Elixirr's Ellie Duffus on building a challenger consultancy brand

20 October 2017 Consultancy.uk 6 min. read
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Elixirr, a UK headquartered consulting firm, was recently named by the Financial Times as Europe’s third fastest growing consultancy. Rhydian Fairfax, a consultant at EMR – a recruitment consultancy for the marketing profession – sat down with Ellie Duffus, Elixirr’s marketing lead, to discuss how marketing has played its part in the firm’s explosive growth. In this article, Fairfax reflects on the key takeaways.

At the highest levels of marketing, strategy is vital. Experience of creating and overseeing a successful marketing strategy is number one on the list when organisations are looking for a new senior marketer. Ellie Duffus described how Elixirr’s marketing strategy began and how it evolved.

“For us it was (and still is actually!) all about brand. Perception is everything and for us as a young, challenger brand, it was vital that we created a strong identity, a distinct personality. So the first thing we did when I joined was start a rebranding project (from Elix-IRR to Elixirr) and we spent a lot of time solidifying our positioning, our messaging and designing the framework behind the brand. We were crystal clear on what we wanted to be famous for, so it was pretty easy really!”

“Today, we’re all about building our audience in the relevant places. We’re very proud of our strong engagement rates – our messages and our thinking are really resonating in the market. So, now we’re focussed on increasing the audience they reach, with an additional focus on the US, as our business is growing fast over there too. We feel like we’re at a bit of a tipping point, and it’s an extremely exciting time.

Elixirr’s Ellie Duffus on building a challenger brand

Culture eats strategy for breakfast

It was clear when meeting with Ellie that the culture and values of Elixirr are of the upmost importance and reverberate through the whole organisation. One of their mottos is “Culture eats strategy for breakfast”. Following on from this, it is easy to understand why their marketing strategy revolves around their values: delivering beyond expectations, entrepreneurialism, collaboration and creating a legacy.

Ellie focuses on storytelling - making sure Elixirr’s vision, values and expertise are heard and this takes precedence over which marketing channels are used.

“Does it really matter which marketing channels you use as long as you tailor your story to the channel? I really feel like if you can inspire an aspiration, an ambition in the people you are trying to reach, you can create an emotional connection that people start to bind to. That’s where the power is – it’s not all about tactics.”

“Our vision is to be the best consulting firm in the world, and our culture is all about building a firm of entrepreneurs. Every single channel plays its part and is important (and we love to experiment with new ones quickly, like our Alexa Skill), but it’s all about the strength of your messaging and telling a compelling story – you need to create aspiration.”

Storytelling is a skill that is becoming more vital amongst marketers from an employment perspective. The ability to produce content that is compelling and inspiring is in high demand. An organisation can use storytelling to build an image and a relationship with its clients and customers.

“One of the things I’ve learnt is how powerful a story is in painting a really strong vision. It’s something I’m really passionate about, and it’s not something that’s always easy to do.”

The challenger consultancy

The challenger consultancy

The management consulting industry has established and well-respected names as well as new niche firms gaining a foothold. Elixirr, established in 2009, is a relative newcomer and they embrace their ‘challenger consultancy’ tag. They have quickly made their mark in a fast-growing industry that has attracted large investment from other industries. Ongoing competition and further establishing themselves in the market poses its own challenges.

“We regularly compete with the Big Four, the strategy houses and some of the more niche consultancies as well. It’s changing now as our brand is becoming more and more recognised, but clients can perceive engaging a relative newcomer like us as a risk. No one ever got fired for hiring Accenture, right? This is why our brand is so important to us – perception is reality at the end of the day. And backing this up with outstanding delivery is what we will always do.”

The entrepreneurial spirit that is a key facet of their culture makes up part of their strategy to keep up their success as they become an established name in the consulting industry. This transition brings challenges for any business, specifically the marketing team as they will have to adapt to a changing set of circumstances. I asked Ellie how she thinks marketing will change as they continue to grow.

“I think it's about continually challenging ourselves, continually evolving in response to the market, and a relentless desire for better. Keeping up creativity, finding new solutions and most importantly, teamwork. What we do and our brand is all about people – it’s their opinions, expertise, personality that our clients buy, and we don’t have a brand without every single one of them – we’re all responsible for building the Elixirr brand.”

“From a broader business perspective, empowering our team to #MSH (make shit happen) is much more powerful than us as a management team dictating something to them. That's what it means to be a firm of entrepreneurs – our people join us to be part of building a business and we’re all about empowering them to do so, whether this is with marketing activity or something else. And it’s our team that will evolve the business as we grow.”

Quote Rhydian Fairfax

Culture at the forefront of marketing

Elixirr are an excellent example of how using your culture and your vision as the focus for your marketing strategy can propel your organisation to great heights. The entrepreneurial spirit that they champion has enabled the marketing team to move quickly, try new things and utilise the latest trends in marketing.

The most frequently asked questions from marketers when thinking about joining a new organisation is ‘what’s the culture like?’ It is foreseeable that this question is also moving into the forefront of client’s minds when choosing who to consult.

Related: FTI's Leor Franks reflects on marketing in professional services.