New research reveals how to change a management consultancy's reputation
I took part in an interesting discussion last week hosted by the Management Consultancies Association where professors Tim Morris and Will Harvey (Said Business School, Oxford and University of Exeter Business School respectively) presented new research they've been doing into how management consultancies protect and improve their brand.
To jump to their conclusions, the three ways their in-depth research showed as effective in changing (i.e. improving or shifting) a management consultancy's brand are:
- Focusing on the partners to ensure the experience every client and prospect has are as close as humanly as possible to the new perception you want to give (yes, we know how hard this is in reality... but that's why it is effective).
- Producing Thought leadership to give substance, not assertion, to your credibility in the areas where you want to build your brand.
- Having a strong value proposition that your are able to clearly demonstrate. However, this third area came with a strong health warning that you need to balance confidence in the value you have delivered with not seeming over-needy! In some cases consultancies had crossed this threshold and it was a big turn-off to CEOs.
As someone who works with management consultancies to help them deliver strong thought leadership (in case you hadn't noticed from my website!) I was particularly interested, but not necessarily surprised, by their second conclusion.
Roundtable discussions amongst guests quickly highlighted that while strong thought leadership was key, everyone present had a different view of what thought leadership actually was! Was it an erudite write up of the consultant's most recent project ??? Was it articles??? Was it quantitative research and analysis??? Was it some thought provoking viewpoints or maybe it was analysis of industry trends???Was it blue sky thinking???
The research left this question unanswered. For my part, I am not sure it matters what the exact nature of it was in these circumstances. It's more about whatever it was they were producing having a strong impact with their clients and prospects through having some intellectual rigour and thought-provoking conclusions.
As people at the discussion pointed out, most thought leadership has a marketing purpose for generating new leads, and the term "thought leadership" sets a high bar as, by definition, most people cannot be thought leaders... maybe "thought provokation" is a more realistic aim.
No doubt communication channels (websites, emails, social media) play important roles in the process, but as the report pointed out changing a reputation needs to be based on substance, not hype and assertion, as demonstrated through consultant behaviour, thought leadership and a distinctive proposition... only with these will communications be effective.