experience and success “in the can”, it is often only necessary to make specific adjustments to turn it into an effective brand presence.

Often it’s not so much the “what?” as the “how?”.

Below are four specific tips on how to position your assets so that it brings you revenue, clients and top talent.

1. Focus, focus, focus!

Nothing is more important for a strong brand than focusing on what makes it truly distinctive.

Yes, I know: you’ve heard that a thousand times!

But why is it that the websites of many small and medium-sized consultancies still offer the same range of services as those of firms with more than 300 partners?

Why do I still see presentations with slides on dozens of service offerings – represented by less than a dozen partners in DACH?

Razor-sharp focus is a live-or-die criterion, especially for the mid-range.
A brand is there precisely to convey this focus laser-sharp to the outside world.

So if you ask yourself the key question

“What specific problem am I solving for exactly which target audience, and how exactly are we doing it?”

and supported by the entire partnership in unison – you have already made it 70% of the way.

2. Brand is a matter for the C-level!

At the beginning of many a collaboration, I notice: Brand positioning is often on the overflowing “To Do”- list of leadership teams as one of the “less important” pain points. After all, “the most effective way to do this is to delegate it to Marketing. Thus, “the topic is through”.

Wrong. Very wrong, I would like to interject!

Sure, sustainably positioning a consulting brand means work.

The list is long:

Of course, an accomplished marketing team is your best support in these tasks: Structurally as well as in terms of content. From storytelling to playing on the various channels.

But if a leadership team expects marketing to drive brand positioning alone, it won’t get far.

Successful brand positioning stands and falls with the commitment of the company management to the strong brand! Be the credible face of your brand yourself!

3. A living brand is like an expensive thoroughbred horse: both want to be constantly moved and top nourished!

I have also experienced this: a partnership has realized how important a strong brand is. She signs off on the hiring of agencies, has them retext the website as well as optimize the SEO. And finally post on the intranet the new texts for Mission, Vision and maybe even Purpose.

That’s it for brand positioning.


A brand locked in the house is a dead brand!

In the current poly crisis, anyone who does not consistently integrate the fears and concerns of the market and clients into the further development of their own offerings and brand has a problem. He not only misses opportunities for decisive consulting mandates, but also loses the interest of clients in the medium term.

In short:
Brand positioning is business development in the truest sense of the word – and thus a joint task for the entire consultancy. Make your brand an effective (“rescue”) umbrella under which your target audiences will gladly gather.

4. Strong brand positioning needs strong stories and strong opinions

In phases where no one likes to take a stand because the uncertainties about the day after tomorrow are too great, where shitstorms lurk, where the fear of cutbacks and shortages has everyone in its grip, the very word positioning is a bold statement.

That’s why many executives and brand builders now shy away from setting themselves too clearly apart from the rest of the “one-size-fits-all” crowd.

Of course, the fear of a (too) edgy appearance is understandable.

But there are two effective ways in which clear focus and positioning can succeed.

  1. A pointed opinion along with attitude and CEO activism.
  2. Business Storytelling.
    In my experience, a treasure trove of valuable stories and cases lies dormant even in small and medium-sized consultancies. These are just waiting to be lifted.

Best of both:
Professional business storytelling and clear opinions bring your brand to life. They provide the sustainable basis for any market presence. You position your brand with high recognition value. They work in all media and on all channels.

Conclusion: The supposedly huge effort for positioning is not that huge if you effectively use what you already have anyway

As of today, the combination – high inflation, the Russian war of aggression in Ukraine and the consequences of the Corona pandemic – is giving us a global recession. This is how the BDU warns “The consulting climate continues to cool“.

All the more true: put yourself at the helm of the branding work of your “merchant ship”. Feel free to bring experienced brand positioning pilots on board for your routes – because they’re full of shoals, reefs and icebergs. You should avoid these as far as possible.

Keep reminding yourself: Great brand positioning is the collateral benefit of Marketing and business development.

So you can cleverly kill two birds with one stone:

  1. Have the courage to be the face of your brand. People want opinion leaders who have something to say. Be a north star or a lighthouse: provide orientation!
  2. Because brand is a collaborative project, get comrades-in-arms from your consultancy to help you keep your “brand ship” on course. You will be surprised how many people would like to do this with you.

If you are struggling with your brand positioning as a small or medium size consulting firm, let’s have a call. Do profit from my more than two decades strategic Marketing experience in your industry!

Author: Susanne Mathony

Susanne Mathony
Susanne Mathony

The positioning of brands and people are my passion. For more than two decades, I have lived out my calling with CEO positioning, strategic marketing and communications consulting, PR and business storytelling.
Added in 2014 was the Social Media Consulting. Here, the focus is on #SocialCEO and personal branding and positioning of boards and teams on LinkedIn.My home is Professional Services. At GSA and EMEA level, I worked for AlixPartners, Andersen Consulting (now Accenture), Strategy& as well as Russell Reynolds Associates, among others.
As a political scientist and trained journalist, I started my career at a Washington, D.C., think tank.

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