“The only way to stand out from the consulting crowd is with a differentiating brand.”
February 17, 2020
How do you manage to be visible on the market as a consultancy?
Is thought leadership still the means of choice to charge your own brand with competence?
CONSULTING.de spoke with Susanne Mathony, CEO and Founder of Mathony Brand Strategists. She has more than two decades of experience in strategic Marketing and Communication for Accenture, Strategy& and Russell Reynolds Associates, among others.
CONSULTING.de: In your opinion, which consulting firm currently does the best Marketing?
Susanne Mathony: It would be the famous “apple with pears” comparison if you would draw up a ranking for a 36 billion euro market with players of all sizes.
In this respect, Marketing budgets for Germany vary here from a low six-figure volume for a smaller hidden champion consultancy to a high double-digit million amount for the major global players.
Allow me to pick out three Marketing measures as examples:
- There’s employer branding for one thing. Consulting firms are rarely more interchangeable and insecure than in communicating with potential employees. In my opinion, a positive example though is the current advertising campaign of Boston Consulting Group. Here, the team is presented in the limelight PLUS the topic of diversity & inclusion is celebrated. After all, an industry where the proportion of women at the top is still below 15%, has massive pressure to change in the battle for the best female talent. It makes sense to take up the topic authentically in Marketing – if it is meant seriously and is credible.
- Then of course there is social media Marketing. In the past, it was sufficient to leverage classic print media – via the number-driven CEO interview in the FAZ or the consultant profile in “Junior Consultant”. Today, Professional Services Players also have to use all relevant digital channels to reach the various decision-makers and recruiting target groups. A current example is the career podcast “Experience McKinsey”. It has been live since the beginning of February 2020. The podcasts are not only integrated on the corresponding microsite, but are also forwarded directly to Instragram to make consultants even closer. It remains to be seen whether they reach top clients or the purchasing department with Instragram. But the podcasts create relevant content – and their production is also affordable for smaller consultancies.
- Last but not least, there is the authentic imagery and visual world with differentiating power. Kearney is a successful example. During its brand relaunch at the beginning of the year, Kearney announced that in future it would no longer use stock photography altogether but would only use images in publications, on websites and presentations that had been taken by employees. Working with pictures from Getty Images etc. always carries the risk of interchangeability. Therefore, building up an individual imagery can be an important element of the differentiation strategy.
CONSULTING.de: How important is it for consulting firms to be perceived as a distinctive brand in the market?
Susanne Mathony: A little harshly worded: Consulting is becoming more and more a commodity. The only chance to stand out from the crowd of consultants is a differentiating brand. With it you define the place it should take in the minds of your diverse target groups. This is why distinctiveness is the most important characteristic. It is the “face” with which they are perceived on the market and by all relevant stakeholders – from CEOs and supervisory boards to multipliers such as journalists and employees.
Especially in consulting, the following applies: You can’t win a project in a single day. Especially not if you have to go through lengthy and costly purchasing processes. B2B relationships only grow very slowly. They require a lot of care and commitment to build long-term trust. And if they do not respond to this requirement with tailor-made Marketing, they will not really be successful in the medium term.
But the effort for brand building is worth it: client relationships that last a lifetime, new business potential and last but not least an elementary component to survive in the “war for talents”.
CONSULTING.de: Professional Services players are publishing tons of Thought Leadership – aka studies. Is this still the Marketing strategy of choice?
Susanne Mathony: A resounding yes. It’s an intergal part of a well rounded Marketing mix. How can consultancies better prove added value, relevance and expertise to their clients?
Only if consultants prove themselves as ‘pilots’ in uncertain times will they remain important in the medium term. The declination applies: “Content builds relationships. Relationships are based on trust. And trust drives sales”.
Take a look at the study by Professor Fink “Management Consulting 2018”. According to it, “Thought leadership” is the second most important criterion for choosing a consultant. Far ahead of methodological knowledge or pricing. This is – contrary to what is often thought – in penultimate place.
Studies, viewpoints and insights are still “in” with top executive and supervisory boards.
Now the bad news. Decision-makers barely read every third consultant study. Only every fourth study that makes it to their desk actually influences decisions.
CONSULTING.de: Any more tips or aspects one should pay particular attention to still be heard by top decision-makers?
Susanne Mathony: First of all, it is about “fresh ideas”, i.e. a clear view on relevant problems or challenges from really new and different perspectives. Secondly, it is about “forward thinking”. This means identifying and analysing trends at an early stage. And third, reliable data and significantly more than fifty respondents.
About the interviewee:
Susanne Mathony, CEO and Founder of Mathony Brand Strategists.
The international marketing and communications consultant looks back on more than two decades of management experience in the field of professional services. She has worked in EMEA and globally for Accenture, Strategy& and Russell Reynolds Associates, among others.
The trained journalist and political scientist kicked-off her career in a Washington-based think tank.