Marketing trends in consulting: Why you should not drive every cow through the village

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

Marketing trends in consulting: Why you should not drive every cow through the village

May 31, 2022

Do you know the bell curve of Carl Friedrich Gauss?

When it comes to spreading trends, the bell curve is a popular discussion in marketing studies. There are the brave early adopters. At some point, the mainstream will come. And you are well advised not to be one of the Hazards. These adapt trends only after they have already passed. Just like everyone wears white sneakers even with a dark business outfit. Even if it looks more like Bad Wörrishofen than Milan: It’s hip right now.

The question “hot or not” or “successfully differentiated” versus “generically faceless” applies not only to trends in fashion, the latest tech product, but also to professional services Marketing.
A communication strategy or a positioning that was supposed to be “trendy” flops once in a while. Just as the saying goes: “He who is late is punished by life.

Three areas where it is better not to drive every cow through the village.

1. Personal branding from the lego construction kit

Were you on LinkedIn last Thursday? Father’s Day flooded the feed with dozens of posts from proud dads – at least 70% of them with pictures of their own kids. Honestly, this is crossing the line for me – also because I’m unsure if the kids were asked for permission.

Where does this trend come from? It is a downside of the increasing professionalization of personal branding. The professional services industry has also invested heavily in this area during the pandemic. Thus, marketing departments as well as top decision-makers have not only long known what achieves high reach, but they also work with content marketing calendars. They make consistent use of external events – whether it’s the WEF in Davos, the IAA or Father’s Day.

Of course, ideas are easier to find that way. The only annoyance is when hundreds of people use the identical narrative in parallel. The supposedly individual personal brand quickly looks like something out of a Lego construction set.

For example, individual consultancies not only put up one post from their CEOs/country managers from the World Economic Summit last week, but went live with up to four, five posts daily. Some of them not only messed with the LinkedIn algorithm – i.e. cannibalized their own reach – but also with the interest of their followers.

2. Thought leadership in “me too” mode

Russia’s brutal war of aggression on Ukraine initially caused an unusual silence in the external communication of the consulting and auditing industry. Then firsts ventured out with personal, emotionally-charged LinkedIn posts.

After the shock period ended, webinars on the economic implications followed. Subsequently, all relevant players launched their thought leadership and sought their way into the media.

Of course, it makes sense to react to current events. The catch: if such webinars or studies are not truly differentiating and with a clear point of view, they quickly position themselves as “me too.” For example, a strategy consulting firm or a Big Four firm is also in the mix, but does not distinguish itself from clients, the press, or employer branding.

Thought Leadership: One in 3 CEOs rates consultant studies as 'mediocre', 'poor' or even 'very poor'.
Thought Leadership: One in 3 CEOs rates consultant studies as ‘mediocre’, ‘poor’ or even ‘very poor’.

During the pandemic, the same phenomenon occurred: white papers on digitization or ruptured supply chains were teeming. Unfortunately, only a few made it into the Tier 1-media.

My advice: Just skip topics and trends that don’t have a perfect fit with your brand. If you don’t have profound expertise and a customized offering for a current problem, you don’t need to launch a study on it.

Trendy is the opposite of profound. And as a Visible Expert, you always want to be the latter.

3. PR that backs the wrong horse

I had my ‘come to Jesus’ moment in PR in the early 2000’s as a spokesperson for Booz. That’s when I tried to achieve a placement in a diversity special of FAZ.

The editor liked my scribble for the offered byliner. Also because they noticed my passion for the topic ‘Women in Consulting’. Nevertheless, this ended up in the wastebasket. His reasoning: “On your website I find only one woman at partner level and extremely few women at principal level. I don’t buy that you promote women extensively.”

I think of this every time I read diversity interviews from Professional Services. The Big Four have already managed to bring more women to the top. Examples such as Julie Teigland (EY) or Petra Justenhoven (PWC) prove it.
At the classic strategy consultancies, however, you hardly ever see a woman as a country manager. However, when male CEOs give diversity interviews, credibility gaps arise. And this does more harm to a brand than good.

You can find more information to this topic:

If female leaders exist in-house, they should occupy this topic in press relations, describing the “truth, and nothing but the truth“. Because greenwashing falls on your toes when it comes to employer branding at the latest. The same is true for purpose topics.

Five practical tips on how to keep weak cows in the barn.

1. Be a pointed pebble instead of a round pebble

More than every second interview brings no more than three lines in the leading medium. Where does the disparity come from with intensive in-house preparation and at least 30 minutes from a country manager or senior partner?
In my experience, pebbles are ground here until they are round. But only the square brings coverage.

Before your next interview on a trending topic, use these two tricks:

  1. Think in terms of headlines, in other words: Would Handelsblatt make one of your central quotes its header?
  2. Forget generalities like “Germany urgently needs to digitize“. Hundreds before you have put it that way. Either outline concrete solutions or think against the grain.

2. Stay close to business

Of course, personal nuances help alongside technical content. So storytelling is a good strategy: Brand stories by people for people create connectedness. Perhaps you might want to check the tips in my op-ed: “Modern storytelling: What consultants can learn from cowboys“?

But storytelling is not a free pass to turn LinkedIn into Facebook. Yes, unfortunately, the reach of personal posts is now higher than that of pure business content. Nevertheless, especially at the C-level, personal content should not make up more than 10% in the mix.

The same applies to press relations: Bunte and GALA may use homestories to make people (supposedly) approachable. But business leaders better keep their hands off it.

3. Be crisis-proof

Maybe you stumbled across the video of ex-“Höhle der Löwen” juror Frank Thelen the week before last? It went viral how a critical inquiry from a reporter at journalism startup Flip sent him running for the hills at OMR.

What does that mean for you? Be prepared when you decide to differentiate pointedly. At a minimum, professional media training is part of this, as is a continuously updated crisis Q&A.

But the Tier 1-media will love you for your snappy quotes.

4. Rethink your authenticity concept

Opinions are divided about authenticity. Some call it the ‘strongest currency in communication,’ quoting Herbert’s Grönemeyer “And man is called man because he errs and because he struggles.”
Others – such as Thomas Knüwer – say: “Authenticity is the stoned sister-in-law of customer satisfaction“.

If you do read my op-ed “Authenticity: Why the hype around it in marketing is dangerous ” you know which side I’m on in this debate.

Susanne Mathony - Authentic CEO Posturing

Here I do confess: I am a big fan of carefully ‘curated authenticity’, i.e. well-dosed glimpses into the personal inner world. Now, some people will probably cry out and say that people like the ex-presidential couple Obama, for example, have proven the great magnetic effect of authenticity.

I counter that: Both of them have prepared their speeches super intensively. They ‘acted’ highly professional – as trained persons, not as authentic natural talents.

5. Stand for your values and attitude

Without values, everything is nothing. Not in life. Not in strategic positioning. In times of crisis, war and climate change– people are looking for orientation more than ever. Brands need their own North Star if they want to be one.

This value orientation has a double effect. For one thing, people buy from people. They significantly prefer to do so from value-driven brands. On the other hand, this deep anchoring in one’s own attitude prevents one from frantically chasing after every trend.

Conclusion: Some trends are good, some you can just wave through

The top league in professional services in particular should always ask itself the question: Does a new trend fit the industry and its own positioning? Or would one be hip, but violate the – partly unspoken – industry laws?

Let’s have a call if you are looking for a Marketer with more than two decades of experience in the industry. Together we will find out which Marketing trend and strategy is hot – and which is not.

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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