Why building trust and brand belief is key for consulting firms

22 January 2019 Consultancy.uk

Over the years, big names in the professional services sector, such as the Big Four giants and strategic firms including McKinsey and BCG, have become even bigger. They’ve also become better at what they do, branching out into new arenas – think of the push into digital marketing, design or legal – while leaving the smaller competition in the dust. According to Peter Carr, a marketing expert at Propero Partners, consultancies can consider brand trust as one means of keeping up with the behemoths or risk fading into the background. 

In the professional services industry, it is all about trust. How a consultancy firm conveys this most intangible of qualities to its clients is often the difference between winning or losing a tender. That is because now more than ever, trust is one of the main reasons clients buy services, and the number one reason they don’t if a firm is deemed unprincipled. And because the B2B world is full of seemingly faceless companies essentially selling the same services, how a consultancy is perceived by a client is crucial as to whether or not they are a preference of choice.

Brand values

Similar to other segments where outward image is essential, such as in accounting or law, how a consulting brand is viewed, how it connects emotionally, and even how a company’s values resonate with a client, will affect clients’ choices. A prospect may have received a referral from a respected colleague and will consider working with a consulting firm, but if the client then goes online and sees that the firm is opaque in its dealings, then it is unlikely that a deal will be struck. Thanks to the digital age, this type of information is more readily available than ever on media sites and industry platforms.Trust is key in ConsultingSo transparency is key, which means having everything out in the open to build trust. If clients can see that a firm values integrity, purpose, and vision for the future, and there are no skeletons in the closet, then their trust in the firm can start to grow. Having company values that are aligned with the modern client – being ethical, sustainable, transparent, human, and charitable (tough crowd) – means they can connect with a firm’s brand emotionally.

Brand image

Another key trend in professional services marketing this year, will be the remodelling of brands to become instantly recognisable, visually appealing products that can, themselves, help to sell a firm’s services. In saturated markets like the consulting industry, the need to stand out and be memorable becomes a critical factor in a firm’s growth. The challenge then is to create the elusive and ephemeral ‘perfect’ brand to embody a firm’s values. 

But how can a brand be brought to life, when the written tone of voice and the visual execution is only part of the story? One key to success for marketers is connecting with their audience psychologically, by creating associations with imagery, words, and video that trigger emotional responses which are then logged and remembered. Getting in the mind of the client and figuring out how a firm’s particular service makes them feel is key. While it may be easy to think that a B2B audience might only make rational decisions based on facts, remember that in the end it comes down to a human decision.

If a consulting firm’s brand and content are relatable, then as humans, clients will engage with it. When firms demonstrate that their brand, and therefore services, can solve problems or alleviate pain points, through content or imagery, then clients can empathise and feel reassured that the offering will work for them.

But brands must be careful not to break that trust. Indeed, in 2019, professional services firms will be keen to not repeat the same, costly mistakes – both in terms of money and reputation – that companies like Cambridge Analytica (Facebook), PwC (BHS), KPMG (South Africa) made last year. As a result of these breaches, building trust and delivering on promises to buyers will again be a top focus.

At Propero Partners [a marketing agency for the professional services industry], we expect to see firms carving out more time in their marketing strategies for brand activity, since it’s one of the most effective and easily-actioned ways to communicate to their audience. All marketing is based on influencing intangible and abstract responses, and if a firm can connect with its target audience using positive emotional triggers while demonstrating authenticity and honesty, then half the battle is over. A consultancy can comfortably lead from the front by firstly delivering on the promises made by the brand values, secondly creating helpful and valuable content on whichever channels are use, and thirdly building trust and loyalty. 

Related: Consultancies lagging behind in the adoption of digital marketing.

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Accenture's push into the creative sector is an identity crisis

18 April 2019 Consultancy.uk

In its latest push into the creative sector, Accenture Interactive acquired New York and London-based ad agency Droga5 earlier this month, adding illustrious clients such as HBO, Amazon and The New York Times to its roster of clients. With the latest in a long line of similar purchases, Accenture Interactive further demonstrated its ambition of becoming the globe’s leading trusted advisor to chief marketing officers. Yet according to Ben Langdon, Chairman of Class35, Accenture’s strategy may be heading in the wrong direction.

A press release on Accenture’s website announcing the acquisition sits next to a quote stating that “brands aren’t built through advertising” – a huge contradiction from a consultancy firm hell-bent on becoming the ‘CMO agency of choice’. It’s not alone of course. The entire consulting industry wants a piece of the creative pie right now. In addition to Accenture Interactive, recent acquisitions by PwC Digital, IBM iX, and Deloitte Digital meant that in 2017, for the first time ever, four of the world’s ten largest creative agencies were consultancies.

So just what it is that Accenture wants to achieve from this? For one thing, it’s clearly trying to be a digital transformation business. A one-stop creative shop rivalling more traditional models, it wants to lure CMOs in with the promise of lower ad spend and a “more impactful customer experience”. At the same time, though, it’s still in thrall to those same slinky, shiny branding and advertising agencies it’s attempting to disrupt. The Droga5 acquisition and that of Karmarama a few years before are both testament to this.

There’s a fundamental problem with this, though. Digital transformation businesses don’t sell to CMOs. These people have enough on their plates trying to transform their own marketing skills in order to keep up with an ever-changing market – they just don’t have the time or the energy to concern themselves with digitally transforming a whole business. If Accenture’s purpose is digital transformation, then going after creative agencies is barking up the wrong tree.Is Accenture's push into the creative sector an identity crisis?

Worlds apart

Perhaps more importantly, these two industries are worlds apart in terms of the way they think. Creative agencies are all about ideas, campaigns and consumers. Digital businesses, on the other hand, are customer-driven – they think in terms such as lifetime value, measurement, and efficiency. Customer-led thinking is an entirely different beast to consumer-led thinking.

The reality is that the arrival of digital and an all-encompassing obsession with technology, measurement and social has led to the death of agencies in a reductive, zero-sum, efficiency-focused battle with brands. Indeed, agencies have become so obsessed with the latest tech fads, they’re beginning to forget how brands work. Worse still, they’re beginning to forget how brands are built. And, by forgetting, they’re destroying their own values.

Killing creativity

All things considered, it really feels to me as though Accenture is a chip leader in a game it doesn’t understand. Expensive acquisitions like these show that they’ve got the big money, but they don’t appear to have any idea what they’re doing with it. Take talent, for example. The best talent in the creative industry right now is out in the market; it’s not tied to any one agency. Both agencies might well be at the top of their game, but why would a consulting firm waste so much money on buying them when they could hire high-quality creative talent on a contingent basis instead?

As their presence in the top 10 creative agencies shows, there is a growing trend in which Accenture, like many of the other big players, are buying up agencies as if they were nothing more than keywords. What they’re really buying, though, is a collection of credentials, clients and IP. Unfortunately, the talent that created those credentials aren’t going to stay at the business, the clients that hired the agency in the first place won’t be interested in buying what is basically just another part of Accenture, and the IP never really existed to begin with.

Droga5, for example, was one of the few agencies that did great brand work the old-fashioned way – undoubtedly something that made it attractive to Accenture in the first place. The irony, though, is that by leading it further away from the way of working that made it so special, the consulting giant will kill its creativity.

“Accenture Interactive has been dazzled by its ambitions to become the CMO agency of record…. But, in flashing its cash, it is spending millions on acquiring nothing of any value.”

If pressed, the recently acquired agency staff at Accenture will tell you just how dysfunctional the new arrangement is. They’re largely unfulfilled. Rarely do they feel their work has any sort of meaning or purpose. What’s more, the different disciplines have found little or no common ground, and find it hard to work together as a cohesive whole. It’s not surprising, then, to see talented people leaving in droves.

Beyond the window dressing 

It’s clear, then, that consulting firms and creative agencies are no easy bedfellows. But in his company’s defence, Accenture Interactive’s Senior Managing Director for North America, Glen Hartman, described its culture as being “far, far away from what a stereotypical consulting firm would look like. Our office and studios look a lot like Droga5’s.”

In demonstrating a belief that office design equates to workplace culture, this statement serves as an illustration of how confused Accenture is right now. It wants to justify its new strategy so badly, it’s started dressing like a creative agency. But if you look beyond the window dressing and see that you and your partners are speaking a different language with a different purpose, selling to different people in a different market, there’s no getting away from the fact that you’re different.

Accenture Interactive has been dazzled by its ambitions to become the CMO agency of record, and it wants to dazzle others with its new direction. But, in flashing its cash, it is spending millions on acquiring nothing of any value.

Related: Space between consulting firms and creative agencies is converging.