Promise more and deliver better

Business consulting firms need to shift their understanding of brands

What’s so tragic about this lack of understanding among services firms is that brand has become a more powerful factor than ever in the sector. few service players know how much influence their brand has on their clients’ buying behavior. At the same time. When it comes to weighing options. consolidation among large players has clients considering whether their business would be better handled by the biggest and best: global organizations that keep expanding to offer everything they could possibly outsource. taking years of experience with them. is based on old mental models and the desire to keep on conducting business as usual. two things need to change. business consulting firms must rethink their prejudices about brand. brand is still poorly leveraged and understood With business consulting firms competing more than ever for client attention and loyalty. a brand’s ability to provide a competitive advantage is minimal to non-existent. The truth is that brand drives value in business consulting. clients see the emergence of boutique players who are walking away from large players. The perception that other drivers of choice (price. human centered nature of their sector. services. one might assume that professional service leaders would be hard at work positioning their corporate brands to ensure differentiation. In business consulting. rather than a driver of value for the company. In business consulting. As a consequence. Second. Unfortunately. brand was driving 30-40 percent of client choice behavior. they often rely heavily on the application of mass market branding techniques without . The results indicate that in some categories of their business. Many of these clients are keenly aware of professional service firms’ desires to reinvigorate their pipelines and clients frequently find themselves in a position of great power over the services they choose and their ability to demand more for less. so do buyers’ perceptions of value in the business consulting sector. it tends to be considered a marketing expense. clients see a sector in flux. Build powerful business consulting brands through people For brand to be a driver of choice. relevance and credibility. On the one hand.Interbrand | Pg. Remarkably. business consulting firms must take advantage of the high-touch. clients also feel a fresh openness to weighing new options against their triedand-true provider. When it is acknowledged as a component of the organization’s presence in the market. On the other hand. Interbrand recently helped a global services client quantify the impact of the brand on customer choice. experience and quality) are separate and untouched by brand. this is not the case. First. In a world where not-for-profits. When services firms do prioritize their brand. arts organizations and other business-to-business firms are reaping the benefit of innovative brand programs. the time has come for business consulting firms to re-examine their outdated belief systems. the importance of brand often goes unrecognized. 2 Promise more and deliver better: Business consulting firms need to shift their understanding of brands by Josh Feldmeth As economic conditions shift. Clients that have put projects on hold are tentatively reaching out to services firms to re-start initiatives. and offering it up faster and cheaper.

Similar reviews have been conducted in accounting. along with the inevitable impact on your business. Market by market brand performance data is mapping marketing spend data across their communications mix. Why is branding so poorly understood in business consulting? At first glance. Here. This isn’t isolated to engineering firms. shift mental models Business consulting firms must shift their thinking. internal brand engagement will be an essential driver of success and a key component of the firm’s brand model. In the traditional model. When it comes to understanding brands. and is rarely linked to business performance or individual behaviors and their ability to produce business results. described with dense industry-specific terminology and technical jargon. more than 40 leading global engineering firms were audited to assess their brandbuilding efforts. it is disconnected from the brand program. While a journey with no destination is hard to justify. uses a value-based system to manage the brand’s contribution to corporate strategy initiatives. .to a shift in thinking Reputation is only one part of the brand experience: Relationships contribute to reputation. Will the experience of their brand insulate the firm from the reputational damage of Tiger’s monster duck hook? 2. resulting in a clear picture of ROI and the insight required to ensure share responses Hays. it is an “un-word. Brand as a way of working. these engineering firms almost universally use the brand in a way that is opposite of its intent. One of the few services companies that actively build a comprehensive brand rather than passively preserving a reputation: a consistent and winning culture. or accept the inevitable erosion of value and relationships are critical. they are embedding it into their go-tomarket strategy and culture. Reputation and brand are similar. the firm rejects the notion of a brand.Promise more and deliver better: Business consulting firms need to shift their understanding of brands Interbrand | Pg. It’s human nature to avoid change and rely on existing models. While reputation is both a corporate and individual responsibility. Brand is a strategic business asset: Business consulting firms have always struggled to harness their intellectual capital and have invested billions into internal knowledge management systems to leverage this asset. But after convincing the firm’s leadership to allocate a substantial short-term investment to the brand. with milestones of success and specific outcomes in mind. Randstad. A second mental model is one in which brands are viewed much like insurance it’s something the firm must spend money on. Brand teams that launch a new idea and visual system with a splashy event suffer when these point-in-time activities lead to brand as a superficial project with a beginning and end. which is reinforced through communications and branded experiences. Leadership must commit to building its brand over the long-term – make it clear that brand is never going away. To build understanding. To break through via human relationships. 3 sufficient thought to their relevance to business consulting. even compelling research findings and a case for urgent change can’t prod the services firm to fund the brand effort further. or to seeing brand as an expense rather than a driver of value. The accountants and architects go back to managing their relationships to save the firm’s reputation. And yet. Brand has become a tool to suggest similarities rather than point out unique qualities and differences. The third way of thinking about brand sets it out as an exciting project. These behaviors – both client relevant and competitively distinctive – will not only preserve reputation. feeling as though their contributions will go nowhere. and brand can help isolate which behaviors make relationships more valuable to the highest priority customers. After defining how their brand will create value. the firm refers to its reputation. since individuals tend to believe that their approach to relationships is sacrosanct. which the leadership and/or partners of the firm passionately guard and honor. In a sector so concerned about competitive pressures and commoditization of services. In a recent study conducted by Interbrand. business leaders create a consistent brand experience by insisting on set of behaviors from everyone in the firm.. An analysis of their external communication and brand experience revealed shockingly homogenized propositions: visually undifferentiated.” removed from the lexicon of the business. since short-term results aren’t immediately produced. law and HR consulting. and in every case. drop in price that your brand is able to command. and positioned with service offerings so similar that the descriptions of one firm could have been interchanged for those of the next. has a long-term plan. Spend on brand is chalked up to the necessary costs of doing business. Brand teams that launch a new idea and visual system with a splashy event suffer when these point-in-time activities lead to brand as a superficial project with a beginning and end. but not the same. Brand is an expense. Many an enthusiastic CMO has put together a company-wide brand team. a brand program should require at least several years’ commitment. Decision making is instead influenced by whether or not the brand can deliver on that promise and drive business success. but will drive client loyalty and price premium. there are three mental models that prevail. some business consulting leaders may disagree with the assertion that brand is not understood in their organization. that’s precisely the problem – their efforts to make an impression through a mass-media promise are only one component of a strong brand and may not always make an impact on decision making. and they grudgingly provide some investment. They will build a compelling brand proposition around the strategic growth agenda and put metrics in place to manage success and return. Example Accenture. our insights yield similar recommendations: differentiate. Inspired participants become cynics. hoping to drive a long-term shift in thinking. and rely on existing models. Brand is a special project. the world’s number two staffing and talent services company.” And now the strength of the Accenture brand will be put to test. . another leading talent services provider. Leaders in the future will treat brand in the same way. As a proxy. Easier said than done – changing mental models is nothing short of challenging. thoughtleadership IP and power communications all aligned around a clear promise of “high performance. 3.. Some leaders would assert that they have consistent visual and verbal expressions and proudly boast high-quality advertising campaigns. all of which serve as an impediment to understanding and leveraging brands: From current mental models 1: Reputation is everything.

consistent approaches to business challenges. Mid-size firms fear they will be lost in the category. this narrow application fails to leverage the very best of the firm – its people – as well as its ability to prove the brand’s power to deliver on its promises. From understanding to engagement Any efforts to build a strong business consulting firm begin with understanding: What brands and branding means. Commoditization of services puts pressure on every kind of firm. returns are inevitable There are substantial benefits to using internal brand engagement as an approach to building a stronger business consulting brand. Whatever the size of the firm. its employees recognize precisely why their brand different and what role they play in emphasizing that every day through the touchpoints that matter. Big firms are getting bigger – and may appear unwieldy to clients. Internal engagement also drives efficiency – where consistency can be improved. ! . This can also lead to downward pressure on pricing. With ease comes speed of replication and distribution. For business consulting. ■ Benefits of business consulting brand engagement programs Strengthen the employer brand. Knowing precisely what matters to your highest value clients will enable leaders to make smarter decisions about service offerings. what opportunities a strong brand presents and why it is relevant to everyone at an individual level. great ideas are developed to fulfil targeted needs and applications. Employees who are selected based on behavioral alignment with the brand are more likely to stay. it only serves to clutter the marketplace and erode the value of the services for everyone. firms expand their service offerings. brand has often been limited to the promise: acquiring customers through communications and marketing campaigns. who have a uniquely critical role in attracting the talent necessary to make the brand experience second to none. Clarify points of differentiation and improve service delivery efficiency. have the courage to both promise and deliver Engagement means involving employees in delivering a specific. Small players who are unable to offer full service capabilities won’t compete with the biggest. but have to focus their offering and challenge others on price and agility. When service offering changes are perceived as reactive measures or don’t fit the brand. Competitive pressures Acquiring. When a firm undertake a brand engagement program. This helps employees recognize the way in which collaboration adds value to the broader external experience (as well as the value of collaboration to internal efficiency). and includes learning experiences with specific objectives and outcomes. via the touchpoints that matter most. successful client relationships. Increase collaboration and evolve services Engagement programs prioritize idea generation throughout the organization as well as IP development.Promise more and deliver better: Business consulting firms need to shift their understanding of brands Interbrand | Pg. and ensure that what they do offer is seen as worthy of a premium. there is no off-the-shelf solution). Attracting the right new talent is also critical as workforce demographics continue to shift. and the transition from thinking about reputation to thinking about the larger brand experience can be smooth when done strategically and comprehensively: • A strategic internal brand engagement program utilizes brand as a strategic tool to achieve specific. It requires involvement from leadership to the most junior positions. Industry consolidation threatens firms of all sizes. Great opportunities can be missed. Of course. and more efficient. it is easier than ever for leaders to advance thinking in their areas of expertise. As the industry consolidates. To build brand value. However. time and money are saved and both the firm and the client stand to benefit. but these industry leaders often have the ability to take clients with them upon departure. brand-centric cultures. Using internal brand engagement to improve the value of the brand is a natural fit for business consulting. When brands drive decisions and behaviors. In business consulting. not only are brilliant minds critical to success. attempting to prove that they can do anything and everything. building and retaining top talent is an ongoing challenge. speed may reduce the likelihood that firms can leverage thinking to drive innovation and use it broadly across the firm. By changing perceptions and shifting mental models. Whereas traditional branding tools may help firms set out new promises to the market in a shiny new campaign. • A comprehensive internal brand engagement program means that every function in the services firm must play a role in delivering on what the brand promises. As mental models shift. Rapid replication of IP and innovation can be hard to capture and leverage. 4 Any efforts to build a strong business consulting firm begin with understanding. This takes brand out of the sales and acquisition role (closely tied to marketing) and puts it in everyone’s hands. including human resources. Employees benefit professionally from an internal brand engagement program via development opportunities. a firm can begin to move from “thinking” to “doing. over and over again. desired customer experience. Their increasing aggressiveness puts others on the defensive. employees will be empowered to act in a way that supports a focused and differentiated brand promise. Ensure clear differentiation and command a premium. When a services firm uses brand as a filter for product and service innovation. employees will be open to seeing their notions of branding shift. an internal brand engagement program can help produce real results. where high-touch relationships are critical. long-term goals (that is. employees will be able to focus on what matters most as well – both in terms of the service offering itself and the way in which it is delivered. Moreover.” That’s where internal brand engagement comes in. Through social media. Strong employer brands are of the products of cohesive.

Josh has led project teams working with some of North American and Europe’s best brands. Since joining Interbrand in 2002. from strategy through creative creates business value. interbrand. Josh ensure that everything we do for clients. He helps colleagues and clients understand the mechanics of how brands create value and where capital should be deployed to maximize that value.Josh Feldmeth Josh Feldmeth is Chief Executive Officer of Interbrand’s New York Creating and managing brand value TM .

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