The power of the human factor in consulting

Op-ed piece on the leading B2B portal with ~ 55.000 readers and ~ 95.000 page views monthly

The power of the human factor in consulting

November 10, 2021

My esteemed ex-colleagues Rolf Fricker and Tobias Handschuh impressively proved: Consulting is a people business.

Rolf and Tobias also proved: People do follow people – in business as well as on social media.

The two partners from EY-Parthenon have strengthened Oliver Wyman‘s Health & Life Sciences Practice since the beginning of November. Previously, five partners including the former CEO Joachim Rotering had already moved here from Strategy&.

Dr. Kai Bender (Country Manager Oliver Wyman) commented on this expansion by saying: “Oliver Wyman is the big winner of the consolidation of the consulting market, a sought-after employer and on an ambitious growth path.”

Particularly exciting for me as a marketer: The accompanying communication. And: What can be learned from this for positioning strategies including the potential of corporate influencers?

What is more important for a consultant positioning: Brand, people or services?

If clients and prospects in the Professional Services ask me:

  • What is the secret to success for effective Professional Services Marketing?
  • Should you focus on a strong brand, specific services or on individuals?

I am frustrated some with my dry answer after 24 years in the industry.

There is no “one size fits all” marketing mix for consulting firms – already because consulting brands have different levels of maturity!

What all brands need, regardless of maturity, is stringent positioning. Why? Because 47% of consultants rate the market perception of their own consulting as only ‘mediocre’. Every second buyer of consulting services finds it difficult to find the right management consultant because a clear differentiation between the consulting firms is missing or not recognizable.

In this context, razor-sharp positioning is worth its weight in gold. Consulting players can generate 20% more revenue through a differentiated brand. With consistent implementation even up to 40%.

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

As brutal as #BeDifferentOrDie may sound: It determines growth or loss of market share. In this power play of differentiation, people – in other words, the human factor – are becoming increasingly decisive.

Corporate influencers are also playing an increasing role in Professional Services

Ikea has them, Otto has them, Deutsche Telekom has them anyway. We’re talking about corporate influencer programs. As early as 2019, 49% of German companies relied on corporate influencers, according to the “Trend Report” by News Aktuell. My guess is: the pandemic has given brand ambassador strategies another massive boost. Today, probably three quarters of all companies have this.

Corporate influencers such as Stephanie Tönjes and Pawel Dillinger (both Deutsche Telekom), Magdalena Rogl (Microsoft) or Anna-Lena Müller (now Siemens) are now familiar to everyone. Why they are so highly superior to paid classic influencers? Through their credibility. While according to “Mindline Media” only 7% of Germans trust (paid) influencers, this is quite different with their own employees.

According to theTrust Barometer 2021, 54% of employees trust their own employer as a credible source. This very special moment of confidence after/in the final phase of the pandemic must be built on. Competence, ethics and values must come together in equal measure.

Especially for strategy consultancies, auditing firms or law firms, this trust is crucial. This is because their offerings and services operate according to completely different laws than those for consumer goods.

There may not (yet) be a second Cawa Younosi (SAP) in Professional Services, but there is no mistaking it: Massive investments have been made in this form of (digital) trust and brand building for around two to three years.

Three reasons for the human factor trend

1. Human-to-human marketing is becoming increasingly important

It positions consultancies not as abstract brands, but the people behind them as ‘consultants of choice’ who are trusted. In other words, the understanding that expertise is not yet a USP, and that services are ultimately an interchangeable commodity, is becoming more and more prevalent.

2. There is no opt-out for digitization

Just as the trend is towards ‘digital delivery‘ – moving sales and pitching from the physical to the digital – this also applies to marketing. Thus, no consultant can rely solely on mailings from his thought leadership as a relationship-building and sales funnel. So he would forgo building his #DigitalReputation as well as the potentiated reach through social media.

3. Differentiated corporate brands remain important, but personal brands have a stronger effect against the ‘Great Resignation

“‘Great Attrition’ or ‘Great Attraction’? The choice is yours! McKinsey describes the great resignation danger. This danger is particularly apparent in Professional Services. It is precisely because people want a sense of belonging to their ‘community’ that the ‘social cement’ and attraction of visible leaders becomes higher.

Trivially related to LinkedIn, this means: Corporate accounts are the duty, personal profiles the freestyle. Because individual postings achieve eight times higher interaction rates. People don’t follow logos, they follow people.

Three lessons to learn from Oliver Wyman’s new hire communications

1. Smart cascading between social CEO and consultants

The thesis of my earlier op-ed “The Highlander or the Musketeers? What applies to consultants on LinkedIn?” was: In order to make a consulting brand widely visible, the Highlander strategy “There can only be one” does not work. It requires the social CEO and many active consultants.

On LinkedIn, they curate their own stories and make it possible to experience in which consulting field they are an expert or which set of values drives them. This way, they flank ‘the one’ and also reach their individual clients and prospects.

Personal Branding on LinkedIn

This is precisely the principle that Oliver Wyman has perfectly applied. First the two new life science partners posted, then the head of Germany. By cascading – Tobias Handschuh on 2/11, Rolf Fricker on 3/11 as well as Dr. Kai Bender on 4/11 – they not only ideally played the algorithm, but also signaled the emphasis:
First the individual, new consultant, then the brand via the social CEO.

2. The underestimated potential for employer branding: Comments on LinkedIn

The coup brought the three of them to a combined total of around 800 likes and 150 comments – and from a very wide circle: ex-colleagues from their Booz days, new Oliver Wyman colleagues and clients. When you compare the amount of money invested with the quarter-page partner promotion ads in FAZ and Handelsblatt that used to be the norm, you have to smile. The one cost 20.000€ and more. The modern form of digital positioning, on the other hand, only takes around three hours.

A look at the LinkedIn comments shows: There is enormous potential for employer branding.

Instead of placing expensive ads with abstract iStock models, “real people” are visible here. No longer does anyone have to deduce from abstract promises in assessment centers what future collaboration in consulting would probably be like. He/she can read what colleagues and ex-colleagues are saying about the new life science partners, and the ‘musketeer connection’ that is evident. You don’t sign on just anywhere, but with the very people whose success story you want to be a part of.

That’s why it makes perfect sense for Dr. Kai Bender to openly recruit more new employees:
Anyone who wants to be part of this success story should contact our recruiting team with confidence.”

3. Strong narrative and authenticity as a formula for success in the future

Everything was also done right in terms of visualization . No retouched professional headshot comes into play here, but completely normal images. The smile makes the two come across as likeable as they are approachable. Obviously, these were shot in the respective office. Here you can see the Oliver Wyman logo, but it doesn’t dominate the message of the image. The indirect message is more reminiscent of Goethe’s “Here I am a human being, here I am allowed to be! “.

That a strong narrative is to emerge here is clear to anyone who puts the texts of the three next to each other. It is no coincidence that the two new partner colleagues choose the phrase ‘growth story‘ and the head of Germany the word ‘growth course‘.

If they are able to live this blend of narrative and authenticity in future posts, they will become successful corporate influencers for their Health & Life Sciences Practice. It remains exciting.

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.

Our news articles that might interest you:

Eva Manger-Wiemann (Cardea AG) und Susane Mathony (Mathony Brand Strategists)
With differentiated positioning and a strong brand, consulting firms can generate 20% more revenue.
Susanne Mathony - Beratungsmarken positionieren
The battle of the consulting brands: Pole position vs. the niche? Commentary on the consulting study by Prof. Fink
Personal Branding auf LinkedIn
The Highlander or the Musketeers? What applies to consultants on LinkedIn?