Be clear about what you do

We all know that, as an industry, those of us in marketing communications are particularly adept at confusing our clients. I don’t mean the tendencies to lapse into business school-speak, particularly in proposal documents, nor do I mean the gobbledygook practised by the high priests of cyberspace.

I refer to something more fundamental. It comes up time and again in the forums we regularly run with clients – what do we actually do as an industry?

We find repeatedly that prospective clients are confused by our industry. ‘What exactly,’ they ask, ‘do all you people do?’ They feel they’re assaulted on all sides by advertising agencies, design groups, communications consultants, on-line direct marketers and strange, hybrid media-neutral, multi-tasking, integrated holistic beings.

All these people say they will define, reposition and then cuddle your brand (brand guardianship, it’s called) and then embed it – sounds like something you should be locked up for.

One of my clients has had enough of this. He laments the passing of the so-called ‘bad old days’, when he had a nice plump marketing department all working hard at defining the brand, and when he wanted an ad campaign he rang up an ad agency and if he wanted a nice bright logo he rang up the design consultancy. And if he got told they did both he put the phone down. ‘They are a bit like those restaurants that claim to specialise in Mandarin, Cantonese, Szechwan and Pekinese,’ he used to say.

Ours is a world where everyone just out of design school with a Mac calls himself or herself a ‘design consultant’, and anyone who can squiggle a logo on the back of a beer mat is a ‘brand development’ something or other. So now I’m relaunching my design consultancy of 15 years’ standing. We’re now simply Glazer Consulting. And nowhere on the business cards does it say ‘strategy by design’, or ‘communications consultants’ or whatever.

The thrust of our change is to offer consultancy and design as two separate divisions. So clients who simply want real consultancy can have exactly that. While those seeking design, without any unasked-for bolt-ons, also get exactly what they’re looking for. And the many clients who still want proper consultancy, to help them make fundamental business improvements that we then express for them with a new visual identity, can enjoy the benefits of both, properly integrated, services.

The response, gratifyingly but perhaps not surprisingly, has been one of unanimous approval. ‘Ah,’ they say, ‘that consulting bit, it’s where we all get involved in the investigation process with research programmes, workshops – all that sort of thing – glad you’ve made that clear. And the “design bit” – that’s self-explanatory, isn’t it? That’s why you’ve got a separate division called the “design division”, isn’t it?’ ‘Precisely,’ I say. Sighs of relief all round.

I should point out the distinction, from our point of view, is purely financial. We’ve set up our consultancy and design divisions as two separate business entities, but physically we are unchanged.

Everybody still sits where they used to sit, still talks to each other and still gets involved in the exchange of information and ideas that ensure the client’s business structure is actually capable of delivering what its brand promises.

We’ve simply practised what we preach by making our consultancy and design functions clearer, as evidenced by our new visual identity.

My next step on the road to total clarity is to follow the line taken by professionals such as lawyers and accountants, where senior partners and proven business practitioners specialise in, say, automotive, finance, new media and so on. So you know you’re getting consultancy that relates to your brand and brand communication, and you know you’re getting it from a specialist.

And then, when you’ve digested all that, you know you’ll get people who can implement it. On second thoughts forget the word ‘implement’ – people who can make it happen. Clear enough?

Ian Glazer is the founder of Glazer

Forget the add-ons
• Try separating your offer into specific and clearly defined divisions, such as ‘design’ and ‘consultancy’

• Drop gobbledygook business terminology and be as clear as you can with clients

• Think about specialising by business classification – finance, automotive, new media and so on

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