Sort out your own position

Why is it that consultancies so often fall short when it comes to describing what they do? Giles Poyner takes a look at some company websites

In any highly competitive market, differentiation is key. In fact, we preach as much to our clients, but do we deliver this in our own back yard? Not really. Having spent the afternoon surfing through a number of the top design consultancies’ websites, I must say there’s plenty splashing around, but very few that really make any waves.

Why do we feel the need to dress up our approach, ethos, mantra (whatever you want to call it) into endless self-justification, which means very little to our clients or anybody else outside of our own consultancy?

The most ironic thing is that we have some exceptional businesses in the UK, creating some of the best work in the world. Yet marketers and designers can’t seem to get to the point and tell it how it is. Everyone thinks their people and approach are unique, and that their process is some kind of holy grail – well, it isn’t.

We all know that the process begins with the customer, that it is important to understand and live the brand, and that looking at market influences and competition matters. But what else are we going to do to ensure that our work is of an exceptional standard?

One consultancy site I came across took exactly 402 words to explain the group’s branding process. I’m not sure which is sadder – the fact that it can’t get to the point or that I sat there and counted them.

Where is the added value in 402 words? I thought our job was to create a concise and compelling proposition – I’m sure I read that somewhere in my marketing textbooks.

But the problem doesn’t stop there, because even when we are concise, we feel the need to dream up some ridiculous name that only serves to make us sound like spritzer-drinking, middle class, pony-tailed losers.

Some businesses describe their process as ‘charisma’ or ‘massaging’ or ‘street up’ – one even refers to an Indian craftsman who carves elephants out of wood.

When I read this, I immediately began to wonder where the craftsmanship had gone from our own language. Surely that’s what makes our industry great? Don’t use ten words when two will do. Treat our language as precious – after all, it’s native in more than 45 countries. Let’s get to the point and tell it how it is. Be brave and bare all. Say it from the heart and be passionate about what you believe.

We are now working in a global economy where communication is more important than ever before. We need to translate what we do, not just in the UK but across Europe and the rest of the world.

The acid test for any consultancy ethos is to find the nearest pub, buy a pint and tell your colleagues your process – if they piss themselves laughing, it is back to the drawing board. Any good process or proposition, for that matter, should be able to work as well at the boardroom table as it does at the pub table.

Don’t get me wrong. All work needs to be grounded, with a logical thought process and a robust justification. But please don’t think that this is where the true value lies – it lies in the idea.

Often, too much time is spent in the preamble and justification of a piece of work. Say what you need to say and then shut up – let the work speak for itself. How you got there is interesting and worth telling, but, like a good gag, it’s only a means to an end. The punchline is where the true wit lies.

I was asked to write an elevator speech the other day and I must say it’s a great exercise. In one sentence, describe what you do and, in the next, your approach. If you’ve written it in ten minutes, start again, rethink it and shape the sentiment. Keep going until you know you couldn’t get any better – then ask your colleagues to do the same. Pick the best and post it on your website. Every six months, revisit it and make it better.

I feel very lucky to work in the design consultancy business in the UK. There is enormous talent out there and some brave clients to boot (although not as many as there used to be). We have a faster-moving, more competitive market than ever before – let’s not sell ourselves short.

Giles Poyner is business development director at Boxer


  • Ask a range of straight-talking people in your design consultancy what they think the business does and why they love working there
  • Ask a friendly client what they think you do as a business and why they employ you
  • Capture all of these sentiments, then wordsmith them into one sentence
  • Ensure the tone reflects the real language and culture of your business
  • Assemble your team and read the statement to everyone in your organisation – if everyone nods, you’ve got it, if not, repeat the process

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